You have to understand I did not grow up with Christmas trees. I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn and just about everyone was Jewish and I never saw a Christmas tree. When I went to Stanford I got invited to a Christmas dinner at a professor’s house and everyone brought Christmas presents except me. I didn’t know you were supposed to bring Christmas presents. It’s like I grew up in America but I still lived in the Old Country somewhere in Eastern Europe.

One Christmas Eve my friend Steve and I (I miss you, Steve) went to a movie theater in Redwood City and saw the entire cycle of the Planet of the Apes movies. Afterward — it was late — we thought we’d grab dinner. Every place was closed because it was Christmas Eve. Who knew? Steve and I were Jews from Brooklyn.

That was a prelude to this Christmas tree meditation.

Mrs. Cohn Zohn grew up Catholic and went to Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland — so did my kid Grant whom I’ll call Iggy for the purposes of this post. He’s been raised Jewish. Mrs. Cohn Zohn is what they call a lapsed Catholic except ¬†for a few things. Like the Christmas tree.

Every year we get our tree, the King of the Forest, a 10-foot-high giant that fits nicely in our living room. At first, I felt funny about the tree — it’s not like we had a Christmas tree in our apartment in Brooklyn. Mrs. Cohn Zohn would put up ornaments and I’d sit there like a moron afraid of God’s wrath.

Actually, I was afraid of Eve’s wrath. Eve was my mother and she assumed the role of superego in my head, silently scolding me for the tree, as if I was forsaking the entire history of Jews. I hope I wasn’t. Eventually, I ignored her voice in my head. And I came to love the tree. It looked pretty and it smelled fresh, and Mrs. Cohn Zohn’s ornaments were — and are — the living end. She has a million. They are colorful and beautiful. She remembers where she got each one and why and what each one means to her — just as I remember Eddie Machen giving Sonny Liston all he was worth and just as I remember every English novel I ever read and every bottle of wine I own and why.

We put up the ornaments tonight, Mrs. Cohn Zohn and I and Iggy and his girlfriend Swasti, and the tree was heavy with ornaments and it reminded me why I love Mrs. Cohn Zohn. She is of Italian descent and everything about her is “abbondanza,” things in glorious excess, things so generous, the tree an embodiment of her soul and spirit. The tree a good thing.

So, I’m sorry, Eve. I wish you were still around and, if you were, you’d love this tree. I sure love you.

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  1. Pablo


    This is why I read your blog.

    Humanizing stories like these make you a cut above other journalists, especially a sportswriter. I’m wishing you and your family a special Christmas and Hanukkah season.

    I’m impressed you remember every novel you’ve read. Even those you read as a kid? Wow.

    December 16th, 2013 5:09 am

  2. Jonathan

    Lovely. Thank you.

    December 16th, 2013 5:20 am

  3. Tommy CostaRica

    Thanks Lowell you brought back memories of Christmases past with my mom by such an eloquent description of Mrs CZone.

    December 16th, 2013 8:11 am

  4. Brett

    Very nice Lowell.

    December 16th, 2013 9:20 am

  5. Streetglide

    “expect for a few things…”

    Might want to fix that Typhoid Mary…

    December 16th, 2013 10:23 am

  6. CohnZohn

    Thanks, Streetglide, I fixed it.

    December 16th, 2013 10:41 am

  7. Stan

    I went from 415 media and that blogs wolfpack,to reading this. Yep,thanks Lowell.

    December 16th, 2013 11:18 am

  8. MJ

    I was raised in a multi-religion house, so I got to enjoy both sides of the holiday season. As the years progressed, christmas became the bigger holiday, it is located on a set date, you don’t have the occasional thanksgiving-ukkah (and still to this day I don’t know why there are 3 different ways to spell it), and its become a very universal holiday in society, its less about the whole JC/religious side and more about the combination of capitalism & spirit of giving/kindness that everyone could relate to. Each year, the debate would begin about what type of tree to get, to get it flocked or not, how tall, etc etc. If you’ve never gone out to a tree farm where you can cut your own down, and I mean a farm that’s in the hills where you must do a little trekking to get it and drag it back to your vehicle, than you’re missing out on one of the simple joys of the holidays; the cold fresh air, the joy of finding the right tree that isn’t perfectly groomed and drove in from Oregon, the effort of sawing it down and dragging it back, and that ever present residue of sap on your hands for the next 5 days, haha.

    December 16th, 2013 11:21 am

  9. Max

    Jewish mom as Superego – who woulda thought? LOL! (BTW I’m something of a lapsed Catholic myself. Not proud of it. Trivia alert: Kundera and Roth are good buddies.) (Wonder if you’ve read any Donald E. Westlake . . .) A lovely piece, Lowell. Best holiday wishes to you and yours.

    December 16th, 2013 12:14 pm

  10. CohnZohn

    Max, Yes, Roth helped a lot of the Czech writers get published outside their country. Very selfless of Roth. Merry Christmas to you.

    December 16th, 2013 12:43 pm

  11. Max


    December 16th, 2013 4:38 pm

  12. k.g.

    Don’t “ever” change, I like your stories, I think they all make us smile… :)

    December 16th, 2013 10:02 pm

  13. Stan

    Is this the time to mention that the whole “Three wise men with gifts,virgin birth,North star,manger story originated about Mohammad’s birth 1,000 years before Christ?
    They never mention that in Catholic school.
    Also, the number 13 was a lucky number and pork a favorite food of Egyptians. When the Jewish people fought being enslaved,they in turn made the Egyptian symbols as naturally enough,bad things.

    Might be time.

    December 18th, 2013 11:20 am

  14. Dr. Feelgood

    Back from two weeks in Hawaii. Last Sunday had to get up at 7am to hustle to a Sports Bar to catch the 8am Niner game, which could have been more pleasant had the joint not been TEEMING with Seattle fans for their game. Where the hell do they all come from?
    Catching up on all the missed posts (swore off the internet while in HI), Lowell is still the best- he might piss you off but he is never dull.
    Reading the “…oh xmas tree”, isn’t this also a story about Jackie Robinson’s family as neighbors?

    December 22nd, 2013 7:57 pm

  15. CohnZohn

    Dr, Feelgood, There was a Jackie Robinson Xmas tree story. But it was my friend Paula’s family — the Satlows on Tilden Ave, Brooklyn.

    December 22nd, 2013 10:00 pm

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