My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

The unveiling of Melania Trump’s creepy blood-red Christmas trees at The White House this year has me thinking about my old next-door neighbor’s wacky decorating schemes in East Midvale, where I grew up.

Every year, “Mrs. K,” the mother of George, the Greek kid I had a crush on, flocked her Christmas tree a different color to contrast with her pristine white living room, which as far as I knew, hadn’t actually been used since her family moved in.

Whenever Mrs. K would hire me to read to her two daughters (they didn’t appreciate books as much as I did), she’d ask me to take my shoes off, then quickly usher me across a long, clear vinyl rug to the kitchen in the back of the house. My feet were never allowed to touch the wall-to-wall white shag carpet, and I doubted that her kids spent much time running their toes through the snowy drifts either.

Every Christmas, though, you could count on Mrs. K to add a little color to her blinding white-on-white decorating scheme. She’d send her husband to pick up the tree she’d had flocked at the Allied tree lot, then proudly trim it with tinsel, shiny baubles and blinking lights and put it on display in her front picture window. One year, she’d have a purple tree. Another year she’d have pink or blue. As I recall, there was even a bright red tree one year, similar to the trees Melania decided to really, really care about this holiday season.

Of course, I was jealous that George’s family always had a colorful tree.

“Why can’t we do that to OUR tree?” I’d ask my mother. “Why do we always have to get a plain green tree?”

“Because trees are green,” my mother would say. “When’s the last time you saw a blue tree in the wild?”

Finally, when I was 8, my mom relented with a sigh and decided that we could have a flocked tree. But it had to be white, she said,  so that it would look as though it was covered with snow, not pink bubble gum. After my dad strapped the street to the top of his station wagon and brought it home, he and my mom carefully removed the plastic, set it in a corner of our living room and told me and my siblings that we could go to town decorating.

Did we ever. By the end of the night, the tree was dripping from floor to ceiling with silver tinsel, red and green ornaments, sparkling white lights and shiny strands of beads. But there was one problem: we were dripping too, with glittering artificial snow.

We were flocked.

“Go wash off,” said our mom, “and I’ll get out the vacuum.” She kept it handy until after Christmas to suck up the trails of white that we’d leave every day all over the green shag carpet. “THIS,” said my mother, “is why trees are meant to be green.”

We never again had a flocked tree, and ironically, Mrs. K took my mom’s advice. The following year, we laughed when we saw the tree in her front picture window. It had been flocked a brilliant shade of avocado green. : )

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