Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2003


Trees of Life 

We should be tackling self-cleaning glass in this paragraph. It’s what I’d been planning to write about for the past three weeks. But it’s ten days before Christmas and we just did a cookie exchange in the office and there are some carols in the background, so forgive my holiday digression. 

Last evening I was decorating my own Christmas tree, on which every ornament tells a little story of a life lived thus far … ornaments I made in fourth grade, one my parents gave me when I got my driver’s license (considering my driver’s ed results, over which they have been praying ever since), first car, first house, ornaments that memorialize each pet I’ve had over the years, ones I’ve picked up on travels, etc. It’s funny how a plain fir tree can become a tree of life—one life at least. Anyway, the tinge of holiday spirit made me decide to hold the self-cleaning glass till next month and share my favorite tree story with you. I hope you don’t mind the discourse too much.

Every college dorm has a “mom”—the one who worries about deadlines for everyone else, who keeps the others from forgetting things, makes homemade soup when someone’s sick—you know the type. That was me in my college days, and I realized early on that besides my mom functions, I really offered very little to the group of three other apartment mates. We had all moved off-campus that year and were spending our first Christmas season together on our own in a run-down, 110-year-old duplex in Albany, N.Y. It basically snows in Albany from October to April, but you would have thought we lived in a castle by how happy we were to be there.

Anyway, purists that we were, we wanted a real Christmas tree. So when the boyfriend of one of my roommates, Meg, gleefully presented one to us about a week before finals, we were giddy with delight. We bought lights and made ornaments and garland. We decorated it and put it in the middle of the big old bay window in the front room. Mom (me) was a bit concerned, however. 

“These things can be fire hazards and we are all going to be gone for three weeks,” I said. “We can’t leave it here, so I’ll take it down before I leave.”

“No,” said roommate Meg, an as-persuasive-as-she-was-vivacious psych major. “I’m the last one here, and I want to enjoy it. I’ll do it.” 

Now Meg wasn’t irresponsible, but she was, well, a college student.

“Remember, Meg,” I reminded her periodically the next week, “ you really can’t forget about the tree because it will be here for three weeks without water and could catch on fire. Or, if it doesn’t catch on fire it’ll lose its needles all over the apartment.”

“I promise I’ll do it. Don’t worry. You worry too much,” was always her reply.

Now, you know where I am going with this. My job at the student newspaper required I return a few days before everyone else. It was 21 degrees below zero outside when I unlocked the door to the apartment and saw said tree still standing exactly how it looked before I’d left town. The tree had held up pretty well and still had most of its needles, but it now looked to me like a time bomb ready to self-immolate. I was so disgusted that I picked the thing up and dragged it down the stairs and out to the garbage, lights and all. By the time I got the curb, the tree looked at lot like Charlie Brown’s, having lost most of its needles on the stairs on the way down.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll just sweep the stairs. We’d been complaining to the landlord for months that the stairs up to our apartment looked terrible. Maybe a good sweeping would help.

You could hardly see the stairs under the needles as I started to walk back up to get the broom. Then two things happened. My foot moved off the plastic runner on the steps and on to the actual wood. I realized it felt sticky, very sticky, at the same moment the landlord stuck his head in. To this day, I feel lucky he did not come all the way in to see me on the stairs.

“Hey, I just want to tell you girls I did something real nice for you while you were away,” he yelled.

 “I had the whole stairs stripped and re-varnished. But they are still tacky so don’t walk off the runners. It’ll be dry in a few days. See you on the first for the rent.”

Seven months later he came up the stairs to tell us we needed to clean up the stairs a bit. “And you girls, you still got pine needles on the steps from Christmas. Haven’t you even swept since then?”

Oh, I’d swept all right. I’d swept and scrubbed and pulled and pushed and sprayed, and I got some of them. I had pine needles in my eyes, in my car and in my clothes. They were indestructible.

Twenty-one years later when I went to visit that apartment, there were still some on those stairs. I had a good chuckle over that.

And when you took a deep breath in that vestibule you could smell Christmas every day of the year. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.


P.S. All of us here at USGlass send our best wishes for a happy holiday season and a wonderful and prosperous New Year.


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