Every year around this time our home becomes a veritable museum of Christmas art and artifacts—and I love it!
Decorations that my wife and I have collected over the years and from around the world come out of boxes and fill the Christmas tree. Her extraordinary collection of Santa Clauses is carefully unwrapped and she begins the lengthy process of deciding which one goes where. Thanks to gifts from family and friends, and her own enthusiastic shopping, she owns nearly 100 visitors from the North Pole. They range from a life-sized Father Christmas to the handcrafted Santa fairies on the mantel above our fireplace.
There are music boxes and carousels everywhere. A Santa train, pulling a colorful elves’ workshop, makes its merry way around one corner of the living room. (I confess, I have as much fun tooting the whistle, ringing the bells and having Santa call out a cheerful “Merry Christmas!” as any child who visits us.) Candles are in the windows, wreaths are on the doors and a colorful garland with big red bows is draped over the front door.
There are twinkling stars near the ceiling in our family room, thanks to some tin decorations we brought back from Mexico a while ago. In the living room, Mickey Mouse and his friends play Christmas carols on a xylophone. Everywhere you look there are things that twinkle or light up or play Christmas carols.
But of all the items we bring out of storage for Christmas, none gives me more pleasure or fills me with more nostalgia than a simple plywood Christmas tree my father made more than 50 years ago.
Each year we take the Lollipop Tree out of its box, put various colored lollipops in the spaces on its branches, add a string of red baubles around it and put it on display somewhere in the house.
Over time my Lollipop Tree has become a bit battered and stained. There are chips in some of the paint. And compared to all of the bright, shiny, electronic marvels that fill every corner of every room, it is very plain and simple. In fact, it looks old.
But I am thrilled to have it. It brings back vivid memories of my father’s one venture into entrepreneurship.
Back in the early 1950s we lived in an old farmhouse in northeastern Ohio. The land had been sold to neighboring farms long ago. But there were several sheds and a large barn on the property. All that space got my father wondering what he could build there.
The idea he came up with was the Lollipop Tree. The tree consisted of two pieces of plywood cut in the shape of a Christmas tree with a base on the bottom. Slots were cut in each tree, half running from the top down, half from the bottom up.
When slid together, you had a four-sided tree that stood on its own.
Two large vats of paint filled one side of a shed. One held red paint, the other green. The trees hung on racks, with their tops pointing down, as they were lowered into the green paint. Later, when they dried, the process was reversed and the bases were dipped in the red paint. Then, after the base dried, the edges of each limb were hand-painted in sparkly silver, to imitate snow.
Next came the scary part, at least to a 9-year-old. There were two large stapling machines, each one taller than me, on the opposite wall. The operator would guide each tree around a pattern, step on a foot pedal and—wham!—a staple was banged into the tree. The noisy process was repeated again and again until each branch had two staples in it, about an inch apart, pointing slightly upward. The machine was set so 1/8-inch of the staple was exposed—perfect for sliding a lollipop into it.
And man did we have lollipops. They arrived by the thousands in huge cardboard boxes. They were yellow, orange, red, green and purple. Each one was wrapped in cellophane. There were always dozens of broken lollipops in each box. My friends and I were allowed to eat the fragments, but there were so many remnants we couldn’t eat them all. It wasn’t long before we completely lost our appetite for the colorful candy. Mine has never returned.
When the tree was assembled and each branch held a colorful lollipop I thought it was one of the most beautiful Christmas decorations I had ever seen. Sadly, the market did not agree. My father sold a few to friends and neighbors. A couple of stores in our small town agreed to carry them and he sold a few more. Dad used the last of his savings to run an ad in a popular magazine of the time. I don’t remember the exact results, but I do know he did not sell enough to cover the cost of the ad.
The temporary help he had hired was let go. The fans and heaters in the sheds were turned off. The stapling machines were sold to someone who could use them. And Wood Enterprises’ first (and only) enterprise was shut down. As Christmas approached the vast majority of lollipop trees were stacked in our sheds, along with paint, lollipops, shipping boxes and who knows what else.
I never knew how much money my dad lost on his one and only effort to launch his own business. He would work for somebody else the rest of his life. Nor do I know what happened to his inventory of lollipops and the trees to hold them. I thought all of them were lost forever until I got a call from a cousin several years ago. In preparation for a move to another state she was cleaning out a long-neglected closet. In the back of it she found a Lollipop Tree in its original box. Would I like to have it?
Would I! I asked her to send it to me right away. It arrived in plenty of time for Christmas. As soon as it did, I rushed out to the nearest candy store and bought dozens of lollipops in various shapes, sizes and colors.
Every Christmas since then I conduct a small and private ceremony as I get dad’s Lollipop Tree out of storage. I set it up and go through my collection of lollipops, carefully selecting which ones will go on the tree this year. (As I travel, I keep buying more lollipops, especially when I see unique shapes and sizes in other countries.)
This year the Lollipop Tree is on a stand in the hallway that leads into my home office. As a result, I pass by it several times a day. Every time I do my mind drifts back to memories of Christmases past.
This Christmas, I hope your home is filled with wonderful memories of long-ago holidays. Chances are you’ll be with children and grandchildren who have no memory of the time before iPods and Xboxes. They won’t care to hear about the times when our Christmas pleasures could be as simple as fragments of broken lollipops.
Nowadays, I love seeing them roll their eyes at my stories and exclaiming “Oh, grandpa!” when they suspect I have been exaggerating a tad too much.
But there is no exaggeration today. The story of the Lollipop Tree is completely true. And so are my wishes to each and every one of you for a very Merry Christmas.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.