“What kind of tree are you looking for?”, asked the jaunty Christmas forester.
“Um,” I replied, uncertain of how to respond (evergreen? festive? broad-needled? post-modern?).
Sensing that I was out of my depth, he deftly sauntered behind the tree that had caught my eye.
“Tall and bushy?”, he asked, Vanna Whiting my eyeline.
“Yes!”, I exclaimed.
He hefted the tree into the back of my KIA Soul. I paid him $40. I drove up the hill toward home.
It never occurred to me that the tree wouldn’t fit. But I need not have worried, as there are four inches to spare (I suppose there’s a standard Canadian ceiling height that trees are grown to hew to?).
“Catherine, where do we keep the Christmas tree stand? And that skirty thing?”
That’s what I’d normally be shouting up from the basement.
Except that I know the answer, because I put them away myself last January, as Catherine was in Palliative Care. Or at least I think I did. Perhaps someone did it for me?
Catherine went into hospital on December 17 last year, and came home on December 22. Her mother surprised us with a visit from Ontario on Christmas Eve. Catherine loved Christmas, and she especially loved being a mother at Christmas. It was as if the fates opened a window for her to have one last one, with those she loved, and who loved her.
And so the putting up of the Christmas tree this year is bittersweet: it’s the start of marking a beginning of an ending. But there’s a degree of “fuck yes, we’re still here, and we’re doing this thing” to it as well.
I got down in the dumps this week because all the dead movie wives leave years worth of birthday, anniversary, and holiday letters to their surviving movie husbands, and my real world (dyslexic) Catherine did not.
But then, watching Oliver carry the tree into the house, I realized she’d left me Oliver, and everything she taught him, and every example she set for him.
As Catherine’s prognosis evolved to “days, perhaps a week,” these were my words:
I wrote to a good friend this afternoon that “It’s sad, in a deep-down-body-sad kind of way. But it’s not only sad.”
And that is true: we laugh together when Oliver makes a joke. We gossip. I pass on kind wishes from near and far. And we sink into the contentment that Catherine radiates.
Catherine continues to radiate through this season. It won’t be nearly at all the same without her. But it will be something else.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Let’s do this thing!