No residence I have occupied ever felt more like home to me than my parents' house. I am fully aware that this is a rather pathetic admission coming from an independent, working adult. After all, I am perfectly capable of making my own home. I just never did.
Always renting, and always keeping one eye on some sort of exit plan, I did not spend more than two years at any one address for 20 years. I liked to, let's say, keep my options open. I never got around to hanging pictures or painting walls or filling up various sad empty corners, because it was usually time to move out soon anyway. Getting married never changed that internal sense of flux (my ex had been very keen to buy a house; I was not).
I have recurring dreams about trying to find a home. Maybe my home gets swept away by a tsunami and I have to find my way back to it, or I am looking for a place to sleep in some random communal house, or trying to pick my room in a new house that my parents have moved into without consulting me, but always in the dreams I am looking for My Place, because I have not yet found one.
My current apartment is the most home-like non-home I have ever had, and the most enduring. I have lived here for more than four years, the plants are alive and growing, and it even has nice framed pictures on the walls, thanks to Sir UncMo. This year we made significant layout and furniture improvements, and now there is only one empty corner waiting to be filled. I am within a 15-minute walk to places of interest such as my job, the White House, and most importantly, Whole Foods. It is a fabulous setup for a twentysomething. It is merely a decent setup for a fortysomething who spent too long keeping her options open.
Still, it is not really mine, and also only mine—both at the same time. I rent the apartment, and would never buy it, so I have no sense of ownership. And I alone picked the place; it is home to two people, but we eventually want and need to buy (yes, please, now I say, buy) our own place together. Part of me thinks—at least, hopes—that I will be moving out of here sooner rather than later.
As part of this general transience, even though I adore the holidays, I never had my own Christmas tree. Too much trouble. Expense. Not really worth it. Pretty unenvironmental. Half the time I was traveling at the holidays anyway. Sir UncMo has professed tree indifference, leaving it up to me. It was easy enough to just enjoy my parents' tree on visits to their house.
Last year, I decided this had to change. I was tired of passing by the rows of firs and subconsciously assuming they were meant for the people with "real" homes. You do the holidays with the home you have, and you do it up the best you possibly can. It was time to get some damn ornaments, get some damn tree lights, and get my own damn tree. (Why does it sometimes take so long to understand things that are so blatantly simple?).
It was mid-December. I marched on over to the Whole Foods, where they had been selling little trees, perfectly sized for the P Street crowd. Time to buy my first-ever tree. I would surprise Sir UncMo with it. The only thing missing from this scene was lightly falling snow and some Randy Newman music.
I got to the Whole Foods and blinked. They were sold out. All the trees I'd been walking by for days and days, gone. Last shipment. Done. Sorry Charlie Brown. That seemed to be it for my tree epiphany.
But then on the way to my parents' house that weekend, I saw a tree lot and stopped. Most of them were way too big, because these were trees for the Potomac crowd. But there were maybe three smaller ones, $20 trees, even tied up in neat cylinders like the real thing, not pre-placed like houseplants into a stand like the P Street trees.
The guy at the lot did all of the things that he is supposed to do. He pulled out a tree, cut the strings around the boughs, banged the stem on the ground so that the branches shook out and unfolded all of their glory, appraised my choice alongside me with a cocked eye and all the gravity of a Catholic minister, sawed off the lower branches so that I would have enough stem to put in a stand, sawed off the bottom part of the stump so it could absorb water well, recommended to me where I should go to buy a stand (I hadn't thought about the stand), and then sent me on my way.
As I was preparing to go, he eyed the tree once more. "What do you think, should we tie her up?" he asked his assistant. The assistant shifted stance and turned to me."Do you need any help getting it to your car?" I barely got out the reply, "Oh no, that's OK..." before they both snickered and said, "Just kidding." Of course I didn't need help. It was a tiny tree. "I could rope it to the top of my Miata," I suggested. We all laughed.
Yes, it was a small tree, and a rebellious tree. It would not cooperate with the stand and fell over approximately five times, dumping water and ornaments along with it. But as you can see, it was a beautiful tree, and there it was, in my home, in our home. This year, I can't wait to get another one. Why did I wait all those years?
Music: "O Tannenbaum"