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Illustration by Chelsea Charles

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

When our granddaughters – ages 10 and 7 – need a break from online school and all that screen time, who better than their grandparents to give them some old-fashioned, hands-on experiences? We have the time and know the value – and fun! – of cooking, sewing, biking and board games.

So, it was natural, in December, that they helped us decorate the house for Christmas. Enter the Christmas tree and several boxes of carefully stored ornaments, hauled down from the attic. All the boxes were quickly emptied and the baubles spread across the floor. What a glorious mess! The girls were each allowed to select about 20 ornaments – the ones we were willing to part with – to take home. And then, they loaded our tree with hundreds of the remaining ornaments. Since the tree stands between the living room and dining room, it is accessible from all sides so there’s lots of room for decorations. They certainly took full advantage of that! The branches groaned under the weight of all those trinkets, each one of which had a tale attached to it. They were fascinated with the miniature angels that look like each of our daughters. And the girls liked to hear about the ornaments we picked up while travelling, each representative of their country of origin.

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Christmas came and went and suddenly, we were in the dark cold days of January. My husband and I decided we would leave our cheerful tree up an extra week. Why not? The tree is artificial so it wasn’t in danger of disintegrating. And who would even know? When that week was over, we reluctantly boxed up all the decorations without the kids and then we stopped. Why not leave the bare tree with twinkling lights up for another week or more – until the end of January – so that the bright lights could continue casting their warm and cozy glow? After all, it was the pandemic. And who would know? Company was forbidden!

“Why don’t we make a Valentine’s tree?” suggested one of our granddaughters the following week, looking at the empty branches. Why not indeed? Our Christmas tree began to morph from a bare, winter tree into a “love” tree. Paper chains of hearts were looped over the branches and heart cutouts were individually hung. Two giant sequined pink hearts on sticks, leftover one-time table decorations, topped both sides of the tree. Yes, a lot of love went into those decorations. During my Zoom classes and meetings, people started commenting: “Do you still have your Christmas tree up?” So much for nobody knowing about our morphing tree.

“Oh, that’s not a Christmas tree,” I replied. “That’s our Valentine’s tree!” When I was asked if I planned to have a tree covered in shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and then move on to an Easter or spring theme, I firmly said, “No, we will take down the tree at the end of February. Three months is enough.”

But then fate intervened. My husband had carpal tunnel hand surgery. When it came time to lowering and raising the attic stairs – a real task! – that sort of pushing/pulling action was against the post-surgery rules for another four weeks. It is impossible for us to access the attic, where the tree is stored. We had no choice. The tree would have to morph again.

Our granddaughters carefully removed all the heart cutouts and stored them in a box for next year, although we aren’t making any promises. As snowbirds, we haven’t been home for St. Patrick’s Day and for Easter for quite a few years now. I didn’t expect to find much in the way of decor, but the girls did find a small bag of Easter paraphernalia in a downstairs closet. There were bunny ears on headbands and about 50 unusual tiny plastic rabbits of various colours, probably pieces leftover from a game. One child spent an hour tying loops of yarn on these rabbits – patience and perseverance are pandemic skills we all have needed – and the other girl hung them on the tree. Next, they decorated eggs and hung them. We dusted off two yellow plastic flowers for the tree topper and two stems of little pink flowers were cut apart and arranged on the branches. Last, but not least, we found about 20 yellow chicks, tiny fluffballs, which were soon sitting on the branches. Our ever-changing tree had another rebirth and spent a few unplanned-for weeks decorated with the signs of spring and Easter and hope.

The morphing Christmas tree is something we won’t forget in a hurry and we may even try to reconstruct in the years to come. During the four months it twinkled in our home, our tree moved through the time of Christ’s birth, the day of love, then Lent and finally it bloomed with the new life that spring brings and the promise of eternal life that Easter symbolizes. Perhaps most importantly of all, our little-tree-that-morphed taught us something about rolling with the punches that the pandemic has hit us with. We don’t need to forget those lessons just because the tree is packed up now and lying in the dark, still attic. We can continue to improvise, we can dust off old skills, and we can become what we might not otherwise have planned on becoming.

Patricia Fry lives in Port Credit, Ont.

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