A Christmas Tree Story: What is Yours?

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vintage five

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

And maybe that’s one of our problems.

Well, some do. Unfortunately, trees are so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk. Nostalgia neurons burn cobwebs, fire hot in my brain. I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood curiosity and just a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell remain fresh and raw for what feels like an eternity.

A Christmas tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality. To me, anyway.

Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.

I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado. vintage four

Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.

Ornaments that adorned real pine, plastic, and even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles . Lights that that stick around, never to be extinguished In my mind. The beauty refuses to burn away.

Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff straining branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).

Some memories joyous many sad.

A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.

You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.

Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.

When I think about the 4 city- block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree. In my mind, every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house? In my imagination, these sentinels guarded against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.

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So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.

Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.

On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year. The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big  toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.

However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.

“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”

“Thank you!” Big smile.

I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.

He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).

He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.

Random Thoughts:

Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year. Even if the stories are sad, they now go down like a fine bourbon – in 5 seconds you’re overwhelmed by warmth.

Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, the memories never die. Nor should they. They are you. Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.

Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.

Our trees are dying every day.

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So what’s your Christmas tree story? Can you remember it today? Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?

vintage one

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

Perhaps there’s a good reason.

Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.

Can you feel the joy again?

In this moment like a last moment?

Can even the sad be cathartic?

Try it and see.

It’s fine to be surprised by feelings that are unpacked and adorned for all to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have Kids? 4 Ways to Save Money: 4 Ways Dave Ramsey gets it Wrong.

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“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

I’ll never forget the March day in 1973 when the birthday gift from my parents – a new lime-green Schwinn 10-speed with a prism-like banana seat (complete with black double-stripe down the middle) was stolen from outside the Brooklyn neighborhood toy store – Cheap Charlie’s.

green schwinn

I believed I did all the right things to ensure my prized possession was secured tightly to a small tree.  It was in my line of sight; no matter where I was, even checking out stacks of Hasbro Colorforms’ boxes at the back of my favorite five and dime, I could glance out the large plate glass windows and observe some part of the bike’s beautiful, clean lines.

Padlock checked twice. Pulled on the lock again, just to be sure I wasn’t fooling myself that the bike was secure.

It wasn’t enough to keep this new birthday purchase from disappearing.

Looked up from the new GI Joe Adventure Team play sets and in less than two minutes the bike was history. I bolted out the front door, looked around, up and down Avenue U as fast as my head could turn and eyes would dart.

mummy tomb My favorite!!

Nothing.  How did the bastard get away so quickly? Oh yeah, he was on wheels.

How do I now tell my parents the expensive gift that surprised me three hours earlier was now history?

Recently, Dave Ramsey or his people (he’s big time, he has people), wrote an article that rubbed me the wrong way. Usually, I agree with the information that Dave provides however, this piece (link below) inspired the line about money linked to memory.

10 Ways We Waste Money On Our Kids.

The Ramsey article was the catalyst to re-live a painful life episode from over forty years ago.

What happened after the incident was memorable, too.  In a good way.

And I’ll never forget.

Back to Dave’s article: Used bikes, no hamsters as pets – Made me grateful to not be a kid or grandchild under the Ramsey roof.

Is there a balanced approach here so rodents can still scurry through colorful Habittrail tubes in happy homes?

I think so.

habitrail I bet Dave would hate Habittrail (too expensive).

Let’s break it down.

Here are 4 ways to save and 4 areas where Dave Ramsey is way off the mark.

 Random Thoughts:

1). Go used or reused. I don’t believe our money has achieved the maximum return on thrift stores or consignment shops.

Thankfully, the stigma of shopping at a Salvation Army is dying; perhaps it’s the disappointing economic recovery where much of the middle class feels like the Great Recession never ended. Recently, my daughter and I went shopping for a winter week-long trip to New York City and found some astounding cold weather wear deals at a neighborhood place that sells gently-used teen clothing. Check out www.thethriftshopper.com for a national thrift store directory and a shoppers’ forum where all topics thrift are discussed.

2). Arts and crafts fun not boring. Crafting dollars still go a long way and what a method to engage your child in a family creative endeavor. I know it sounds old school, however some of the best returns on memory I have with my daughter is the Halloween and autumn-related crafts we did at home. We finished multiple joint projects including fall wreaths and small sentiments for family and it was short on cost, long on satisfaction. Sign up for Pinterest and investigate fall craft ideas. I was floored by the number of inexpensive DIY Halloween projects.

3). Get tricky. When I was a kid I drove my mother crazy because I was only interested in popular name brands of food. I was a sucker for television advertising. For example, I would only eat the bacon with the Indian head profile complete with full headdress, on the front of the package – can’t recall the name now. Of course, it was the most expensive and as a single parent household, mom was on a tight budget. I still remember catching her placing a less popular bacon in an old package of the brand I liked.  Come to think of it, I think she did this often. I recall on occasion my Lucky Charms not having as many marshmallows. Oh the shame! She was attempting to trick me. As I age I realize I’m fine with tricking children. Buy the Frosted Flakes, keep the box and replace with the generic brand to save money. Today, less expensive brands are tough to tell apart from the premium ones. Try it.

4). Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Visit local venues first. This time of year many autumn fairs pop up at farms, places of worship and even retail parking lots. Peruse the local fair festival guides in community impact newspapers and take inexpensive journeys.  It’s a great time to have children select and prepare fresh vegetables and fruits available from local vendors.

The stuff Dave Ramsey is saying is a waste may not be to you because money is not just a medium of exchange, it purchases long-term lessons and memories of places and people long gone.

So, despite what the Ramsey group says:

1). Get, or if you can, adopt a pet. The hamster or whatever suits your family. My hamster Benjy lived five years. Yes, five years! And he taught me great responsibility and love. He brought happiness and accomplishment to my life as a nine-year old. I thought he’d live forever. I taught him tricks. He chased my mother around our tiny Brooklyn walk-up (an added bonus). Dave says no Benjy. I’m sorry, this advice is wrong.

2). Say yes to movie tickets. Ok, you don’t want your six-year old to see The Equalizer, I get it. Although my father took me to The Godfather when it first hit theatres and Sonny getting converted into human Swiss cheese at the tollbooth affected me for years, there is a bonding experience between parents and children at the movies. So, you sit through Little Fluffy Bunny Finds a Carrot or whatever kids’ flick is playing. Take your children to the movies. Splurge on the overpriced candy and popcorn.

3). Yes to electronic games, too. My friend Jordan Shapiro, professor, teacher, author, contributor to Forbes and modern-day Socrates would advise you that electronic games can teach children much about life and ignite cognitive development. There are many ways to save here – plenty of gaming systems available used and in great condition, especially at pawn shops. I spent hours with my Batman coloring books; I agree crayons have a place in kids’ rooms, however, I don’t see how electronic games are a waste of money.

4). Buy the kid a new bike for gosh sakes. There’s nothing like the thrill of a new bike for a kid. All the adventures ahead – the feelings of freedom. Nothing but priceless. My head is reeling thinking about the places I went on two wheels.

Ah, so you’re wondering how I had so many great adventures when my bike was stolen the same day I got it.

Well, when I called my father from the kitchen Trimline phone crying hysterically, he immediately left work in the middle of the day (which only happened twice during my childhood),  and drove me to Frank’s Schwinn Shop on East 6th Street and bought me an identical replacement.

He said it wasn’t my fault.

On his deathbed, while he lapsed in and out of a coma, I whispered in my dad’s ear, reminded him about how I was grateful for him. And that damn bike episode. How it changed my life. He was there for me through a traumatic event.

It’s unfortunate when financial types become so successful they forget what money is truly all about. It’s “eat your vegetables, don’t have fun.”

No it isn’t.

“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

So screw that advice.

remember moments