Time to deck those halls

Just a little over a week remains until that big day when many of us gather with friends and family, compete with ourselves to overeat yet again only about a month after Thanksgiving and try not to stress out over choosing gifts for those on our shopping list.

But first, there is the adventure of searching for that perfect conifer that will spend the next few weeks filling our homes with the smell of the forest, while illuminating both the room and our spirits. Some of us opt for the artificial variety, but either way, they all serve the same purpose, as symbols of the most anticipated season of the year.

Putting on my way-back hat, I can remember our search for the perfect tree as a kid. We would first admire the lights on Main Street and then proceed to hop from tree vendor to tree vendor. Many gas stations sold trees then, along with vendors in the parking lots of several department stores.

We frequented a tree dealer at the former Rich’s Department Store lot at Turnpike Plaza, now the site of Whole Foods. I can remember going with my brother-in-law and Mom late one night, when the tree bug struck us, arriving at the lot after closure. As fate would have it, we saw that perfect tree standing before our very eyes! We had been tree searching for a while and didn’t want to surrender it to anyone else, so we struggled as to what to do next. We certainly didn’t want to appear as tree thieves, so we decided to put the cash in the office door and proceeded to load the tree into the car. Back then, most trees were transported via the car trunk. I remember my Mom being the nervous Nellie type, and peering through the rear window as we drove off, worried that she would see blue lights in pursuit at any time. We made it home without incident and proceeded to bring our triumph into our small tree street apartment (no pun intended).

As was often the case for us, the tree consumed much of our living room, and we typically had to cut about a foot off the top to stand it upright. The coldness of the tree would bring a chill to the room, but it was worth a shiver or two to see the tree when it was done.

With background music from Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, The Beach Boys, Elvis or Mitch Miller’s Christmas albums, it was time to decorate! Remember icicles (aka tinsel)? Some folks would stand back and simply throw them on the tree. I opted to strategically place a small amount on each branch. We had a cat that consumed a few. Amazingly, she was not injured and let’s just say, it all came out in the end. Remember angel hair? (No, not the pasta). Essentially fiberglass strands we would pull apart with bare hands to place gently on the tree. Ouch! Today, an EPA no-no.

The lights back then were much different than today’s cool-to-the-touch energy efficient LED’s. Many were the larger C7 type. Thinking back, we placed flaming hot bulbs on a live tree in an era when many people didn’t even use tree stands with water bowls! Smokey the Bear would be furious! Remember the clear or tinted candle stick-like lights filled with liquid that would appear to boil after heating? Today they are retro priced, if you can find them. The Fire Department once provided “fireproofing” services for our trees by spraying them with a liquid. But as I remember, it added a strange tint. And ornaments? All glass, many with lead! Drop one and it was an unbeknownst hazardous waste clean-up.

As bizarre and dangerous as this all seems now, we survived. We made do with what we had and had fun to boot! Trees were not manicured, cost less than ten dollars and were probably not the prettiest. But they lifted our spirits, reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas and brought families together like no other living things often do. As the song says, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.