I loved my parents for a lot of reasons.
Truthfully, I didn't love them for more, but that's my fault.
I loved, that to my mom and dad, the animals came first. The dog didn't live outside and you didn't hit him, the cats could eat your food, the snake didn't get into trouble if he bit you, the gerbils weren't used as toys.
They had their lives. They walked around according to their odd little mammalian (and reptilian) orders. Neither of my parents expected them to act like people. If the cat wanted to come in. And then five minutes later wanted to go out. And then ten minutes later was pulling at the screen because he wanted to come back in, well that's just how he was wired. Dad might bitch, but he didn't accuse. He didn't judge.
I always admired that in him.
My mom might not want a cat on the table at dinner, but at breakfast, big deal.
My parents gave me the sense to give animals their space, to let them wander and not corral them too much toward human expectation and need.
My parents gave the animal in me a safe home. To this day, if I'm in a pet store, in a zoo, in a paddock, out on the streets following a stray, the organic lope of a cat or the hop and skip of a crow or the joyous canter of a horse make more sense to me than waiting by a crosswalk for the signal to say go.
The other thing I'll always love about my parents is they never took down the Christmas tree in my presence.
Some folks remember or fetishize the days that mom and dad didn't let them see the presents go under the tree, IE how long they kept Santa Claus alive.
Wasn't a big deal to me. I had much older brothers and at a young age I knew "he" was a construct. A metaphor for generosity, and I think, when I found out the truth, I was more impressed that everyone on earth (on the Christian earth I imagined universal back then) exchanged presents on the same day than some guy ran around the planet handing them out.
My family chose, put the tree up, and decorated it together, my brothers and I and both parents taking messy turns hanging the ornaments. An aesthetic family stew. A collaborative art work.
But it came down in secret. My mom waited until sometime in mid January, she was a stickler for observing the Epiphany, and one afternoon I'd come home from school and the tree and the ornament case would be gone. The quiet labor of mystery.
The Xmas tree became as important if not moreso than the gifts to come, than Xmas dinner, than gathering around dad's chair to read Clement Clarke Moore. And as I got older and bought more gifts than I got, which is really the rubicon of adulthood, the Christmas tree became for me the hot center of the holiday.
Home from college coming home late at night both parents asleep and the house silent but for the padding mew of the cats I loved to see the tree coloring the window as I turned up our street. I loved the prismatic splash it made on the ceiling of our dark living room. How the living thing and the electric lights co-operated to make a seasonal sculpture. A totem thousands of years old standing in the corner of the first floor of a tiny Dutch colonial in East Pittsburgh.
I say all this to explain an odd habit of mine.
I do this ....thing.... now. I've done it for awhile.
I used to look around and see if anyone was watching me or coming my way but now I don't care.
When the streets and the sidewalks start to fill with abandoned xmas trees, tossed out, piled, plopped onto the corner to await the garbage men I take more frequent walks.
And whatever tree I pass I touch, or if I have the time I stop and take a few needles from a branch and I taste them, or I fold them and rub them into my hands until I can feel and smell each trees scent, its way, its particular life.
Some are dry as plastic but if you bend the needles in half that sharp pine smell still emerges, half nectar half urine, with varieties of taste as wide as Turkish sherbet, and one of those scents like blood or sex or shit or bread that fixes itself in your desirous reptilian brain. A vibrant arboreal boy come in from playing in the forest.
Consider each tree, its body, would I have bought it? Is it still alive? If stood back up and sunk into a bucket would it breath a few more days?
They're almost corporeal, pine trees. They have a sort of figure. Hips and a torso and a graceful peak. I'll admit it I find some of them sensual. Maybe it's more accurate to say they have a volume to them, a skirting, that speaks of life. Little pyramidal universes, ecosystems, minor metaphors for community, for the arboreal genius and wealth of stasis. This mystery we bring into our homes. We decorate and praise them.
And then almost as one we toss them to the curb.
Why we don't burn them in a deliberate ritual to end Christmas, a Twelfth Night bonfire, or bury them en masse to enrich or protect the spring harvest I don't know. There's a lot about "us" and what we throw away without a second thought that I do not and never will understand.
You'll find me in the dog run.