The Aluminum TreePosted: December 4, 2007
At least once, my family was “hip.” In the early to mid-Sixties, we had one of those futuristic aluminum Christmas trees with a rotating color wheel that illuminated it with a spectrum of colored lights reflecting from every silver needle. Red, green, blue, gold. Magical.
Mama occasionally spotted something cutting-edge in the Sears & Roebuck catalog, and when this Space Age wonder came along, she went straight downtown to the showroom and put in her order. It arrived in a cardboard box, unlike our previous trees which came fresh from the sidewalk in front of the grocery store—a long line of evergreens leaning at an angle against the brick wall, waiting to be picked, like girls at a dance. Unlike the trees of my grandparents, who lived out in the country and chopped down small cedars from the woods, dragged them into the living room, and decorated them with dollar store balls and strings of popcorn and berries and ribbons.
Mama set up the aluminum tree in front of the window in the Piano Room, named so because it had a piano in it—an upright Mama refinished in antique white, with an antique white bench to match. I stopped taking piano lessons in eighth grade, but I kept on playing “Summer Place” and other hits, as well as songs from the Broadman Hymnal. There was a big couch in the Piano Room—really a trundle bed made to look like a couch. Mama made a cover for it in a green, gold, and blue stripe and covered big matching bolsters for the back, then stacked cushions on it. Next to it was an antique white end table that held a tall lamp from Levingston’s, now sitting on a hutch in my dining room. Two small gold conversation chairs sat in the opposite corner, with an oil painting of my Aunt Ethel on the wall above one of them.
I was in junior high and just starting high school back then, and that big, comfortable couch was my private phone place. The phone was in the hallway just outside the door to the Piano Room, and it had a cord long enough so that I could carry it in there with me, close the door, plop down on the couch, prop up on the cushions, and talk. At seven every night, my boyfriend called, and after an hour with him, I’d call my friends and talk till nine.
At Christmastime, after Mama set up the aluminum tree, I’d turn the lamps off, plug the color wheel in, and sit there, trying to keep up my end of the conversation, but getting drawn into the dazzling branches, spellbound. Red, green, blue, gold. The colors would melt from one to another slowly as the wheel turned around, and pull me along in a stare. The silver needles on the tree sparkled and shimmered and shined. It was a magical scene. I sat there in amazement, watching the tree go from color to color, each hue eliciting its own emotional response, and then when blue came around, I couldn’t help but breathe out a long ahhhhh. The colors washed across the white walls and the shimmering fabric of the gold chairs and even across Aunt Ethel.
Each family member would take a turn sitting there and watching, getting lost in this world of fantasy. Then after a few years of glittering silver, Mama gave the tree away to a woman she taught school with and used the color wheel in her dancing recitals. We went back to fresh trees, the scent of fir, green needles in the carpet, and knotted strung lights circling the branches. And tinsel. Lots of tinsel.