Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas trees, memories of the base, and cats!

This year we put up our Christmas tree. Like every year it is a Scots pine, full and bushy with needles that prick you and pine sap that sticks to your fingers. It brought back many memories of Christmas past and our cats!

My father, who died some 20 years ago, was very fond of Scots pine. For him the only tree worth having was a Scots pine with its reddish bark and long needles. For many years we had beautiful glass ornaments, balls with silvery designs and sublimated patterns, and magnificent birds with stiff tails and silver and painted. They were brought back from the time when my parents met in France. I was told they were made in Germany. They were so lovely that as a child I imagined the birds could sing! Underneath our tree there was always a nativity scene. Since my father was a carpenter, he built a stable. This was no ordinary stable. This stable could have housed the holy family and several more with comfortable stalls for the animals. No squalor in this stable!

I remember he had painted it and glued it with what looked to me like moss on the roof. I always enjoyed arranging the figurines under our tree in the nativity set. We lived on an air base and all the houses were gaily festooned with lights, some red, some blue. Some would line windows all in the same colour. My father loved multicoloured lights and would string and staple them to the wooden window sills and door frames of our house. We would walk around the base and compare the decorations that our neighbours had. Some had nativity scenes on their lawns, others had fading Santa's perched on their roof, held on with ropes just in case!

Gradually our beautiful ornaments broke. This was partially due to a Langley family tradition of immediately throwing out the wrappings that ornaments came in. We would store our ornaments in close proximity to each other, sometimes with newspaper but never very carefully. Invariably when we opened our various boxes, shoe boxes, old boxes to retrieve the ornaments there was always a glass bird with its head crushed, or a beautiful globe with its hanging pulled out and cracked. The lights were another issue. At the time we had very large bulbs that grew very hot and were clearly painted. My father loved different colours and would string these large heavy lights, some with the paint so badly scratched they were white on the tree. Much to my mother's horror, he would buy flashers and watch in delight as the large heavy and hot lights would blink on and off. We would then put up icicles. The icicles were what looked to me like flexible tin foil. They were plastic coated with some heavy or noxious metals. They proved an irresistible treat for our cats!

A cat considers the home theirs and therefore the tree with all of its trimmings and decorations is clearly either an invasion, or a new toy to play with. As our glass bulbs diminished my father bought the latest which were silk balls. They were plastic, white plastic wrapped in coloured silk, we had green, red and blue balls and as my father so proudly told us, they would never break. That was without considering the cats.

Our cats viewed the tree as a private scratching post and as they scurried under it to sharpen their claws, we watched as the tree swayed and the ornaments dangled precariously. One of us would rush to steady the tree, while another would scold the cat. The cats were nonplussed.
Our cats would be entertained for hours by simply batting one of the silk balls. As their claws got caught in the silk strands the silk unraveled and the white plastic showed itself soon with only a few shreds of silk remaining. If that were not enough, the cats would knock the ball off and bat it on the floor, pouncing on it and pushing it to ensure that the silk wrapping would be entirely destroyed. The icicles were a treat to be eaten with glee. As for decorations, our cats regularly stole the cloth hats that the elves who adorned our tree wore. One of my cats was interested in sheep and the sheep from the nativity set would vanish into his lair.

This year, I have tin icicles and glass ornaments. I pack them carefully and the lights are small LED's that don't get hot. I miss the old lights that burned out and burned our fingers when we touched them. I miss the fact that if one light was burned out, the entire string would not work. In my neighbourhood there are inflatable Santa's or snow scenes with blowing snow in them. There are singing decorations, entirely lit up houses, Santa no longer needs ropes to hold him on the roof. There are reindeers made of wood and splendid wreaths on most doors. I miss the simple lights and the simple unsophisticated decorations on those drab military homes.

This year, I no longer have cats. My decorations are safe, the sheep are unmolested. I have two dogs who looked at our tree with the studied indifference that only a dog can have! Merry Christmas to all!

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