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Acie and the Pink Tree

Christmas brings memory fragments, colorful and diverse, happy and poignant, all clamoring for attention like the to-do lists swirling in our heads. Memories of my kids, little and cuddly in their pastel yellow or blue Dr. Denton footed pajamas, cheeks flushed with excitement, hair mussed and tousled, the lights aglitter, Christmas carols playing on the stereo, and the dogs sniffing under the tree. Those memories are clear and sharp.

The year of the two wheeler for Audrey when her brother reconnoitered the living room scene while everyone still slept, then burst into her room shouting “Aud! You got a bike!” She’s never forgiven him for killing her surprise. There was the dangerous year of Glenn's Godzilla with the hand that shot off into the air, the years of Fisher Price: house, barn, garage, schoolhouse, and castle; lots of Legos, dolls, and oh, the Christmas cookies!

Farther back, a memory of a plaid taffeta dress, mine, the feel of it, the stiffness, the rustle, atop new undies and a petticoat to stick the dress out a bit; anklets, black patent leather shoes. I felt fancy! Banana type curls that Mother carefully molded around her finger the night before, ignoring my “ouches” and “ows” as she thrust the bobby pins into my scalp to hold them tight. Christmas at home usually, with the aunts and uncles coming over.

Sometimes we went to Aunt Marion’s where the dining room table took up most of the living room, and before dinner we would cluster behind the table on the tiny French provincial furniture, me being reminded constantly to be careful with the miniature cheese and crackers. A tiny tree sat atop her television in the corner. Everything at Aunt Marion’s was dainty and fragile.

One year, we went to Aunt Acie’s, a true rarity. Aunt Acie (a family nickname for Esther) lived in a fourth floor walk up in Jackson Heights. My parents were out of breath by the time we got to the fourth floor, each carrying shopping bags of gifts and food. On the way, we smelled everyone’s Christmas dinner, saw each door dressed with a Christmas wreath, noticed wet boots resting on newspaper outside doors.

Aunt Acie’s small living room was taken up with a big table set for Christmas dinner, and a piano. A rose colored couch and two chairs backed up against the walls. Where was the tree? Then I saw it, right inside the French doors that opened out from the bedroom.

It was pink! A big pink tree that reached to the ceiling, decorated with large colored lights and fancy gold and silver ornaments! Silver tinsel glittered and dripped off the ends. The angel on top was so high! I was mesmerized. Under the tree was the biggest manger and Holy Family and three kings that I’d ever seen.

I spent the afternoon and evening, in between cocktails, dinner, dessert, and after dinner drinks, laying on the bedroom floor staring up at the tree, daydreaming and moving the figures around in the manger. Listening to the adults talking on; Uncle Harry about Vaudeville, Mother and the Aunts laughing or whispering among themselves. Dad spoke very little but could get riled up about the telephone company if prodded. Uncle Hughie disagreed with everybody, his black heavy glasses sliding down off his nose.

That pink tree was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! Yet the memory has me wondering about Aunt Acie, who smelled of cold cream and always wore navy blue. She seemed dour to me, as a kid, with her necessary small smile. What was going in that marcel-waved hairdo of hers?

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