: views from the Hill

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Those were the days, my friends

The tree is up!

For a while there I thought the tree would be a casualty of the move and I was sniffling about it.

Christmas. Christmas. Christmas carols. Christmas songs. "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there's a feeling of Christmas." All of that. Even "White Christmas" makes me feel nostalgic, even though my Christmases that have even had the slightest chance of being white have been few and far between.

My favorite part of Christmas was always the tree, with its hodge podge of decorations: 1800s German glass ornaments, dough ornaments made by kindergarteners, CostPlus ornaments, glass Santa Clauses, ornaments bought in foreign lands, and a plastic Rudolph ornament from back when his nibs was young. ...

The living room at the old place had clerestory windows, so one side was higher than the other. We could squeeze in an 11' tree, when we could find one. Every year, excepting one or two in the last quarter century, we'd head up into the Santa Cruz Mountains with the kiddies and cut down a tree, after great debates over which tree was most deserving. It would take forever to set up the tree and get the ornaments hung, but the time was well spent.

Every year, I'd sit by the tree every evening after supper, with all the lights off but those on the tree. The smell of fresh cut fir filled the house. The lights on the tree sparkled. The ornaments glistened and turned in the drafts. Sparkling. Reflecting back. The tree always seemed such a fairy tale tree, a Nutcracker tree, all the tales of Christmas wrapped up in the quintessential tree, always the best tree ever.

I didn't know if we were having a tree this year or any year to come. His nibs had made comments about the impossible logistics of finding a tree and hauling it down the Filbert Steps from Montgomery and up the front stairs and setting it up ...

... no, the problem was less the logistics of the tree itself and more the impossible logistics of hauling the lights and garlands and the heavy old Army trunk full of Christmas ornaments away from where they're stashed and bringing them down the Steps from Montgomery and up the front stairs ... and sorting through until we find the decorations that must be on the tree and then adding other decorations until the tree tells us it's ready.

Come Epiphany, the tree comes down and everything happens in reverse. The tree is an incredible amount of work and would be moreso this year because of the logistics. Was it worth it? The practical side of me said that a tree loaded with sentimental ornaments is not necessary for Christmas and might be too much effort.

The kid in me, though, was sniffling about it. I didn't know if we'd have a tree this year. Sniffle. Sniffle.

I sniffled for days and weeks. Could there be a real Christmas without a tree? I finally whacked myself alongside my head and told myself to stop snivelling. The effort was indeed worth it. We just had to figure out how to proceed.

I made a plan.

We'd buy the tree from the Delancey Street Foundation lot on the Embarcadero. We wouldn't need to drive that far home with the tree, maybe a mile or two. If we took it slowly, we could manage the distance with the tree tied to the roof of the car. Even with the Honda, we could transport it.

(Turned out the tree we chose was small enough we managed to stuff it inside the Honda, after turning down the back seat. We were even able to close the trunk lid.)

We'd open the old Army trunk right where it's stashed and sort through the decorations there, bringing just a subset of must-have decorations here.

The tree and the decorations were do-able. Yes, they were. Without a question.

His nibs agreed.

So we did.

Even though we sorted through and left boxes and boxes of ornaments behind, we still brought too many decorations down the Steps, of course. When a tree is 6-7' tall, as ours is this year, it's not only several feet shorter than we're used to, but the circumference is far less as well, meaning far fewer branchlets to hang things on.

We'll learn. This year was the first Christmas here, and a test of what's possible. We'll sort through and box up some things that it's now obvious we won't be using while we live here -- old lights that are old enough to be interesting, old Christmas balls from the 50s that the offspring can sell on eBay or its logical equivalent after we settle in for our dirt naps, excess glass beaded garlands, the glass musical instruments, the glass clowns, the under-the-tree village houses and trees and people and animals ...

We just spent the afternoon, going through stuff, moving back in time, rewrapping things up, reboxing.

Turns out some of the old Christmas lights were wrapped in pages from the S.F. News - Call Bulletin, dated Friday, Jan 06, 1961.

What was going on in the world almost forty-five years ago now?

Well, the Quo Vadis at 375 Bush was advertising a complete prime rib dinner for $2.95.

The Call Bulletin had a long article on the Best Dressed List just released by the New York couture group after compiling the results of ballots submitted by two thousand fashion editors, designers, and society leaders. Mrs. John F. Kennedy, wife of the President-elect, was voted tops on the list by a landslide. Of those named, the Call Bulletin had photographs of Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Princess Stanislaus Radziwill (also known as little sister Lee), Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Audrey Hepburn, Mrs. Patrick Guinness, Mrs. Stavros Niarchos, Mrs. Norman Winston, Mrs. John B. Ryan III, and Princess Alexandra.

In the same section was a column labeled Club Activities. The Blue Horizon Social Club was offering old fashioned dancing for the middle-aged. The San Francisco Women's Breakfast Club was meeting.

A headline cried, "Million Dollar Divorce: Dick and June Powell Separate." "What To Do About Castro" was the top editorial.

Those were the days, my friends. ...

Another advertisement read, "Caesar's Italian Restaurant at the corner of Bay and Powell. Full Course Italian Dinners." No price given.

Some things don't change.

Caesar's is still there. On Sundays black Crown Vics drop off guys of a certain age, escorting their moms to Sunday dinner.

These are the days, my friends. ... Enjoy them.

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