Friday, December 21, 2007

The Tree is Done

At Xmas time Sandra turns into an artist. Her masterpiece is her Xmas tree. She is a Rembrandt when she decorates her tree. So each season we are treated to a thing of beauty. This year is no exception.

The process begins in late November when her favorite tree lot run by a local volunteer charity group, the Guardians, opens for business. She is always their first customer on the morning of their first day. She is looking for the perfect tree and does not want anyone getting to it before she does.

A week or two later it is delivered. Since it is always tall, at least 10’ tall, and wide, it is a challenge getting it up two flights through our narrow stairway. She has removed many pictures and wall hangings and sculptures that could be damaged. I have removed myself to behind closed doors. It would make me crazy to watch the three or four guys it takes to haul it up. I would be sure they are going to damage something en route to our living room at the rear of the house.

When the job is done Sandra tells me it is safe to come out. No disaster has befallen our abode. A wonderful pine aroma greets me. And for the first time I see this year’s living blank canvas, already majestic, waiting to be adorned with lights and ornaments.

Sandra’s brother Randy shows up the next day to put on lights. It is the only part of the decorating process that she’ll allow anyone else to do. Two days and about 2,000 lights later (that’s right, 2,000, not a misprint) Randy leaves and Sandra gets to work on her creation. By the time she’s finished, about two weeks later, she’ll have carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly placed nearly 1,000 (that’s right, 1,000, not a misprint) ornaments on her tree.

She has been collecting these ornaments for about six decades, and each one is more extraordinary than the next. On the branches are ornaments with common themes, ornaments that tell stories, ornaments designed by the cream of the ornament designing crop from around the world, whimsical ornaments, elegant ornaments, people, animals, fantasy characters, and many more. No matter how many times I’ve seen these delicate pieces of glass, each year it seems like I’ve never seen them before.

Am I simply an observer during this process? Not exactly. Each year we choose a book that I’ll read to her as she’s working. Maybe even two books. This year we made a particularly inspired choice, “Wine By the Glass,” by Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers for the Wall Street Journal. We totally related to how they live their wine life. It was a wonderful book. I was so inspired I sent the following email to the authors:

Dear Dottie and John,

Like you we love traditions and special events. For example, we open a bottle of '74 Heitz Martha's each February 9, the date we met, also in 1974. (We bought nearly 3 cases around 1980 and have 3 left. Getting a little tired, but still special.)

Sandra has a collection of Xmas tree ornaments not to be believed. She is the Rembrandt of the decorating process, and no one else is allowed to help. However, some years ago we began a tradition that gives me a chance to participate - I read to her while she's decorating. After the tree arrives we agree on what book I'll read to her.

This year it was "Wine By the Glass." We are passionate wine lovers. We drink what we call an 'everyday' bottle each night Mon-Thur and take a bottle from our cellar for Fri-Sat-Sun. We've been reading your column for years, but did not have your book until recently. It was a perfect choice.

A few minutes ago Sandra was putting the final touches on the tree and (perfect timing) I finished the final words of your Epilogue. We loved what you wrote and how you wrote it. We resonated with so many of your experiences and how you approach this shared passion of ours.

So thank you for giving us so much pleasure. It was a great way to begin the Holiday Season. Tonight we'll open a 2004 Hartford Hailey's Block Pinot (part of our regular shipment from Hartford) and in addition to toasting each other will make a point of remembering and acknowledging you both.

Warm regards,

Dan Miller & Sandra Marsh

This morning I received a response:

Dear Dan & Sandra,

Thanks so much for your kind note--an early holiday present, to be sure. How we wish we would have bought three cases of the Heitz! If you are going to participate in OTBN this year, be sure to let us know your plans. Happy holidays!


Dottie and John

OTBN (Open That Bottle Now) is a tradition they started, encouraging people to not wait, but to open that special bottle of wine they’ve been holding for a special occasion now.

I’ve written enough. I’m going into the other room to spend some time with our Xmas tree.


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