The art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree, recreated for our grandchildren…
Barry and I love to poke around in antique stores, curio shops, second-hand stores and at antique fairs, flea markets and the like, but our favorite of all favorites is Brimfield’s Antique Show and Flea Market in Brimfield, MA, the largest Flea Market in the world.
I don’t know the whys and whats about our interest in old and vintage, because each of us grew up in rather standard 50’s and 60’s-style homes with all the trappings of modern. To find us kicking around in places that sell old stuff was always a matter of curiosity to our Moms, Flo and Rita. We’ve collected some beautiful primitive and other pieces over the decades… many put on hold for months on end while we paid them down at sometimes $25.00 a shot.
Barry and I found ourselves rather removed from our 50′ and 60’s roots; until, that is, those decades became more and more distant and our memories became more and more distinct.
Which brings us to our vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree.
It all began last Christmas season when I would drive by a local antique store with its Aluminum Tree in the window… all sparkly and glimmering and beautiful with its dancing reflections that drew memories right out of my heart. They were memories of my Dad; my Dad who came home one day with this box. In that box were a bunch of cardboard sleeves around wire branches illuminated with aluminum and a wooden stand with carefully notched holes in which to place the branches.
I watched my Dad as I always watched him decorate for Christmas, but this year watching him assemble this alien thing.
My Dad loved Christmas decorating, most notably his meticulous care in hanging our 5 & 10 cent ornaments and tinsel – one tinsel strand at a time to make our tree shimmer with his holiday dream. My Dad grew up on a farm in Michigan and his family was very poor, so I don’t really know how he developed such an interest, talent and love for this work, but he did. I wish I had asked my Dad this question as I would watch him and help him each Christmas season… but I didn’t think of it back then, I guess.
But what I did ask my Dad was about our real tree, the one we stopped to pick out each year at a local, roadside Christmas Tree stand… the one to decorate with ornaments and tinsel and that smelled like outdoor pine.
Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. Our Christmas Tree was this new aluminum one, with a Color Wheel to boot; one of those lights with a quadrant of colors that spun magical colors onto the aluminum tree.
My Dad had bought fully into this thoroughly modern artificial Christmas Tree craze.
Outwardly, I was bummed. Secretly inside, I loved that gleaming aluminum Christmas Tree. I loved the spinning colors that not only changed the colors of the aluminum, but the entire room as well. It was such an ironically slow, peaceful pace of modern.
But each year it became a father/daughter tradition for me to beg for a real tree while my Dad set up the artificial aluminum one. I know he loved it. I loved it.
Then one year in the 60’s, I can’t really remember which year, Dad’s Aluminum Tree stayed in its box and we headed out to select a real tree again. The Aluminum Christmas Tree craze had passed.
My Dad died suddenly in August, 1975. I was 22 years old, one year out of college and living in my own apartment. As I helped my Mom sort through all of my Dad’s belongings, his Christmas stuff all tucked away in our attic kept coming into my mind. What would we do at Christmas without my Dad?
Like human beings are shaped to do, we went on. 38 years later, I still miss my Dad every single day, but I have always known that his great mind, wisdom, strength and most especially Love are with me every single one of those days.
But Christmas? That’s when my Dad really, really, almost visibly comes back to me. We sold all of my Dad’s Christmas things at a yard sale decades ago, including the Aluminum Christmas Tree, breaking my heart to this day, but still with the tenacity of going on. I did save my most precious of all my Dad’s Christmas things, an Angel Tree Topper that I use each year and I’ve told the story of that Angel to my kids and grandkids each year… but my heart as always longed for a thoroughly by-now vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree.
And there it was in that window of that antique/curio shop in Warren, RI. I wanted to take it home and explain to our kids and grandkids all about the Aluminum Christmas Tree craze and my inherent dislike, then curiosity, then love, then loss of my childhood aluminum tree.
One day, Barry and I stopped in to inquire about that gleaming aluminum beauty in the window. Barry’s family also had an aluminum tree and color wheel when he was a kid, and that tree in the window filled him with memories, too. Here we were, looking to purchase something old, but new again, to share long-ago, happy memories with our kids and grandkids.
Answer: Not for sale.
The proprietor, a very nice lady, explained that the Aluminum Trees are now rare, especially ones in mint condition; ones like hers that have the original box and cardboard sleeves for the branches and a vintage color wheel. She said that we might find some on eBay.
We did. But they were either too expensive to consider, too small or not in mint or near-mint condition.
But the story would not end here, because how can you have a Christmas Memory Story that ends in nothing? You’ve gotta have angels, the element of surprise and maybe even a tiny miracle.
This Christmas Story happened at Brimfield’s this past September.
Barry and I were poking around for nothing in particular, but we ended up with a vintage red dress, a railroad sign, the wooden side of a vintage pinball machine (because Barry is a pinball wizard and his nickname is Rocket) AND, you guessed it –
A 60’s vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree…
Barry and I stopped in our tracks.
We began a conversation with the dealer, a very kind woman from our era, about all the memories in these gleaming trees and settled on a price. She told us that she’d dissemble the tree and package each branch in its cardboard sleeve… and she was tossing in the vintage Color Wheel, too. The memories of my Dad came back as clearly as and as bright as those vibrant quadrant of colors on that color wheel.
My heart soared.
This past Saturday, Barry and I brought out the boxes and went about our work…
Instantly, childhood is re-captured in this retro, vintage Christmas color and composition of memories in Aluminum.
My Dad is smiling.
My Mom-and-Dad-in-law are smiling.
I am so excited to show my Mom, Rita, this art from the past… and just as she liked our Aluminum Tree, decorated monochrome.
This year, Barry and I chose red and silver as our Christmas color scheme, honoring our Aluminum Tree.
But most exciting of all is showing our kids and grandkids the magic, the gleam, the over-the-top illumination and sharing the illumination of memories.
The craze is back!
Thanks, Dad, for the happy ending, because how can you have a Christmas Memory Story that ends in nothing? You’ve gotta have angels, the element of surprise and maybe even a tiny miracle.