CHRISTMAS TREES, RECYCLING, PATRIOTISM & MY AUNT PAULINE

Christmas tree made more beautiful by icicles

ICICLES REALLY DO MAKE THE TREE

Halloween is nearly here. Can Christmas be far behind? As I walked Mr. Magoo last week everywhere I turned there were ghosts, witches and Frankenstein monsters amidst bales of hay.  As a country we are into decorating, but most of our opportunities to decorate are lumped into just three months of the year. For the first three quarters our occasions are scant. We’ve got bunnies and

For Easter at 13 E. Petain Street, there were baskets and eggs.

Easter at 13 E. Petain Street meant baskets and colored eggs.

eggs at Easter, and little flags sprout here and there around the summer holidays, but it’s just not enough to satisfy our ornamental yearnings.

Halloween house

Halloween house

So come fall we’re in hog (or decorating) heaven. October first begins a month long pageant which now includes orange lights on trees dripping with fluorescent spider webs. Then, even before Thanksgiving, turkeys and pumpkins are all but pushed aside by the tinsel, snowflakes and Santa

Clauses getting a jump on Christmas.

Back on Petain Street we saved up all of our decorating efforts for Christmas time. Lights were strung in Prichard and in Bienville Square in Mobile and the windows of Gayfers were filled with Santa Clauses, reindeer, and children eyeing sugarplums. A few people in the rich part of town had lights outside their houses. Mama, Daddy and I took an annual outing to see their lights.

But the centerpiece of Christmas was in our own living rooms, the Christmas tree — which brings me to how patriotism, recycling, Christmas trees & Aunt Pauline connect.

 My Aunt Pauline was all about what was pretty and stylish. You could hear it when she talked and see it in everything she did — her hair, her home, even the things she cooked. Nobody disputed my Mama’s cakes and cookies were the best, but Aunt Pauline’s had zing. And no plain blue, pink, and yellow Easter eggs for her. In her hands the same PAAS dyes we all used to make plain one-color eggs turned out eggs that were stripped, speckled, and polka-dotted, and her Christmas trees were masterpieces.

I remember the year I was finally big enough for Aunt Pauline to let me help decorate the Christmas tree in her living room. She had the lights on already. She let me hang glass balls on the limbs I could reach.

THE COUSINS GATHERED AROUND AUNT PAULINE'S CHRISTMAS TREE

THE COUSINS GATHERED AROUND AUNT PAULINE'S CHRISTMAS TREE

Then we were ready for the silver icicles [tinsel]. “Icicles are what makes the tree!” she said as she brought out a big magazine, Look or Life, I think. Between its pages the long silver strands were preserved, just a few to a page.

I grabbed for a handful. “No, you have to put them on one or two at a time so you fill all the branches and make the tree beautiful. Some people throw them on. That leaves them in clumps. Hang them long and even.” She let me take the precious strands, just a few at a time, and hang them on the branches.

As we worked, I wondered why she had them in a magazine. Grandmama bought ours in a box.  

MR. MAGOO AND ICYCLES

MR. MAGOO AND ICICLES

“They’re in the magazine to save them. You can use the same icicles year after year if you’re careful.”  Recycling. We never said it. It was just something everybody did then for practical reasons. Nobody had money to waste buying new and throwing out perfectly good things. Outgrown and worn dresses were cut down to fit the younger children or cut up for quilts (my junior highschool wardrobe came from my pretty cousin Mary Gayle’s closet). Broken things were fixed – televisions, toasters, radios, and frying pans (That’s a career field that no longer exists today – the repairman). Christmas decorations were passed down the generations.

Mr. Magoo's CHRISTMAS CARD

Mr. Magoo wishes you a very merry christmas!

Aunt Pauline chatted as she carefully placed the icicles.  “I always had the prettiest trees – even during the war (WWII). You couldn’t get icicles then – and you shouldn’t have if you could, because aluminum was precious and they needed it for the war effort. (Being patriotic was important to people who’d just fought the big war and weren’t yet fed up with the ongoing fights for democracy.) The people who’d thrown theirs away had to do without. I had saved mine so everybody said I had the most beautiful tree in town.” She stood back and appraised the tree. “Icicles are what makes the tree,” she said again.

 

ICICLES AND LIGHTS

MERRY CHRISTMAS

The tree finished, we sat on her kidney bean shaped love seat and had cocoa and red and green Christmas cookies with little silver candy balls on top, and looked at the tree. That’s the picture in my head every year when I pull out my magazine filled with icicles — Aunt Pauline and me, sitting on that loveseat ———-  Icicles really do make the tree.

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