December 17, 2009 in Washington Voices

Tree lights, once fixed, spark past

By The Spokesman-Review

Here I am decorating our Christmas tree, and things aren’t going well.

I’m the official dresser of the tree at our house. Bruce and I tried to do it together when we were first married, but I am from the school of precision decorating, where everything has its place, and balance and symmetry are important. He is from the random school of toss decorating. Not a good match.

He now secures the tree in the stand, adds the water and then waits in reserve should things go awry. I do the rest. This division of labor saved the marriage.

First of all, it has to be a real tree. This year Bruce cut a fresh one at Green Bluff, our first blue spruce. So I begin by stringing the lights. Now, I’m not a fancier of those strings of little bitty lights that you can drape pretty much any way you want. We have the old fashioned bigger ones in which the sockets have to be affixed to the tree one by one.

I discover that blue spruce have really sharp needles, so sharp that I really can’t attach the cords barehanded. On go the gloves, and since the fine motor control of my right hand isn’t what it used to be, this task is now harder. And slower. And since some of the clips have broken off, there are several places where the sockets need to be attached to a branch using green twist ties – in tiny places in the interior section of the tree, with a challenged and gloved hand. I’m getting grumpy.

I get two strands connected to each other and in place on the tree; then I plug them in. Next I start putting in the bulbs. There’s a method to this, too, as the reds, greens, blues, whites and oranges have to be appropriately placed so the same color doesn’t appear side-by-side when viewed from across the living room, even if one is at the back of the tree and the other out front. Bruce watches patiently.

As I move past the juncture of the two strings, about four bulbs into the second string, the next bulb makes a popping sound – and everything goes dark. OK, this qualifies as awry, and the big gun is summoned. Bruce determines the second string has a bad fuse. Since this particular cord is older than our 30-something-year-old children, opening the little compartment with the spare fuse is tricky. But the task is accomplished, the strings reattached and, ta-da, light! It is now 9:30 at night.

I continue placing bulbs, and two or three later, just as a blue bulb is finding its rightful place, I discover that the remaining sockets are dead, leaving the bottom third of the tree dark. Really grumpy now.

Still gloved, I disengage the bottom string. Unpleasant words are muttered. We have one additional string, which, wisely, we test. It’s OK. Still wearing gloves that now feel like mittens, I hook up the replacement string and add bulbs. Success!

I can now remove the hand protection and get to the fun part: the hanging of ornaments. First come the heavy ones, as they have to find a home on sturdy branches. I start with the little snowblower ornament; if you were here last December, you know why that’s a meaningful memento. Then I go to the delicate ones – like the helicopter made from an eggshell that I bought when I was pregnant with our oldest son.

Next I place my favorite ornament of all. Our youngest son made it early in grade school. It’s a cardboard Christmas tree upon which Sam glued raw pasta – macaroni, bowties, rotini – and painted it gold. I love that ornament.

There’s the miniature skier we bought when Carl learned to ski, the piano for when Sam started playing that instrument, the Dalmatian for our dog Bonnie, the little sailboat for when we bought our own little sailboat, the baby’s first ornament from long ago. I smile when I hang the trombone ornament. We got it when Carl selected that instrument to play in the fourth grade because his band teacher said it was a good fit for his fat lips and long arms.

These and other treasures find their way to their properly spaced and feng shui’d place on our blue spruce. I am no longer grumpy. In fact, I am transformed and transported to wonderful times and places.

It is late at night now, and Bruce and I turn out all but the Christmas tree lights and sit on the couch staring at the tree and its treasures. We are remembering the times that each ornament represents, the Christmases past.

And I’m thinking that perhaps things didn’t go so badly, after all.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ Previous columns are available at columnists/.

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