This is why I love my job as marketing director at an art museum — during December, my workplace looks like this. Every year we host an annual exhibit of huge live trees that people in our community volunteer to decorate, and I have to say that this year is one of the best ever. A woman whose husband is a firefighter decorated the tree on the right to honor local fire departments. The tree on the left was decorated by a medical auxiliary to raise awareness of childhood cancer. We’ve got a tree celebrating books, one featuring “visions of sugarplums” and one called “Fleece Navidad” that’s full of every kind of stuffed and carved and sewn and decorated lamb you can imagine. I love hearing people walk through the exhibit and “ooh” and “ahh” in delight. Makes me think that I really should put our tree up … sometime soon.
If you’re the oldest in the family and a girl and you’ve got one or more younger brothers, you know what a responsibility it is to keep those boys in line. I’ve been at it for almost 50 years and apparently my job isn’t done yet. Take, for instance, decorating the family Christmas tree. When we were young, Christmas began when our dad brought the big packing-barrel of tree ornaments out of storage and begin untangling the lights. As soon as the tree was draped with twinkling red and green and yellow-gold, we kids took over. (And it’s only now that I recognize my mother’s genius in making us children feel it was an honor and privilege to decorate the tree, thereby marking at least one chore off her holiday to-do list — a lesson I, sadly, never learned to apply to my own family. Sigh.) Anyway, I am four years older than my brother — our other brother is 16 years younger than me and didn’t figure into my growing-up adventures — and I always feel felt anointed with special powers of superiority, no matter what the subject. During the holidays, that subject was the Christmas tree. As my now-middle brother and I unpacked the ornaments and placed them on the tree, we inevitably began arguing. Why? Because my brother couldn’t follow basic principles of Christmas-tree design! I mean, c’mon! Who doesn’t know you’re supposed to put big ornaments in the back and lighter ones in front? Who doesn’t understand you’re supposed to balance colors and texture?? Who doesn’t get it that you put shiny ornaments next to lights to enhance their shininess??? It’s not rocket science here, people!!!! Whoops … sorry … deep breath … deep breath … As you can see, I maybe still have an obsessive-compulsive problem with tree-decorating. And with my brother. Because when I went to my parents’ house this past weekend to help them put up their tree (It is a privilege and an honor, right?), I found a note from my brother staking out placement for his favorite ornament: “Do not rehang. Sister, this means you! It’s perfect.” My mom said that he said he would have done all the tree decorating when he was there the day before but he knew I’d stage a redo. Just because he’s now a photographer and a college professor who teaches photography and art, I guess maybe he thinks he knows something about design. And big sisters.