The Campbell's are pretty big on traditions, and the holiday season kicks off a slew of them that starts with picking out our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.
Lou has never been the “wait until the last minute” type, or the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” type. He has some OCD tendencies which means I benefit from his heavy lean toward neatness and perfection. He is the only man I ever picked out my very own Christmas tree with, back when we lived in our first apartment in Brooklyn. It was beautiful and absolutely flawless, just as every tree has been thereafter. One thing I learned quickly, though, is that no matter where I hang my ornaments while trimming the tree, they are likely to be moved to a “better” spot at some point (drives me absolutely crazy to this day!).
Both the apartment in Brooklyn and the house in Long Beach were tiny. We had to pick out modest, narrow trees that we could tuck into a corner of our already crowded living room. So when we moved into this huge house in Pawling, we started a new tradition of chopping down a giant tree at the farm. The bigger, the better.
We have one room with 12 foot ceilings that we named “The Christmas Tree Room” even before we bought the house, because we knew it wouldn’t be used much aside from hosting the tree each year. We moved in just a few days after Thanksgiving, bringing Ty to his new house straight from a month-long hospital stay. He never got to say goodbye to the old house or to Long Beach, but he adjusted quickly and had love-at-first sight when we walked him into his new bedroom covered in superheroes.
As you know, this community welcomed us with warm hearts and open arms. One such individual in the community was/is Mike Sincair. Mike owns a Christmas tree farm in Union Vale – right up on Walsh Road near the world-famous ERJDAT Christmas Light display. Every year he allows us to come to the farm when it isn’t otherwise open to the public, so we can take our time and pick out the perfect tree in privacy. Our first two years, Ty wore his Santa hat and eagerly picked out our tree as I carried him around the farm. These past 4 years, we walked onto that farm with a pit in our stomachs and lead weighing down our hearts – sighing big to catch each breath. We look up into the sky and let Ty’s spirit guide us to the tree. We keep up the tradition as much for Ty as we do for Gavin.
Four years. I had to pause after writing that and recount on my fingers with Lou because it is so hard to believe this will be our fourth Christmas without the best good boy in the whole wide world.
Mike’s supply of 12-foot trees has diminished over the years, but he said he had one that was ours if we wanted it. We looked out onto the farm and spotted it immediately. A beautiful 16-foot Balsam Fir that rose high above the rest! It was reaching toward heaven. We did our due diligence and explored the rest of the farm, just in case, but there was no doubt that it would be our tree from the second we saw it. It was undeniable. As always, Ty made it clear what he wanted for “Crimpy.” See the enormous one in the back? Towering over the others? Pretty obvious, Ty. Thank you. Gavin gets to cut down his own tree, too, for the den.
Each year, Mike bakes more than 4,000 cookies to share with his customers at no charge. You read that correctly – 4,000+ cookies, and they are delicious. When we walked into his shed in search of his stash, we saw Ty’s photos adorning his bulletin board. Front and center. His kindness is unmatched. Like so many others, Ty truly touched his heart. He let Gavin drive the tractor, he put the tree on his trailer and drove it all the way to our house when it wouldn’t fit on the roof of our car, and he left us with dozens of cookies to enjoy afterward.
I purchased two potted spruce trees that we put out on the porch, and as I placed it on the step there was a giant ladybug crawling in the very spot I wanted to put the tree. I brought Gavin over to show him, but by the time I looked back the ladybug was gone.
If I told you about the Christmas Tree tradition yesterday, it would have been a tear-filled story. Grief is funny like that. Trimming the tree was an impossible task, every ornament holding a memory and longing that is impossible to bear sometimes. Yesterday I teared up all day, I sulked, I decorated, I stopped, I decorated some more. I drank too much “egg nog” in an effort to escape. But this morning, I woke to a beautifully decorated home and my heart is at ease. He is here in this house and he is happy that we continue these traditions. His tree is pure perfection, and I am pleased.