Trees of Silver

By Rose Ann Sinay

I sit down to browse the mountain of Christmas catalogues that have piled up on the table waiting for my attention. I flip through the first one looking for decorating ideas or a special gift to give. I stop when I see a silver tree almost identical to the one my family had when I was a kid. The only difference is the attached LED lights. The branched sculpture is tinted a frosty blue so cool it makes me shiver. In the picture it seems modern and sophisticated. That’s not exactly how I remember it.

* * *

The silver abomination stood in the corner of our temporary housing, pretending to be a Christmas tree. Painted silver poles were covered in loops of shiny aluminum. Each branch billowed out at the ends like alien trumpets standing at attention.

Our military family had just been transferred to Japan into an (off-base) “Americanized” bungalow next to a rice paddy. Much of our belongings, including our holiday trim, were packed in cardboard boxes sitting in my aunt’s basement in Texas awaiting our return. There was no need for decorations my parents explained, producing a red, green and blue disk that rotated in front of a light bulb, casting its reflection on the silver foil.

Ta-da! They said in unison.

Ta-duh! I thought.

My three-year-old brother, mesmerized by the illumination, jumped up and down as the color wheel turned. My baby sister, only a few months old, didn’t know the difference between a tree and a doorknob. I seemed to be the only one affected by the poor substitute. I wanted a Christmas tree – a real one with green needles that smelled of the outdoors. I thought about the trinkets and decorated glass balls we had collected over the years. I thought about them abandoned in the dark, dank room, their specialness wasted in their boxes.

Suddenly, I realized I didn’t want to be in a foreign country. I wanted my old friends; I wanted the excitement of Christmas, with its magic, goodness and miracles, that was everywhere.

The military base offered holiday parties and activities. Halls were transformed into winter wonderlands complete with Santas and plastic snow. The churches were somberly beautiful. But, outside the perimeter of the NCO club and the PX, it was just another day.

Christmas morning arrived. Mom and Dad rose early to start the coffee and put cinnamon buns in the oven. I woke my brother and we tiptoed into the living room to peek at the presents. We grabbed our stockings filled with fruit and nuts. The stockings were new, too. They couldn’t compare to the old, handmade ones that languished in the Texas basement.

My mother handed my brother and me the biggest boxes. I tore through the wrapping and stared at the box. A large doll with emerald eyes stared back. She was dressed in a fancy green chiffon dress. Heels adorned her incredibly arched feet. A doll that didn’t talk, come with a snap on cast, or stick on measles, she just posed on her metal stand. I didn’t like her.

Meanwhile, my brother had opened his gift revealing an airplane inside. A flip of a switch and the toy taxied its way around our small living room. Its red headlights flashed and the motor whirred. The noisy, mechanical toy enthralled everyone – even me. I was jealous. I put the doll, still in its sealed box, back under the tree and picked up a few smaller packages with my name on them: underwear and books. Two Nancy Drew books and one entitled Christmas around the World. I took the hardbacks and stocking treats to a chair and began to read about holiday traditions in different countries (Japan was not one of them).

The next four years I endured the return of the fake silver tree. I cut out tiny snowflakes, reindeer and Santa faces and glued them to the colored plastic. With the help of my new Japanese friends, I made garlands of origami birds and flowers and strung them over the aluminum branches. Truth be told, I enjoyed adding cross-culture items to our non-traditional tree.

I couldn’t wait to open the books I knew would be waiting for me every Christmas morning. And our last year overseas, I received my very own journal and a tube of pink lipstick. I had never opened the box with the doll, and I never received another one. Everything around me had changed, and I had changed, too.

I was almost fourteen when we moved back to the states to an on-base development in New Jersey. It snowed weeks before Christmas that year. Snowmen appeared in yards, greeting passers-by. Green garland and red bows adorned almost every house. At night, doorways and windows were ablaze with colored lights. I had almost forgotten how special the holidays looked.

The Saturday before Christmas, Dad came home dragging a tree – a real one. I couldn’t wait to bury my nose in the pine scent, sticky sap and all. Mom pulled out the boxes of decorations retrieved from Texas. She and I did the trimming. We sang along with a Perry Como album as we worked. When we stepped back and turned on the blinking lights, the magic was complete. I could have burst with happiness.

I saw tears in Mom’s eyes as she choked back a sob. She had missed the tradition as much as I had.

That first Christmas overseas had been a collision of change and self-discovery. It was a test of my ability to make the best of what could not be controlled–something my parents had done all the years of their married lives. The silver tree was my lesson in empathy and metamorphosis–surely, a gift worthy of the Christmas spirit. The mature me finally understood.

* * *

I am still staring at the picture wondering why anyone would actually want to buy my holiday nightmare, when my daughter walks by.

“Wow! Cool tree,” she says.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay

    Rose Ann Sinay

    Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer newly relocated to Connecticut. She continues to write about moments worth remembering, graciously provided by family and friends.

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10 Responses to “Trees of Silver”

  1. Deb Ilardi says:

    Mrs. Sinay’s work continues to provide warmth and care rivaling the best holiday greetings. She is a master short-story writer with a heart full of goodness.

  2. Joan Eaton says:

    Rose Anne you brought back the Christmas memories I had. Again, a beautiful story!!

  3. Erika Hoffman says:

    I laughed at your beginning paragraph because I’ve often wondered about the deluge of catalogues I get nowadays and wonder whatever happened to the “save the trees” movement. And I laughed at your ending too because what we once thought tacky and gaudy had become ” en vogue” to a new generation. Very good glimpse into what it must be like to be a military family and have to make do with whatever one can find to substitute for the traditional Christmas decorations that take on special meaning as the years pass. I always enjoy your pieces.

  4. Linda O'Connell says:

    This enjoyable story evoked so many memories. Strange isn’t it how what was old is new again for the younger ones?

  5. Sue Bisceglia says:

    Always a pleasure to read your stories. Love / hate holiday traditions!

  6. Tom Wolfe says:

    As expected, another fine piece of writing by Rose Anne. Love her ability to use words to transport the reader to her space and time. Looking forward to the day she publishes an anthology of all of her pieces. Merry Christmas!

  7. Jack DeGroot says:

    What a wonderful essay! I enjoyed reading about Rose Anne’s experiences overseas. I was a little girl living in Okinawa with my family in the 60s and I remember missing Christmases stateside. She brought everything back. Great writing!

  8. Susan Yanguas says:

    What a heartwarming story. I laughed at your description of the sad, aluminum tree, but you made the best of it by adding the origami birds. And your daughter’s comment at the end was priceless!

  9. Tammy Rohlf says:

    Thank you for a wonderful story – remembering old time traditions and incorporating new ones.
    I have to say the old silver tree was a tradition best left behind – although the stores are brimming with them now.

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