Christmas Tree

It is five in the afternoon, a gray and chilly day. Outside my window, maintenance people are cleaning the snow, one shovel at a time, synchronizing their movements. Fresh chilly air enters the room through the opening in my balcony; I am resting on my little couch in my cozy little room on the 6th floor of our Moscow apartment, it is 1969 and I am 8 years old. We are expecting guests later that evening and mom has ordered me to rest so I would not be tired later on. She is cooking dinner for the guests in our small kitchen outside my door and the intoxicating smell of food is mixing with the fresh smell of the pine tree in my room. I feel warm, safe and totally happy. I close my eyes and fall asleep.

Every year despite my father’s protests, my mom would honor my wish and buy a real pine tree. Then she and I would carry it on a trolley for 5 stops from Lujniki-the closest bazaar to our apartment building located in the hills of the Moscow River. It was so much fun to decorate it! We had a lot of beautiful toy animals playing different music instruments, bright magenta shiny glass ornaments and a golden three-tiered one for the top. With lights turned off, shyly standing in the left corner of the room, my tree looked like a little girl dressed for a festive party. We would buy ornaments all year round in anticipation for the next Christmas tree. We called it a New Year’s Pine tree because there was no Christmas in Russia at that time.

A lot has happened since then. When I turned 11 my brother was born and inhabited the left corner in my little room, the size of my current walk-in closet.  That year the New Year’s pine tree had to be moved to the middle of the room. Then, I grew up and brought my boy friend and later husband to this little room. Then, our son was born and I had to finally leave the nest. Our new apartment in Moscow was a lot bigger and the New Year tree has taken center stage in my living room every year since. Then, a few years later we moved to the US and joined forces with all other immigrants on a journey to success.  A little apartment in Bloomington Normal, Illinois became our home for our new American Christmas tree.

During our first Christmas in the US in 1990, I took a picture of my son Arseni in a white shirt and black tie, my idea of the successful American. That was a time of new hopes and new dreams in our new home in America together with the New Year’s Pine, now called a Christmas tree! Now, 23 years later, my son is successful lawyer, got the water polo coach of the year award two seasons in a row and is an MBA evening program student at UT. I guess that white shirt with the black tie I bought when he was six finally is starting to pay off. I have built a successful performing arts company and have a lot of room in my house for many Christmas and New Year’s trees now. America was good to us; our lives are full and productive.

Every year with my Christmas tree, I get transported to my childhood into that small cozy room, the size of a walk-in closet on the 6th floor of our Moscow apartment. Filled with intoxicating smells of mom’s cooking in a small kitchen and the New Year’s pine in the middle of the room covered with shiny animal ornaments playing musical instruments. I am 8 again and nobody around me has aged a bit and mom still cooks and dad is still grumpy. I close my eyes and listen to synchronized snow shovels outside my window and breath in fresh chilly air coming thru the half open balcony. Little by little my body fills with warmth and I know that everything is going to be just fine.