Of all the Christmas trees I’ve decorated, I only remember one. The most beautiful one.
I was single, and working at my first newspaper job. I lived alone in a darling apartment, the upper floor of a former carriage house behind a very grand house on Mahoning Avenue.
Depression hovered. I was learning to take care of myself.
I bought a Christmas tree – not very tall, it had to fit under the eaves, but it had some shape. I didn’t have many decorations, but I had an idea.
I strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree. I hung my few ornaments. Then I took some wire hooks, made a couple dozen tiny candle holders, and carefully attached them to the tips of tree branches with a birthday candle in each one.
When I lit the candles and stepped back, it took my breath away.
The tree was so beautiful.
The soft light of the candles bathed the tree and the room. Glossy pine needles glowed as though with a rainy mist. Each of those few ornaments looked like it was about to come to life and dance around the tree. The string of popcorn and cranberries lifted up the tree branches with white and red.
Two dozen points of light in my darkened room.
Birthday candles don’t burn long, so I blew them out after a minute. I lit the tree one other time that holiday season.
I left the tree up until January 1, but then it had to go. It was dried up, and there was no way I could light the candles without burning down the whole carriage house.
I cried when I took it down. Because no one had seen it but me.
I’d had no parties, no visitors, no boyfriend kissing me in the glow of the candles. I was alone, and the tree lived and died alone with me. As though neither of us had ever existed.
I made up my mind that day: I will never again put up a tree that no one else sees.
Some years I haven’t had a tree. Some years I invited people over just to see my tree. I kept my vow.
But I’ve never had a tree as beautiful as the one that nobody saw.
Christmas can be a terrible, lonely time for so many people. It’s a good time to go visit some trees.
Today’s penny is a 1981, the year of my most beautiful Christmas tree.