It was our first apartment together. Our first Christmas, and I decided our first Christmas tree would be themed in blue, white and silver, the most impressive color scheme — in my 21-year-old worldly view. We bought blue and white lights and silver tinsel and then it was up to me to find the star for the top. I found a gold one with blue lights and a silver star with red lights and, of course, neither would do.
“Could you swap these red lights with the blue?” I asked a store clerk.
He looked at me, scratched his head, then frowned a bit as he eyed the packages stacked one upon the other, shelf upon shelf. All those tree toppers and I could not find one that suited me as it was?
But I had already looked in every other store, this star was the only one even close.
“Please,” I said.
I’ve always loved decorating for Christmas. And when we got our first real house (as opposed to the 630-square-foot cabin in the woods) in a suburb north of Denver, we did not hold back. Those were the days of icicles. And I was determined every eave of my house was going to be dripping with those tiny white lights. When the department store in my parents’ home town advertised for early orders, my mom made sure to put in an order for me. Only trouble was, the lights were so popular, there were only two per household. And that was nowhere near the number I needed. But it was a start. We’re were home visiting when the clerk called to say our order was in. We wheeled our cart up to the counter and the clerk handed over more than a dozen boxes of icicles.
“Wait,” I whispered, nudging my mom. “I thought there were only two per household?”
“It’s OK,” Mom said. “They know me.”
And so it was that year and several following, our house had more icicles than the frozen trees around it.
When we left Colorado bound for the Oregon Coast, we brought our icicles along, but now for the first time I joined the masses in rising in the wee wee dark hours to take advantage of limited early AM Black Friday deals. Those days, the hot item (at least in this household) were the BOGO rooftop decorations. Soon, our roof was fitted out with Santa and his sleigh and the team of reindeer, and on the porch sat a snowman. It had been an unusually mild winter and we had yet to experience the wrath of Mother Nature. But she made her appearance soon enough. The rain caused the fuses to blow, and the wind blew everything everywhere, and it seemed like just about every night, the hubs was climbing up on the roof, replacing fuses, anchoring down Santa’s sleigh, rolling Frosty back in place.
I guess he didn’t mind too much because a couple of years later he crafted a metal star for the rooftop — a roof roughly three stories high at the tallest — and not just a star, but a star with rays that extended all the way down into the yard. I suggested we might want to contact the FAA. And I was only half kidding.
Over time, Santa and his reindeers rusted and rotted, and I turned more and more to decorations for inside the house. They save a lot of time and effort, but generally cost a fortune in batteries. This year, at least half of our decorations are on remote and as I walk around the house clicking at trees and angels and whatnot in the windows, I feel like a bit of a cheater. It’s almost too easy. Almost. And yes, I do get a bit nostalgic for the days when we schemed for more icicles and persistently pursued the perfect Christmas tree color scheme.
On that day, all those years ago in the Anchorage Pay n’ Save, the clerk heard my plea, looked wearily at the shelves of festive stars and lowered himself to the floor on his knees. As he opened the boxes, removing one strand of lights and replacing them with the other, a song came over the store speakers.
“I’ll be home for Christmas,” Bing Crosby sang.
And I, perpetually homesick sappy I, promptly burst into tears. Looking utterly befuddled, the poor man handed me my custom-created star. I swiped away some tears, paid for my decoration and went home to put my blue and silver star atop our first Christmas tree.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.