Sunday, December 17, 2017

Aunt Margaret's Aluminum Christmas Tree

Greetings, and merry Christmas! I’ve already received one of my wishes: We put up Sue’s great aunt Margaret’s aluminum Christmas tree!

It hadn’t seen the light of day for several years—I can’t remember the last time we put it up. I bet it’s been fifteen years (I know we put it up one year soon after buying my grandma’s house). Like all old Christmas trees, it’s fragile.

And because the Weihnachtspyramide is such a big deal with my family (who live around here), and it “goes with” this house, it always gets priority. After all the cooking and baking, there’s never time left to put up the aluminum tree. And usually, we’re out of town at Christmas. . . . But we’re here this year, and I’ve put cookies on the back burner. (So to speak.)

(By the way, in this post I'm including pictures of the aluminum Christmas tree, its boxes, and its shiny ornaments, many of which are "new" but which we haven't seen since we last put it up, since they're in a box of "our" ornaments as opposed to my Grandma's boxes of ornaments.)

(See? MODERN! I'd totally forgotten about my purple fishie!)

But I’ve really missed Aunt Margaret’s tree!

Of course, there’s a story. And you want to hear it, right?

Aunt Margaret—Margaret Armina Ferber Nottke—was Sue’s great aunt, her dad’s father’s youngest sister. She was born September 23, 1903. She and her husband, William Hartman (“Stub”) Nottke, lived at 13 Mechanic Street in Berlin Heights, Ohio (where Sue’s sister, Lynn, and her family live today)—it’s just around the corner from Sue’s parents’ home.

To Sue and her siblings, “Aunt Margaret” was pretty much like a grandma, since she and “Uncle Stub” had been the primary guardians and parent-figures to Nelson Ferber, Sue’s dad. (More on that situation in my next post, if you’re interested.)

Because Margaret and Stub lived so close nearby, they could be close in many other ways, too. Here she is on the Ferber's side steps with Prince and Cinders.

So, back to the Christmas tree: Apparently, Sue’s mom and dad bought it in about 1964, when Sue was 7, Lynn 5, and Mark 2. I asked Sue where they got it, and she had to think. “I’m not sure! Maybe at the Giant Tiger? Or maybe at an appliance store. Or they could’ve bought it at a grocery store—grocery stores used to sell Christmas decorations like that. But probably they got it at a discount store . . . or Penney’s or Sears.”

And they got a super-duper box of shiny, lightweight ornaments at the same time—perfect for the tree. We still have that entire thing. I think only two ornaments are missing.

The ornaments have an unusual hook system.

And you can see why we really don't like to even touch these ornaments; they're so fragile.

So, we use mostly "modern" ornaments now:

Anyway, with such a delicate, fragile tree, one that can only hold lightweight, shiny, breakable ornaments, and whose branches can fall out if you merely brush against them . . . and with a mechanical spotlight spinner that went with it, and its fragile colored gels—this Christmas tree really wasn’t a good fit for a house with three young kids.

Can you imagine Sue’s mom trying to take care of three kids, make dinner, bake Christmas cookies, clean, AND tell the kids over and over not to touch the tree—?

At that point, Margaret and Stub weren’t putting up a Christmas tree (that Sue can remember, anyway), so Sue’s parents gave the tree to them. And that’s how it became “Aunt Margaret’s Christmas Tree.”

Sue says she always had it on her sunporch (which is now brother-in-law Gene’s TV room/library), just off of the living room. There was good morning light in there, with all the windows.

So if your de facto grandparents lived around the corner from you, you’d have some really sweet memories of their Christmas tree! And that’s how Sue and her brother and sister think of this tree: Aunt Margaret’s Christmas tree!

Their great uncle Stub died in early 1970s, but Margaret put the tree up every year until she went into a nursing home in the early 1980s. After Margaret’s death, Sue’s sister and brother-in-law bought Stub and Margaret’s home, which has put them in arm’s reach of Sue’s parents all these years. Their lucky daughter, Kaitlyn, got to grow up on the same block as her maternal grandparents!

Margaret had kept her Christmas tree and its ornaments in her attic. After she passed away, there was the inevitable process of “who wants what?” Apparently Lynn and Gene were wanting to clear out the attic. Sue wanted the tree, and I guess no one else expressed an interest, so it became hers.

Sue was living in St. Louis at the time. At this point, she can’t remember if her parents brought it to her on one of their visits, or if Sue herself drove it back after a visit to Ohio.

It’s a well-traveled tree! Sue remembers that once, in late 1980s, when she was working at Maritz in Fenton, the tree decorated the hallway of the South-Central Performance Improvement creative department. And she also displayed it in her house on 7542 Warner Avenue in Richmond Heights. I remember when she showed me a photo of it, soon after we met. Even in black and white, it looked spectacular.

So, when Sue joined me in Montana, the tree moved with her. Then, when we moved back to Missouri, the tree moved back with us. I know we set it up one of the years we lived in Columbia. (We were alternating: one year with a real tree, the next with the aluminum one.) Next, it made the trek from Como to Jeff City, where we put it up one of the first years we lived here, but then we either lacked the energy to put it up, or else we weren’t going to be here over Christmas, so why bother putting up TWO trees?

And between “squirrelly Early” (Earl was our hyper Russian blue) and Genji (then a rambunctious young puss-puss), it was just like the scenario at the Ferber household in the early sixties: we didn’t want to be constantly yelling at cats.

So, I got one of my Christmas wishes this year: We put up Aunt Margaret’s Christmas tree!

So far this year, to supplement the original spotlight spinner, we picked up one of those “shimmering effect” LED motion projectors, which people often use outdoors to beam groovy colors onto their homes. The original spotlight spinner is another nifty artifact from another time.

We’re being nice to the old spotlight by mostly using the new one on the tree, and it looks pretty nifty! We can “choose from 6 color options”! Red, red and green, blue, blue and red (which just looks pinkish to me), green, and green and blue (which makes me think of an aquarium). The gizmo even comes with a remote control, so I can sit in my chair and make it change colors.

Would Aunt Margaret’s like the new color projector? Who knows. . . . but I'd like to think she'd love it!


Osage Bluff Quilter said...

Aluminum tree envy! I saw where Shop Girl on Boonville rd had one,but I never made it there. Your whole collection is amazing!! Boxes add so much value to it all.

I too have a purple fish on my tree,

Merry Christmas to you, Sue, and the same to your Dad!

Jenice said...

The treasurers you have buried in that house!! Reading about them is always a delightful experience, Miss reading about your baking experiences this year but your name as has been mention in several emails with daughter Ellen as I try to recreate some German Goodies!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, my friends, for you kind comments! It is funny that so much of our families' "history" (in terms of objects) has ended up with us. We truly feel like we're only the current "caretakers" of these things. But for me, the only kind of value that matters is that they evoke such strong memories of our relatives, now gone, and of the good times we had together. They are like time machines that help me go back temporarily and live and breathe memories of my childhood. Thank you again for your comments, and I wish you a merry Christmas and happy new year!