Maybe I love the mutable spaces the best, the moveable-feast rooms, the ways the house can shift — a party that spills off the porch and into the driveway; the
Maybe I love the mutable spaces the best, the moveable-feast rooms, the ways the house can shift — a party that spills off the porch and into the driveway; the card tables strung all the way through the living room that one Thanksgiving. The den long doubled as a playroom, and my boys went through an extended phase — perhaps not totally over — wherein all of the sofa cushions and pillows and most of the bedding from their rooms went into the building of elaborate, multistory forts, often during thunderstorms. The kitchen is for soups and stews but also homework; the dining room is a library and a wintertime greenhouse; the living room, visible from every downstairs room, is mudroom, foyer, school storage, fireside living, and dog lookout. The house is wide open downstairs. Each space seems to reach out for every other.
Come Christmastime, like so many families, we move things around. The little ’50s curio cabinet, repurposed as board game storage and a bookshelf, slides around the corner from the living room to the dining room. The picture that hangs on the dining-room wall has a special drawer in the sideboard. There’s no easy way to reconfigure the furniture downstairs that would land our tree in a front window, so for us, instead, the tree’s dead center in the house. It makes a kind of sense: The living room is huge, the stairs in one corner and the door to the den in another, so half of it is a sort of grand, unusable space, perfect for dogs romping through, for a card catalog we found east of Raleigh, and, each December, for the tree.
We take the boys to the tree lot at night to let them run the rows of Fraser firs under the lights. We choose two — a biggish, hopefully pretty tree for downstairs, plus the saddest tree on the lot, a Charlie Brown tree that we fear no one else might adopt. That one comes home for the upstairs landing, for the kid tree. One year, it was short and round: the kid shrub. I hope the boys will come home from college and still decorate a kid tree; I hope they’ll still run the lot at 21. I certainly still have the urge — this, for me, is a signal childhood memory.
Like the Tree Dinner we had when I was a kid. My parents called it smorgasbord, and though no one in my family is Swedish, we do, too. We’ve subbed local salamis for their tinned sardines, but otherwise, Tree Dinner is basically the same as when I was little: crackers, fruit, olives, cheeses, cookies, and the season’s first eggnog. All of this gets eaten while we unpack the name ornaments, then the glass orbs, and then my favorite, the wren in a nest made from wood shavings. The kids take plates upstairs and decorate their tree in a style best described as “thrown from a medium distance.” We hang the precious ornaments downstairs, and then the boys come back to work on the big tree, too. Christmas jazz, usually ’50s and ’60s bebop, is the default around here, though there’s some songbook stuff we like, and an old Kenny & Dolly record that usually makes its way into the rotation.
Life washes through these rooms a little differently at Christmas. We sit in new places, settle by the fire, turn off all the lights and let the glow of the tree fill the front of the house. Something’s on the stove in the kitchen, there are blankets on the front porch, there’s kid noise coming from somewhere. Dog fur. Muddy boots. Another log. Another album. The tree. Both trees. Happy New Year, our card says every year, from our house to yours.print it