Holiday Memories: Sunset magazine inspired the building of the perfect Christmas tree

Everyone wants the "perfect" Christmas tree - and I have it. Not too tall, straight and fully shaped, it doesn't drop needles and never needs water. Plus, it is easy to store.

My tree is two sheets of plywood, each cut into a tree silhouette, notched to fit together and stand alone. Painted a simple green, circles are cut through the "branches" and each opening has a cup hook to hold an ornament.

About 15 years ago, I saw my tree, a project in Sunset Magazine. Every year I asked my family to make the tree for me, but it didn't happen. Then David became part of my life in late 1992.

Christmas Eve 1993, we hosted family and friends in the rec hall of our apartment complex, already decorated with a live tree. We moved into a house the next summer, and I started asking for my tree again. After all, David was retired and now we had a garage - room to work and all the tools needed.

Materials were purchased and set aside as other projects seemed to take all of his time. As the holiday season neared, my not-so-subtle hints and his seeming lack of progress were annoying to both of us. I finally pretended not to care.

Christmas Eve Day found me in the kitchen setting out food and drink. Christmas carols were playing, candles were lit, wrapped presents and ornaments sat around a low table draped with a red cloth. David was in the garage working on the tree. Family was expected at 3 p.m., and I was ready.

At 2:45 p.m. David was spray painting the tree. At the first possible minute, we moved it into the living room and were hanging ornaments when a car pulled into the driveway. The smell of paint was heavy in the air; the furnace was going full blast because all of the doors were open - I was sure we were about to burn the house down. Mom and my aunt came inside where they oohed and aahed over the tree, much to David's pleasure. My response by this point was "Shut up about the tree!" Family kept arriving, and we were finally able to close the doors - maybe we were used to the paint smell by then, and it was cold outside.

Then David decided he should get cleaned up - he had been working, you know. He vanished into the bathroom for 45 minutes, then reappeared relaxed and fresh. I was on a second glass of wine by then and starting to settle down myself. It was a wonderful evening with lots of food and laughs, and most of all, compliments about the tree.

After the holidays, we put our tree away and enjoyed 1995. Planning a Christmas trip, we told everyone we would host Christmas Eve on Dec. 23. But he had a massive heart attack and died suddenly at Thanksgiving.

The holidays in '95 were bittersweet without him. He was a wonderful addition to our family. But the tree was in place, and we were able to laugh once more at its story.

It's almost Christmas again, and my "perfect" tree is standing tall once again - a reminder of the laughter and love David brought me. I'll cherish it forever.


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