I recently visited a close friend in Murray to help her and her family trim their tree. When I arrived, she was struggling to right the tree, which resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
I could tell she was slightly embarrassed when I walked in to find her wrestling with a live fir, but if she knew anything about my family and their Christmas traditions, she would have known she had no reason to feel that way.
I spent most of my childhood in an Antebellum-era house on Lone Oak Road. It did have high ceilings, but even after owning the house for decades, my stepfather consistently overestimated the space we had for a tree. He would always choose a 12-foot-tall Douglas fir, meaning that there was never any space to put the star on top. Watching someone wrestle with, and occasionally curse, an evergreen is nothing new to me.
Once the tree was under control, the decoration began. The task of untangling the lights was nothing compared to unwrapping our bizarre collection of ornaments.
I was afraid of everything as a child, and Santa Claus was no exception. Having my picture taken with an old, bearded man who hung out at Kentucky Oaks Mall terrified me. My flailing attempts to flee Santa’s lap were documented and turned into an ornament, which I would always try to hide in the rear branches of the tree.
The tree was only the beginning of the Christmas fiasco for our family. Our house also boasted a working fireplace — I use the term “working” loosely — which, we always thought, would lend the place a cheery glow on Christmas Eve.
The family would build a fire and bask in its warmth for about two minutes before the alarms started going off. Other people associate Christmas with the sound of carols; I always think of smoke alarms when the holidays approach.
My mother would find the large piece of cardboard we kept handy and wave it near the smoke alarm in an attempt to make the eardrum-piercing noise stop.
Our efforts at creating a pleasing Nativity scene had similarly disturbing consequences. My mom believed that art was something to which I should be introduced at a young age, and so she purchased a ceramic Nativity set and allowed me to paint it when I was about 21⁄2 years old.
Being a toddler, I decided the most appropriate colors for a Nativity scene were black, gold and blood red. My glazing skills were appropriate to my age — meaning the most I could do was dribble the glaze everywhere and hope it landed on something.
Once they emerged from the kiln, the wise men looked like they had suffered blunt trauma to the head, possibly from a weapon coated in gold leaf. But no one in my family thought of fixing the situation. We set out the Nativity scene every year, wounded horsemen included, until we sold the house.
As non-traditional as our Christmas sounds, my fondest memories are still of that holiday. The alarms, the oversized tree that probably presented a fire hazard (we kept it up until my birthday, Jan. 22), and the horrific Nativity scene all seemed like a natural part of the holiday to me. It was a way of enjoying the times together — no matter how strange it might look to an outsider — and there was always a smile on my face, even when the firetrucks showed up.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.