FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The process of trimming the Christmas tree at the Hooks house each holiday season can certainly conjure up the memories. These memories span as many years as I am old and I still have some of the keepsake pieces that spark them. My early memories are from my elementary grade years, the mid-fifties when I was around 5 years old, my middle brother, 6 and my big brother was 10.
In the Hooks house, trimming the Christmas tree was an event. There was no competition from any other activities in the neighborhood. Nothing would separate us from that annual ritual, although, my oldest brother pretended to be disinterested as any other pre-teen would. Sort of like Wally Cleaver. So it was mostly up to brother Bobby and myself to proceed with the excitement.
Our dad had taken us with him weeks before to select our tree either at the tree lot at cousin Sam Aycock's Feed and Seed Store or at Mr. Southerland's Nursery on North Third Street. For about two weeks that lush blue-green fraser fir rested in a bucket of water in our backyard and my brothers and I would look out the kitchen window every morning until, finally, Daddy said it was time to bring it inside. We always had to wait until school was out.
Mother collected the boxes of ornaments, the nativity set, and the last year's strings of Christmas lights from the closet under the staircase. It was those darn Christmas lights that nearly spoiled the fun as Daddy fussed with the bulbs to locate the "bad" one that caused the strings to go out. Who doesn't remember that nightmare, and the long tense wait until the lights were ready?! Mother saved the day by putting on some Christmas records to ease the tension.
My brothers and I stood ready with our ornaments carefully taken from the box marked "favorites" hoping to hang ours in the most prominent spot on the tree (vying for the best spot was another source of tension). The shiny ornaments were made of very thin glass, very delicate, and too easy to break, so we were very, very careful to safely and securely place ours. Each year my parents would collect new ornaments for each of us; remembering my favorites were those wonderful glass musical instruments — a trumpet, a French horn and a tuba; I think I still have my French horn, easily 60 years old now. An antique?
The Christmas tree at the Hooks house looked pretty much the same year after year with only a few exceptions. One year, when my middle brother and I were in first and second grades, the tree was dominated with garlands, candy canes and cut-out decorations made of construction paper. There was the year my Daddy put shaving cream on the tips of the branches to look like snow; the year we covered the tree in tinsel and my mother had a cow when I started throwing the tinsel up in the air to watch it land naturally on each tree branch (more tension). There was one year that we opted to get one of those Jetson-style aluminum trees with the light wheel that shined colors onto the reflective branches. That "tree" was awful and it did absolutely no justice to our prized ornaments. There were a lot of those discarded shiny trees lining the curbs along the streets in our neighborhood after the holiday.
There are lots of traditions associated with Christmases past that most families will continue through generations and each time I recall our tree trimming rituals at the Hooks house, I am reminded of the wonderful sense of family I felt and I still do. I still share photos of my own family Christmas tree with my brothers who are no longer nearby. The Christmas tree will always be a big deal every season at the Hooks house.