Christmas is starting early in our house this year, which goes against all my childhood traditions. We not only decorated mini trees today, but we chose and chopped down our big tree. And I am loving this extended season.
We are calling our tree "Mr. Crazy Man," as he is waving his extra-long arms wildly about, and he is a bit odd-looking. Perfect. He's also a strange and pretty lime green, which I was drawn to at the tree farm. Now that we're home, I'm trying to convince myself that he is not dehydrated or sick. My wise and sweet husband, who is an expert gardener, pronounced the tree to be perfectly healthy, and he's urged me to just enjoy the lovely tree we chose. So I am.
Mr. Crazy Man tree is patiently awaiting lights and decorations, and by the end of the day today, our home will be decorated for Christmas. I am almost as excited as the girls, who are bouncing more than normal, and constantly breaking into mangled Christmas songs.
Still, it's taking a mental adjustment for me to get a tree in November, because when I was a little girl, we sometimes didn't get a tree until a few days before Christmas. Just like any other kid, I was enamored with the whole magic of the season, and I longed for a house decked with evergreen swags and shiny baubles all December. But my mom and dad had other priorities. Focused on running their small company, they were doing all they could to keep enough clients to stay in business. What time could they have had for worrying about decorating?
Never one to sit around just wishing for something, one year I decided to take Christmas decorating into my own hands. It took some planning. I was a latchkey kid, so finding a few minutes alone wasn't the problem. But getting the stuff down and out was a challenge, since I was only eight years old.
We stored all the decorations in the attic, a squat and freezing place accessible only by the ladder that we kept in the garage. Of course, I couldn't manage getting the ladder by myself, so I improvised. First, I made a ladder: As a base, I used the storage chest my parents had for vinyl records. Think benchseat meets Danish minimalism, c. 1962: cherry sides, padded leather top, and round aluminum casters. I would love it now for its design. That day I loved it for its height.
Somehow I ignored the obvious problem of building a tower on a rolling cart, and I managed to stack up a few of my thickest storybooks and some phonebooks, each thick enough to give height and be slippery at the same time. These I topped with a wooden footstool so notorious for its instability that it had become a doll's table. All said, this stack rose to a height of about four feet, which gave me just enough of a boost. I stacked a makeshift "stair" of books next to the tower. I pushed the cart a few times to see how wobbly it actually was. I leaned a broom against the cart. And then I climbed.
I've got unnatural balance, I think. Standing on top of the teetering stack, with the broom in one hand, and my other hand on the frame of the attic opening, I must have been something like the Cat in the Hat, and I remember feeling just as clever, and just as defiant. Finding leverage from some burst of adrenaline, I jammed open the hatch with the broom handle and shoved it into the attic, where it fell with a disturbing crash. Then, God knows how I did it, but I reached my hands into the frame of the opening and swung myself up and into the attic itself.
I was a good little girl, and I did not even know how to swear then. But if I did the equivalent sort of feat today, it would be peppered with some colorful, self-congratulatory language, marveling at my physical prowess, etc. I would not be modest. But then, there was no celebration. I simply headed for the goods.
The attic was just as chaotic as the rest of my childhood home, and unlabeled towers of boxes crowded around me in the darkness. Christmas magic had imprinted the shape, color, and feel of the ornament boxes in my memory, though, and it wasn't long before I had shoved my way through a few stacks to find the crucial few I needed.
Tied in twine, top flaps warped from being tuck-folded, the Magical Christmas Boxes were the closest thing to treasure I knew. It took a huge reserve of self-control to not rifle through the tissue right there in the attic. Okay, perhaps it was less self-control, and the more the fact that it was freezing and dark up there, and that my parents would be home soon. Regardless, my goal shifted from getting the boxes to getting out.
I need to stop here to ask: have you seen how small an eight-year-old girl is? Ada is only seven. My heart beats faster just thinking about how tiny her little face would look peering over the edge of an attic hatch; I think of her swinging her legs over the edge, and I am literally cowering in my chair with vicarious anxiety for her.
Of course, Ada is much more sensible than I was. She is the kind of girl who cautions. She can readily spot "a bad idea." She is also the kind of girl who prepares, and if she were to climb into an attic like this, it would not be on a teetering stack of slippery things, it would not be without a flashlight or a coat, it would not be without a plan to return to the ground.
Like I said, Ada is more sensible than I was.
Tomorrow. Part 2
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