Champagne Author Jude Johnson writes historical fiction. In a Melty Christmas to You, Jude shares with us her family’s personal saga of the Aluminum Christmas Tree.
Melty Christmas to You
As a child, Christmas was the most eagerly awaited and magical time of the entire year. The anticipation and excitement of the day the tree came into the house nearly matched the thrill of listening for sleigh bells on Christmas Eve night. And where I grew up in the farmlands of western Pennsylvania, choosing and cutting a tree from the woods was tradition.
Imagine if you will then the trauma in 1964 for this six-year-old when Dad came into the house not with a fat and fragrant pine tree, but a long white box containing The Abominable Aluminum Tree. Each branch had to be carefully released from its own paper sheath with one end a potential pointy weapon and the other a tinsel mum blossom. Two poles wrapped in cheap, thin foil screwed together into a skinny trunk and fit into a base that resembled a misshapen baked potato. When plugged in, a motor in the base rotated the entire tree. A heavy stage light with a rotating stained glass plate of red, blue, green, and yellow squatted on the floor to supposedly bathe the glittery tree in a cascade of color. We were not permitted to decorate this wonder with our handmade ornaments but only the fragile glass balls Dad brought. He had one box of red and one box of gold.
I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. Mom didn’t care for it either. But Dad loved it and that was all there was to it. By decree, The Abomination was put up every December for the next three years.
Aluminum trees were first introduced in the 1950s, reaching their peak of popularity in the space-age loving, mod and hip mid-1960s. One theory on Wikipedia states it was the Charlie Brown Christmas special that lessened the demand for the silvery trees, satirizing them as part of the modernization of the holiday that was ruining it for the hapless hero. His choice of the scrawny but natural tree seemed to rejuvenate esteem for green pines while dealing the death blow to prefab foil kitsch.
I contend, however, it was my family’s doing.
My family probably inspired the government’s Warning Label Project For The Less-Than-Sensible. The combination of the manufacturer’s steel light housing a 150-watt incandescent bulb and a motor to turn the lead glass plate was at least a recipe for second and third degree burns for someone. But our family rose to the challenge to go far beyond mere flesh wounds or testing the capacity of hospital burn units. Another Christmas tree fire? Pul-eeze, that’s so mundane.
Yes, Virginia, aluminum can melt. In Year Three of The Fake Tree, one of my sisters (who shall remain nameless to avoid the paparazzi) decided the pretty colors of light would look much better pointing upward from directly under the tree branches. Unfortunately, the casing would only angle forty-five degrees. But that didn’t stop me–uh, I mean my sister. Set it upside down directly on the tree’s funky base and voila! Colored light shot all the way up to the ceiling and around the room from the foil strands and ornaments in a rather cool precursor of the disco mirror ball looming in the not-so-distant future.
It wasn’t the smell that alerted us to trouble during dinner, nor the grinding squeal of burning motors. Ornaments smashed and shattered with an eerie similarity to gunshots. Our big collie-mix dog immediately ran into the room and shot under the kitchen table–his usual hiding place during thunderstorms and hunting season–knocking my brother’s knees and sending his chair crashing backward. My father jumped to his feet and dashed into the living room. The rest of us followed.
A half-melted mass of grayish-silver glommed the floor, surrounded with red and gold shrapnel in a crazy post-Bacchanal Roman mosaic. Nothing whirred or whined; when the tree fell, it had pulled its electrical cords from the sockets. You could smell heat but nothing smoked and there were no flames. But those mum blossoms had melded together in places and would never fit into their paper tubes or their allotted slots in the now deformed trunk again. Thank goodness there had been no presents placed under it.
Timing, after all, is everything.
Mom made sure we had real trees every year after The Melty Christmas. When artificial trees became more lifelike, those became the better choice, allowing more pines to remain and thrive in the woods. Now when I see the brilliant purple and pink aluminum display trees in the stores, I have to smile. Betcha they don’t come with a steel-cased stage light.
[P.S. You’re welcome, Mom. xoxo]
Jude’s Dragon & Hawk series is the saga of a Welsh immigrant in 1880s Arizona, the Mexican-Mayan healer he falls for, and their struggle to survive and establish a family. Her latest novel, Dragon’s Legacy, is Book Three of the trilogy. Jude’s short story, Within The Mists, is an historical fantasy involving the ancient Celtic legend of the selchie–a human on land and a seal in the sea–and an officer of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
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Visit Jude’s webpage: http://www.jude-johnson.com/
Tomorrow, Siren BookStrand author, Kate Patrick