by Kay Carstens
Christmas in Michigan was always a big deal in our house. First was the trip to a farm to pick out a tree. Mom moaned for a smaller one this year. My sister, Carole, and I held out for one that would go to the ceiling. Dad telling mom he’d cut it to fit when he evened out the base. Then we roped it to the car roof to get it home. My sister and I had to cajole dad to get his saw and fit it in the tree holder while we held it at least semi-straight. Then getting it to stand in the house without cutting a hole in the living room ceiling. Next the lights (Dad’s job, too). Finally, we could haul the ornaments up from the basement. Mom “Ooohed” and “Ahhhed” over the fragile ones she remembered from her childhood Christmases on the farm, our kid pictures were still glued to construction paper ornaments, cranberry and popcorn garlands had shrunk in their boxes. By now all of us were getting weary. Mom kept saying over and over, “Don’t throw the icicles in a glob, girls, each piece must be hung separately!” (Mom always did have a streak of OCD; this was just my first clue.)
Dad finally put the star (or angel, or whatever had survived last year’s tree) on top and we scurried around hunting a clean white sheet to serve as “snow —and catch the dropping needles underneath. Some presents arrived early every year so they went right under the tree. Fancy presents wrapped in beautiful foils and satin ribbons, but they were always designated “Art” or “Art and Ethel” on large, glossy cards. Always the most glamorous gifts among the more modest ones we wrapped ourselves.
As a focus of much speculation, Carole and I subjected those gifts to much shaking and exploration with our fingers when the folks weren’t home. Some years we could hear a faint “glut,” when we inverted them. Perfume? No, must be Booze! It was and we lost interest after a cursory glance when they were unwrapped Christmas morning.
My Dad moved into the Editor ranks at the Flint, Michigan, newspaper and the fancy gifts got bigger and squarer as the years went on, but they no longer went “glug.” Or even “glut, glug.” Instead, the gifts inside were glasses by the dozen, a different size every Christmas. Now these were more interesting. They had gold rims around the top and gold lions rampant on either side of a gold shield that seemed very like the hood ornament on our family Buick. Could my sister and I be forgiven for imagining we were displaced relatives of royalty—and the emblem so prominent in our home was the family crest?
We were almost teenagers and growing up in a rural town where my parents had bought a small weekly newspaper when it occurred to me that the increasingly fancy gifts had stopped coming. I think the last was a leather suitcase filled with gin, vermouth, olives, and all the shakers, stirrers, and other accoutrements of multiple martinis. The built-in-Flint Buick with lions rampant on its hood had given way to a built-in-Lansing Oldsmobile (a dual-colored boat on wheels). We were even older when we understood the concept of corporate gifts, not bribes, just fancy gifts to keep reporters and editors feeling good about the product!