Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Big Tree

Every year, the people at Rockefeller Center pick the massive evergreen that will grace the plaza for the Christmas season, and I'm reminded of the big tree that stood in the front yard of my childhood home.

Our tree was a constant in my youth, taking up a larger and larger part of the front yard. While it always loomed big from my perspective, I'd guess that in my own tiniest years, it was probably only six or seven feet tall, just the right size to be decorated. One of my dad's creations with the Super-8 film camera was a stop-action movie of my sister hanging homemade ornaments on it. Dad had saved a bunch of soup and sardine cans, painted them in bright colors and affixed large hooks. He might have even strung lights on its branches.

Over the years, the tree got taller and taller, and people living on the side street of our corner property would use it as a landmark in directions for visiting friends. It got way too tall to decorate properly and grew beyond the height of our split level house, taking up a bigger and bigger circumference of lawn.

At some point after I moved out of the house, my parents got concerned about its health and talked about taking it down before a storm did the honors. Why not contact the Rockefeller Center people, I suggested. How cool would it be to have our tree admired by visitors from all over the world? Mom and Dad dismissed the idea out of hand: the tree's branches were sparse in patches, maybe a bit uneven. The people from New York needed a perfect tree. But who, I always wondered, had a tree that size that was perfect? Were there people out there who tended to these behemoths with the doting care you'd give a prized orchid? Most likely, Mom and Dad didn't want all the attendant fuss that comes with a famous tree, even if they'd get free tree-removal service and some replacement landscaping for their trouble. They're private, self-reliant people. They like it that way.

And then one day I stopped by to visit and the tree was gone. The front lawn was empty, but for a bare spot where the stump had been and roots and shade had prevented grass from growing. I'd had a hard day already, and the absence of the tree set me to tears. How could it just be gone? Maybe it would have been even worse to see it get taken down bit by bit, but it was a massive shock to see it had just disappeared, likely turned to mulch without as much as a grateful farewell. It never got the grand curtain call I'd always wished for it.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and even now, as I watch the TV segment outlining the history of this year's tree, I have a moment of remembrance and regret for our tree. In this year's story, the reported noted that most trees of the appropriate height are reaching end of life, just as ours was. And on my regular December visits to Rockefeller Center, I've seen that several of the trees over the past few years have been a bit sparse at points, just as our tree was.

I guess that as nature warrants, the tree's remains gently decomposed somewhere and have nourished other plants, which is something to be happy about. Nonetheless, in my mind, it'll always be the tree that could have been.

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