Monday, December 19, 2016

The Last Christmas Tree

After Thanksgiving Christmas trees crowd the sidewalks of New York.

On the corner of Fulton and St. Felix Streets the holiday franchise has been run by Laurent and Amy, who have transported evergreens from the northern forest of Quebec for the last six seasons. We spoke in French with their accent a provincial Quebecois and my r-less speech betraying my Boston roots.

Last year they gave me a small tree for my bedroom at the Fort Greene Observatory. I called it Ole Tree.

I thanked them with a bottle of wine, which we drank together right before they returned to Canada.

"Merci." I was sad to see them go, but they said, "Next year."

We hugged good-bye and I returned home to adorn the two-foot tree with Buddhas, ribbons, and a silver star.

Most of our neighbors tossed out the drying trees after the New Year.

I kept water in the small bowl beneath the severed trunk and Old Tree remained green throughout the winter. AP's kids liked Ole Tree. We ate cookies in the Observatory, while I told them stories of the north woods. Lizzie and James liked my tales of lumbermen along the St. John's River. I had heard them from my grandfather.

The winter was a cold one and I told my landlord and his kids about burning Christmas trees on a lake in Maine.

"The ice is a foot thick and everyone brings out their orange-dry trees to pile them high. Someone tosses a match and the trees go up in the whoosh of flames. I wish they did that here."

Instead the city mulches the dead trees with a wood-chipper.

"Just what the city needs. A bonfire to burn down all of Fort Greene." AP was a good dad, but I had the feeling that Lizzie and James wouldn't have like to see Ole Tree in a bonfire.

"When are you throwing out your tree?" asked his wife.

"Soon."

January became February with March rolling into the city with a vengeance. April was also cold. Finally winter relinquished its grip in May.

Ole Tree seemed comfortable in my room, despite its needles turning orange.

"It's time for it to go." AP rightly considered the tree a fire hazard.

"Soon."

"You've been saying that for months."

"What if I burned it in the backyard?" A good fire was an honorable ending for Ole Tree.

"Not a chance. Those trees burn hot." AP had gone to RISD. He knew New England and New Englanders. People from cold climes are into flames.

In May I traveled to Thailand and visited my children.

Upon my return AP said, "My wife wants the tree gone. Actually she wanted it gone long ago."

"Ole Tree's a ghost of Christmas past," protested James. He was my good friend.

"Christmas was six months ago. Get rid of it."

I didn't want to say good-bye and a few more weeks passed, then the summer turned up the heat. AP was worried about instantaneous combustion and I had to admit Ole Tree presented a clear and present danger.

On a hot July morning I apologized to Ole Tree and carried it down to the street on my way to work. I didn't want to leave my old friend in the trash, so I walked to the corner and poised the tree on the wall of a church.

"You be good."

"I walked away, expecting never to see Ole Tree again, but upon coming back from work at the diamond store I discovered Ole Tree had moved to a stump on the sidewalk. James and Lizzie went outside to speak with Ole Tree. AP thought I was crazy, but he was a New Yorker and not a New Englander.

A week passed before Ole Tree hit the road and vanished forever.

It didn't leave a forwarding address, but winter will be back and so will Laurent from Quebec with a new crop of firs. A new tree will become this season's Old Tree, but I still think about the old Old Tree.

I love thee for a long time and will love the Son of Ole Tree just the same.

Bien Sur.

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