My mother Betsy Abbott, in addition to her tremendous artistic talents, is a wonderful storyteller. Please welcome her as guest blogger today with a tale of Christmas past from her girlhood in Brookline, MA.
More Brookline Memories
By Christmas Eve, we five children were almost beside ourselves with anticipation in the big house on Upland Rd. with the pillared front porch and the bright red door. We were convinced, and it was probably true, that we were the only family on the whole of the hill that didn't yet have a Christmas tree. For weeks we had watched the neighbors decorating theirs, the colored lights twinkling from windows up and down the street as soon as it got dark each evening.
Finally, it was Christmas Eve, and we knew that this was, at last, our own special day. Besides that, it was even more so because this would be almost a full day with Dad, and all such days were an adventure from beginning to end.
It was years before we were old enough to understand that making this adventure last as long as possible was his express charge, so that Mom could have a peaceful day to herself to wrap the presents she had been gathering in the near attic without having to juggle the five of us with all of our pent up excitement at the same time. By the time we figured this all out, we wouldn't have changed a thing about the rituals involved of the wonderful chance to range far and wide looking for the biggest and best Christmas tree still left on Christmas Eve.
When every last boot was pulled on, Dad would don his own wool overcoat and felt fedora, his blue eyes sparkling, and we would tumble out the door on our ritual quest.
The first stop was always close to home -- one of a handful of tree lots which took up residence in vacant lots between store fronts in Brookline Village, or took over most of the parking space at the local ESSO station at the foot of the hill. Like so many puppies, we would tumble out of the station wagon and race to the trees where dad would bring out his measuring rod, shake out one scraggly or enormous tree after another and wait for our chorus to declare than none of them would possibly do. None of us could bear to let the adventure end so quickly. Brookline Village trees never stood a chance. Besides, on Christmas Eve there was every likelihood that the only trees left in these small lots were indeed too scraggly, too small, or only fit for a church's vaulted spaces.
Back we would tumble into the car with cold noses and icy fingers to see where Dad would take us next. By the time we had ranged over Brookline and often across the river into Cambridge as well and ad visited six or seven different lots, we finally urged him to drive us to the place we knew we had been aiming for all along: Faneuil Hall Market in downtown Boston. There, all the hucksters would be hawking their wares -- mounds of oranges and other fruits and vegetables in disarray on this last day before the holiday. Chestnut vendors would be roasting their nuts over barrel fires, and the vendors of Christmas trees with their many accents and ringing voices, knowing that this was their very last chance of the season to sell a tree, would be willing to bargain with anyone foolish still enough to be without a tree on this day.
This was the spectacle that we ad all anticipated. Dad played his role with a twinkle in his eye and laughter that made even the tree vendors join in to do their part in front of such a flock of entranced children.
Never mind that by this time. here too there wasn't a normal-sized tree left in the bunch. Dad needn't have brought his measuring rod at all. We always went home with a tree so enormous that we knew it was never fit in our stand. It would have to be propped up in a two-gallon pail (even after cutting it down heavily on both top and bottom) and then tied by guy wires of our father's own devising to the four sides of the big living room awaiting its arrival back home. Never mind, fr it would indeed be the fattest tree we had ever seen, leaving us plenty of room for the ornaments that ranged fro the beautiful to those that dad derisively referred to as Mom's "dirty little smelts", so named because one of them, a remnant of her own childhood, was indeed a small fish with a jointed silver body that we all looked for each season.
Once at home at last, we would all race to the kitchen, warmed by its big black cook stove and devour hot soup and sandwiches while dad rigged p the tree and tied on the lights, leaving us the entire afternoon to ritually pull out remembered ornaments one by one, finding the perfect place for each one, with the heaviest saved to weigh down errant branches or hide bare spots we had not noticed in the frenzy of Dad's grand bargaining at the Market.
By the end of the afternoon, just as our exuberance was waning, it would be time to tumble once more into the car to pick up Gar and Aunt Margie, and later just Margie herself, from the train at Back Bay Station. There, exhausted after a last half day of work on Christmas Eve, they would nonetheless arrive from New York with joy and still have energy at the end of the day to laud our beautiful tree and play their own role by placing each separate strand of tinsel, the real tinsel in those days, in its right place. They never allowed us to just toss it in clumps so we cold declare the tree finished at last.
Tired, but exquisitely happy, we would sing carols by our beautiful tree until it was time to dress for church and watch the beautiful Nativity Pageant that would usher in the real meaning of Christmas for us all once more.