I used to be afraid of Christmas trees.
I grew up in a Jewish ghetto, Flatbush Brooklyn. And there were no Christmas trees. Or Christmas ornaments. Or Christmas lights. A Christmas tree felt like a sacrilege.
I knew nothing about Christmas. One time a Stanford professor invited me to his house for Christmas Eve and he and his wife gave me a present and I didn’t know it was the custom to bring a present. I felt like a dope being presentless. I was a dope.
Mrs. Cohn Zohn was brought up Catholic. She calls herself a lapsed Catholic. She encouraged Grant and me and my stepson Brian — Grant’s brother — to have a Jewish home. And we do. But every year we buy a Christmas tree at Bob Holland’s tree lot in Moraga. The tree is big, the king of the forest. What movie does that phrase come from? And every year we break out Mrs. Cohn Zohn’s ornaments — hundreds of them. They represent every era of her life and now eras of my life, and they are old friends and I am happy to meet them again. And they go on the tree by the window which looks out on the Bay, and the lights sparkle and my heart sparkles.
Grant’s birthday is January 13, and every year before they died my mother Eva and her sister Sarah — dear Aunt Sarah — flew out here from Brooklyn for Grant’s birthday, and every year we got rid of the tree before they arrived and vacuumed up all the needles because a Christmas tree was foreign to my mother’s experience and threatening. As I said, I was afraid of a Christmas tree. And I didn’t want to offend my mom, although I’m sure she knew the deal. My dad didn’t come out because he died when Grant was nine months. I miss you, Dad. I have so much to say to you. And I say it even though you’re gone. Our conversation never ended.
But I think my mom would understand about our annual tree and its beauty and its forest-fresh smell and the feeling we put into it and how it makes Mrs. Cohn Zohn glad, how it makes her kvell. Tonight, we put on the ornaments while we played Aaron Neville’s Christmas Album. God love you, Aaron.
And Merry Christmas, everyone.