A Christmas Tree

How (not) to cut down your own Christmas tree.

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Tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye-hand coordination required to decorate a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate was quietly fixed upon my departure.

A beloved girlfriend one Christmas credited me with the expansion of her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve known who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section of the Christmas tree with the same color ornament (albeit on different sections of the branches!) and this needed to be quietly fixed.

Christmas can be a challenge for someone so rarely festive, like me.

One winter’s day long ago, a dear friend enlisted me in a project to cut down a real live Christmas tree from a local Christmas tree farm so that her son could experience a Christmas just like the one she and I had never, ever had.
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The Antimony Year

The clicks on life’s odometer resound with more of an echo on certain days—one’s birthday, usually.

In Paul Auster’s diary of his sixty-fourth year, Winter Journal, Auster recounts a moment in which the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant tells him solemnly, “Paul, at fifty-seven I felt old. Now, at seventy-four, I feel much younger than I did then.” Auster writes that he was confused by the remark but that because it seemed important to Trintignant to tell him this, he did not ask the actor to clarify. Auster writes that as he has entered his sixties, the comment has come to appear true in its own way, for him.

Today, November 18, I am fifty-one. In Trintignant’s schema, at least six more years of aging until I feel old lies ahead for me, to be followed by the youth of old age. (The great actor himself is still with us, eighty-eight years young, with a birthday in December.) It is probably true that I feel younger at fifty-one than I felt in my thirties, and this is not from a sense of renewed vigor or newly discovered stamina. It is more that life as I have experienced it has shifted my priorities away from the obsessions of my twenties and thirties: dollar bills and public esteem.
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My Mother’s Day

My mother taught me to read when I was so young that I do not have a active memory of it. My memory device (I think it is referred to in medical texts as a “brain”) started to record life when I was two-and-a-half, and in my recollections of moments spent with my mom and with books, I am an active participant in the task at hand: our endless laughter at the very idea of eating green eggs and ham (the “and ham” was my favorite part), our (re-)discovery of the Cat in the Hat’s many hijinks.

Mother’s Day, the annual holiday, is one whose date I annually forget. It is perhaps because it is celebrated on different dates in different nations and I have online friends in some of those different nations that “Happy Mother’s Day” Facebook posts make a weekly appearance in the spring. I think that I have sent my own (American) mom a Happy Mother’s Day note twice in one year thanks to this phenomenon.

Today is not Mother’s Day; it is my mom’s birthday, my own Mother’s Day.
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Thanks for Thanksgiving

In her earlier career as a poet and editor, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788–1879) composed a poem so beloved it is a surprise to learn that a human being wrote it: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She is also the individual most responsible for the creation of an American holiday so beloved that it is a surprise to learn that someone had to campaign for it: Thanksgiving, which we celebrate today.
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The Tin Man: A View from 50

Let us gaze in the mirror alongside the subject as he assesses life on the morning he crosses the half-century point. He needs a helpful, objective view. Thank you for helping.

From the top, the hair. He has a full head of hair, and the ratio of follicles that still produce dark-brown versus white interlopers remains 80-to-20 in favor of dark brown. He has a single white hair visible on his right hand, which he has nicknamed “Memento Mori.” There is white in his beard, so he shaves, but white hairs have not yet appeared on his legs.

The ratio of brown to white is such that a friend asked him several years ago which brand and color dye he uses, which shocked and pleased him at the same time because he does not dye his hair. This is because he is proud of his full head of dark hair as if it is a comment on his positive qualities as an individual rather than an accident of genetic inheritance.
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‘Dulce et decorum est’ …

My grandfather’s younger brother, my great-uncle Walter, fought with the 104th Infantry and died in action in France in 1944. Above is a photo from Find A Grave.com of Walter Aldrich’s gravestone in Lorraine American Cemetery, near Metz, France, one of 10,000 Americans buried in that cemetery. It is the largest American World War II cemetery in Europe.
My family is not one that talks much about its military service, but many members on both sides served. Today is Memorial Day, and my family’s attitude of doing service because service is what one does without expectation of reward is worth celebrating.

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Tricks, Treats, Poughkeepsie

The Martin Prosperity Institute released what it called its “annual survey” of Halloween in America five years ago. This was its third annual Halloween survey, but it has not produced a sequel to this seminal study of all things creepy, ghostly, and scary since. My hometown broke it, I believe.

The Institute’s work in the field of Halloween enjoyment, a study not seriously undertaken by most people older than eight, led in 2013 to many national news articles that expressed shock at its conclusion, which was: the best place for Halloween in the United States of America is Poughkeepsie, New York.
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For Those Left Behind: Memorial Day 2017

“Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly—but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation.”—Ernie Pyle, World War II journalist, writing about what he saw at the front. Killed in action April 18, 1945.

I do not come from a family that talks much about its military service. My father was drafted in 1958, served his two-year-long tour, and then came back home to a job that had been held for him. This was during the Cold War, so he did not see action but he did see more of the world than he had up till then, or since. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Cold War as a calculator tasked with determining missile flight paths. (I believe he worked with the Atlas missile, an early ICBM model.)
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