Fact: It’s impossible to be in a bad mood while decorating a sparkly, pink Christmas tree.
[There is a magical quality about this tree that attracts Chow Chows beneath it's shimmering boughs. Quantum - 12.05.09]
It feels like this tree has been a part of our Christmases forever. But it only became a part of the holiday tradition in 2009. And it was sort of borne out of the beginning of a very challenging part of our lives. Two days before Thanksgiving that year we’d received definite news that his cancer had returned. He’d been having pains in leg since late summer. He even told me months earlier before tests had even been run, he knew it was the cancer. “I’ve had this pain before,” he told me, standing in our bright orange and yellow kitchen. “I know what it is.” Larry Sunshine, King of Denial–brushed it off in hopes he was wrong. Of course he wasn’t.
They day before Thanksgiving after he got home from work, I set out on a secret mission that would hopefully surprise him and take his mind off the immediate. He’d seen a sparkly, pink tree on display at Border’s (I miss Borders!) he really liked. I’d seen them too–several different colors. They were like Ken: bright, shiny and whimsical. It was just the fun thing to kick of what was to be an uncertain holiday season. When I hopped in the car at 5:30 p.m. it had been dark for an hour already. The city streets were crowded with cars, presumably people buying their last-minute-after-work Thanksgiving meal accoutrements.
I tried the closest Borders in Lake View where parking is a disaster on your best day. No dice. They’d sold all of theirs. Onward to the next one way up on Lincoln Avenue. I spent quite a bit of time there, waiting to hear from someone–anyone–that they were definitely out of trees. You’d think a six-foot sparkly pink tree would be an item you could pretty readily say if you had in stock or not. Second Strike. No luck their either. So, I jumped in the car, pushing the GPS in the car to its limits by trying to figure out where another store was within a reasonable about of distance. I really didn’t want to come home empty-handed. This tree was really more than a tree. It was some kind of metaphor what Ken and I shared. I remembered there was a Borders in Uptown–sketchy Uptown. So, that’s where I went.
[Ken and I, perplexed, 2010]
But it was in Uptown where I pay dirt! I saw a pink tree in the display window as I entered and zeroed in on the nearest clerk to find out if they had more. They didn’t. But the display model was for sale. I think it was $99. There was no box for it, which was for the best. It wouldn’t have fit in my tiny car. The tree came apart into three pieces that I jammed parts of into the front and back seat, careful not to hit the front door against the fire hydrant that stood inches away. (How’d that get there?)
Surprising Ken was next to impossible. If he was surprised when I brought the tree home, I think it was trumped by his gratitude that I went in search of something special he wanted. He knew heading out into traffic mayhem on a holiday eve was out of my comfort zone. I think he was proud of me. I was too–but only because it turned out I did something very “Ken.” He was always full of delicious surprises. And he delighted in gifting them. From love notes, to hand-crafted artwork, to dinners, he was expert at surprising me. I think of those moments so often. The look of anticipation on his face. His rampant grin. His giggle. His child-like excitement in the act of giving.
[2011. My first Christmas without Ken. But decorating this crazy, pink tree could do nothing but make my heart happy and brought back lots of wonderful memories.]
[2012. See what I mean about the Chow Chow magic? Which is also why the ornaments don't hang on the lower boughs.]
I think included in the tradition of getting the tree out and decorating it is remembering how it came into my living room, what my life was like then, and who I was lucky enough to share it with. Christmases will keep coming, and this tree will keep making an appearance.
I can’t look at it and not smile.