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Wikimedia Commons/Gerbil

In memory I see them now, dozens of little flames licking upward, casting their warmth and light upon the green needles of a tall but shabby Christmas tree. I was very young, barely five years old I suppose. It was Christmas and we were visiting my grandmother. We didn’t go there very much. It was 20 miles, and back then not many people had cars. I don’t remember how we got there: Daddy didn’t have a car. He walked to work at a mill in town. But it was Christmas Eve, and somehow we managed to make it up the mountain from Brevard to Quebec, North Carolina. It was well for me that we did, for that day yielded one of my brightest memories.

Early that morning Grandpa had been out to the woods to cut a tree. He’d returned with the fluffiest white pine he could find, its trunk nailed to a wooden crosspiece.  Back then nobody bought a Christmas tree. You made do with what you could find in the fields and forests. It was scrawny by today’s standards, but it reached nearly to the ceiling. Grandma said it suited her just fine.

Mama and Grandma set about decorating that spindly tree. They hung pretty glass balls on it, and ropes of shiny tinsel; and at the top they fastened a cardboard star covered with tinfoil salvaged from a cigarette wrapper. Somebody had bought something called angel hair at the five-and-ten-cent store in town. It was white and looked like hair sure enough. They were about to put that on the tree but Mama said no, it might catch fire. I didn’t see any fire. There wasn’t any fire except in the pot bellied stove there in the living room. And, it was still daytime. The kerosene lamp wasn’t even burning. But I didn’t say anything. When you are five you are pretty much a spectator.

They put the angel hair away and Grandma got out lots of funny looking little things which they fastened to the limbs of the Christmas tree. Now that I am all grown up I know those funny looking things were old fashioned clip candle holders, made to go on Christmas trees. After that they put lots of little white wax candles on the tree.

What happened next became an indelible memory for me. With wooden matches Mama and Grandma lit those dozens of little wax candles, and as they did that homely Christmas tree took on an ethereal luster. It glimmered! It glowed! The candles sputtered and flickered; their golden flames danced, lighting up every corner of the room. It was the most breathtaking scene I’d ever witnessed. Maybe it still is.

But it was short lived. In a little while the candles had burned down and they blew them out. After that they put the angel hair on the tree, and it was all over. I don’t remember what I got that year. But I will never forget Grandma’s Christmas tree. 

 

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