Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The New Christmas Tree

THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING, I rummaged through the garage clutter for the reusable (OK, fake) pine Christmas tree that we bought from Target five years ago when we were still living in an apartment in Elmhurst. Through the years, this tree had served its purpose faithfully, though it had shed some needles from each boxing and unboxing, and with the economic recession and our tight budget this season, I am in no mood to replace it with a new one. I don't mind being called a cheapskate recycler, though I prefer it if you call me an environmentalist, who scavenges through the neighborhood trash every Thursday night for aluminum cans, glass bottles and what-have-you that are still worth something before they ended up in a Staten Island landfill. My best finds so far: a hardly-used futon sofa bed that we shared with our basement tenants, and a computer tower with 20GB hard disk memory.

Anyway, to make up for the lack of a real tree, we thought it would be a good idea to decorate the potted Cestrum nocturnum (aka dama de noche) as well, which we took inside the the house and placed next to the thermostat when the temperature outside went below 40F. (It used to sit on the doorstep and bloomed gloriously in the summer, but it is an annual plant that dies in frost.) Then, it dawned on me (and I know it sounds awkward and silly) that sometimes we, consciously or unconsciously, make use of what we have in our hands to have the things that we long for, even in the imagination. Like Christmas trees.

As children in Mindoro, my siblings and I were expert Christmas tree makers. Our father used to go to the lalao swamps in Lumambayan to cut a pyramid-shaped mangrove tree, whose twigs we cleaned and coated with La Torre gawgaw glue, covered with shredded cotton and white papel de japon so we could imagine snow, then planted its trunk in a floorwax can full of pebbles. But, at this point in our lives, the tables have turned, it seems. This time it's the other way around; we are decorating a tree to remind us of the tropics. Man is never satisfied. As Don Henley sang in Desperado, "you only want the ones that you can't get." So, trimmed and trained on a bamboo stick, the Cestrum is certainly unimpressive, but with a little imagination, especially when a blizzard is howling outside, one can relive those sultry summer nights in Pinamalayan when, sitting on the porch after dinner, he saw the fireflies, heard a distant guitar, and the Cestrum wafted its fragrance through the tropical air.

Next week, Sara is going to read in class the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (here in his original handwriting). The poem was supposed to have been written by the author thinking about his grandparents' homestead farm on the corner of Broadway and Woodside Avenues in Newtown Village (Elmhurst, Queens), now occupied by a large apartment building.


No comments:

Post a Comment