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.