When someone dies you have to figure out how life is going to be from now on.
One of the things Maggie asked in the weeks that followed Kim’s death was, “are we going to get a tree this year?”
I immediately said, “of course.”
Kim worked with a woman whose husband wouldn’t allow a Christmas tree in the house because he wasn’t Christian.
I couldn’t imagine that.
Our house was us. We each brought our traditions in and celebrated them together. It was always Kim’s tree but we always went and got it together, brought it home together, put it up together, and adjusted it in the stand until she was happy with it.
For her. the tradition went back to her childhood. She’d always had a tree. She remembered her parents’ tree. She loved her grandmother’s artificial tree with the rotating color wheel that bathed it in different colors.
For me, the tradition goes back to my first year married to Kim. That Christmas was the first time I’d had a tree in the house.
For Maggie, she’s always had a tree in the house so of course she’ll have one this year.
A week or so ago Maggie said she wasn’t sure about the tree.
“We’re getting one,” I said.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to decorate it.
I’m not sure I do either. I remember watching Kim unwrap each ornament and remember where she got it and what it meant to her.
Our first Christmas she got me a couple of ornaments to put on the tree and a year later added a few more. She wanted to make sure I was represented there too. The kids had ornaments each year and so the tree grew to represent us as a family and our journey.
I don’t know that I can do that this year. Not yet.
A tree this year. Maybe decorate it next year.
For years we bought our tree from the baseball team at John Carroll.
We didn’t stop after the year Kim asked for a blue spruce and was sold something that had been spray painted with a sort of blue flame retardant. She told the kid selling us the tree that it wasn’t a blue spruce – the needles were wrong. She felt bad for him and bought it anyway.
We stopped the year after Kim first let the girls pick a tree and they picked the saddest looking tree. The kid showing it to them held it up straight and neither Kim nor I noticed the bend in the trunk that would keep it from standing upright in the stand. The kid tied it on the car too loosely and we didn’t notice that either.
We learned a lot that year.
Kim and I had driven separately. We drove back to the house with the tree tied to the top of my car. Kim started honking at me so I pulled over. The tree was falling off the car. The girls pointed and laughed and I told them I’d meet them at home.
Much later I got home with the tree mostly intact.
We started buying our tree from Kim’s church. I think we bought it there for more than ten years. The trees were beautiful. The family selling it really knew trees. The girls would take turns picking the tree. After Elena died, Kim and Maggie would take turns. They liked very different kinds. Maggie likes long needles, Kim liked short.
Last year Kim wanted to wait until Maggie got home from college to get the tree. We picked her up at the airport and drove right over to the church.
The lot was empty.
The family that had sold them for years had retired.
We drove to St. Dom’s and bought one of the last trees they had. I don’t remember whose year it was to choose. It was a beautiful tree but there wasn’t much of a choice left.
This year we decided to buy from St. Dom’s again.
I asked Maggie to check out their open hours when she drove by on the way to the gym.
She texted me that they’d be open tomorrow and we should go in the afternoon.
So Wednesday we met at the gym and after our workouts headed to St. Dom’s to get a tree.
They were closed.
I said to Maggie, “didn’t I specifically ask you to check when they were open.”
“I did,” she said, “the sign said they’re open til 9.”
“Thursday and Friday,” I said, “they aren’t open Wednesday.”
“I only checked the closing time to see if they’d still be open. I didn’t check the day.”
She also hadn’t checked the starting time. They opened at 6 on Thursday.
We met back there on Thursday at 6:15.
There were some cars out front and a guy was selling Christmas trees while his son made snow angels.
“I can’t give you a fresh cut,” he said, “and you’ll need exact change.”
He was a volunteer and the other volunteers hadn’t shown up. School had been closed that day and the other volunteers probably thought that meant no tree sales as well.
We told him we’d check back later. When we came back at 8 the whole place was closed down. No cars in the lot.
So we went back on Friday and Maggie chose a tree.
It will always be Maggie’s year to choose.
It’s a beautiful tree. The volunteers put a fresh cut on it. I slid the tree stand on it and Maggie tightened it into place. The volunteers then tied it to the top of our car and we brought it home.
The house feels better.
It smells better.
I love our tradition of having a tree.