Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 1, 2017

News from the Path Valley Hotel: Christmas Trees I have Known

I may be the luckiest woman on the planet at Christmastime because I am smack dab in the middle of the place that has been the center of nearly all my holiday memories. Despite the moves, the additions, the departures temporary and forever, over the past 50 years, the Path Valley Hotel has welcomed in and wrapped its arms around every person I have ever loved. In these rushed and transient days, that’s a powerful ah ha.

   For decades, holidays have brought all the components of my original and extended family to this little spot in the woods. As the years passed, more branches of the family tree sprouted and we added new faces at the table as we honored the empty spaces left by others. But no matter who gathered, the showpiece for every Christmas has been a live tree.

   I remember the days of tree lights that failed to work if one bulb went bad. I remember fragile glass ornaments that fell to the floor and shattered to bits because their fickle metal caps went kerflooey the instant our fingers trusted they had been hung securely. I remember angel hair and tinsel and the year our cat Twink ate the shiny strands of icicles from the lowest branches, They were indigestible as you might imagine which meant she sometimes paraded past with a decorated derriere on her way to add a little holiday pizzaz to her litter box.

   We always cut our own trees and I remember the cedars and the soft and long-needled white pines.There were Scotch pines, Douglas firs and blue spruce, always tall and mighty. A wire and screw eye are still anchored in one of the hotel ceiling logs as a reminder that there was a year (and only one) when the tree toppled over.

   There was the year when our tree looked so beautiful on the landscape that we failed to notice until we got it home how sparse the branches were without the benefit of its surroundings. We used lots of icicles and even hung gift tags to fill in that year; we also decorated the wire.

   While the official Christmas tree was always the grand and fragrant one we enjoyed at the PVH, everyone kept some kind of wannabe tree at home. My great-grandmother had a gumdrop tree, a little plastic tree that would be assembled every year and decorated by pushing plump, colored candy onto all the little barbs on its branches.

   My grandmother often put up a little cedar tree which my Pap and I would cut from the fence row. She also had a tree made of a blue paper cone that balanced delicately on a sharp metal rod. The cone had wavy, decorative cuts that gave the illusion of branches and it was covered with big crystals of glitter. Underneath, a single light bulb, painted blue, created heat that caused the cone to circle slowly and hypnotically on its precarious pin point. I was fascinated. Little did I know what a great idea that was to put within reach of a kid: a heat source in such close proximity to a flammable material. (Of course, that was the 50s so maybe it wasn’t made of paper after all, maybe it was asbestos.)

   I also remember the year we joined the chic and trendy families of the 60s and purchased an aluminum Christmas tree for home. What were we thinking?? We hung Styrofoam balls covered in red and green threads which I’m sure were all the rage in House Beautiful at the time. We had never had a Christmas tree that came with instructions before that one but that paperwork clearly indicated we should not put electrical lights on a metal tree. Ever ingenious, my dad created something with an old fan, some tinted plastic and a spotlight that projected an ever-changing display of color on it from a safe distance.

   The first year in our new house, my husband had to put up a second tree three days before Christmas when it became apparent the first tree had been steadily undecorating itself after having been put up too soon and too close to the radiator. In between, we have done the theme trees with teddy bears and mono-chromatic elements. We’ve done the hand sewn Christmas ornaments and the Hallmark collectibles. The year my dad died and my mom was hospitalized and my daughter totaled her Jeep and my husband had heart surgery all in the span of three months, we managed to get a tree up but let it stand pristine as nature intended.

  For the most part, the dozens and dozens of perfect trees that stood tall all season in their majestic grandeur have faded in our memories. The ones that we remember were magic in their imperfections and in their quirks; they were the ones with character and authentic staying power.

   And so it strikes me that’s the truth about our holidays. The moment may be mistaken as a crisis but those are the events and stories that make our best memories, the ones that knit us together as families and as friends. At this time of year especially, wouldn’t it be great if we could let go of elusive expectations of the perfect tree, the perfect gathering, or the perfect family and simply give in to the joy of Christmas presence?  MK



  1. OH YES! Heartwarming. Thank you.

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