Thursday, December 18, 2014
Uncle "I" and the Christmas Tree (1953)
This is one of those stories which I manage to work in every Christmas season. It speaks of tolerance and the only person I have ever known who loved me without condition. This day also has special significance, as it was always December 15th when we put up the Christmas tree each year. There was never any variation to this rule. The tree arrived on the 15th and was down before New Year’s.
I have always had a Christmas tree. My parents were a "mixed" marriage- my Dad was Irish Catholic and my Mom was Russian Jewish. I was raised in a home that had both a Christmas tree and Chanukah candles. Each year we would light the candles and place our spare change in a dish before it. On the eighth day we would count it up and write a check to the WOR Children’s Christmas Fund. This didn't seem strange to us- money from a Jewish holiday going to the Christmas Fund. Actually it made a lot of sense. It exemplified what the season is all about.
We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Day. And in our house there was no bigger fan of Christmas than my Uncle Irving.
Each year he took my brother and I to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Show. If you have never seen it you have been cheated. It is completely religious in its scope with the Three Wise Men crossing the stage following a star to Bethlehem, including real Camels and Donkeys on the stage! And the Manger- bathed in blue light-was always sure to make my Uncle cry. It was that beautiful. But it wasn't always like that with him.
My parents were married in 1950. They lived with my Grandma Marcus and her brother Irving, my Uncle I, in an apartment on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn until 1952. That’s when they got their first apartment together. It was in the same building on the 4th floor.
My Dad had always had a Christmas tree except for the last 2 years while living with my Mom and Grandma. This was going to be my Mom's first Christmas tree. Naturally, she was very excited and went downstairs to Apartment 3-B to invite Grandma, Uncle Irving and their maid, Mary, up to apartment 4-A to see it.
Irving wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t even budge. One flight up was one too many for him to stand before that “symbol of goyim idolatry.”
The following year saw the birth of my brother Mark. This was going to be his first Christmas and the excitement my parents felt was enormous. And; it turns out contagious.
As Christmas Eve approached Uncle Irving had still not come up to see the tree. That night Grandma and Mary went up to my parents to exchange gifts. Uncle Irving went reluctantly and at the insistence of my Grandmother.
The door opened and there stood the tree. There it was- the “goyim symbol” in all of its splendor. With big outdoor lights and a star at the top, dripping with tinsel and beckoning with its beauty, it mesmerized him. He drew near and felt the warmth and love of my parents coming from that tree. He saw the joy on my brother’s infant face. He turned away and walked out!
An hour or so later he came back, arms laden with toys for my brother and gifts for everyone. After that year- and for every year after until the end of his life- he was the first to ask, “When are we putting up the tree?”