Sam and Christmas Tree Chaos


(click on photos to enlarge)

Sam at Christmas

Sam at Christmas

In spite of the fact that Sam came from a Jewish family, he was not particularly religious and his wife, Martha, came from a Presbyterian family so they celebrated Christmas every year. The big thrill for the kids was that they would wake up in the middle of the night and race to the living room to find what Santa had brought! It wasn’t hard for them to figure who got what and Jeff and Marcia especially would stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing with their new toys until, exhausted, they would go back to sleep. Then, Sam and Martha would get up and have a nice, quiet breakfast before the kids got up again and Christmas day would begin.

Sam in Santa Hat

Sam in Santa Hat

Most of the time, especially in later years when the kids were grown, the family would open the wrapped presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. Sam would “play Santa” and dole them out to each person. They called him “Sammy Claus” because he would don a Santa hat while doing this.

Tree with Star

Sometimes, they called the tree a Hanukah Bush and Marcia drew a Jewish Star one year which adorned the top of their trees for a while instead of the usual angel.

Fern that would be decorated

Fern that would be decorated

One year, when they didn’t want to have a live tree, the fern which was perched on a tall pedestal, became the Christmas tree and it was decorated with small Christmas balls and some tinsel.

In the late 60’s, there was an incident that was truly a tale that has to be remembered. This took place in their apartment in New York. Christmas was over and the lights and ornaments were taken off the tree and it stood there, naked and forlorn. They tried to keep the tree watered, but once presents were placed underneath, that became difficult and so no one bothered. “Needles” to say, the pine needles became dry and brittle. Just a mere whisper of a touch would send them flying everywhere.

So the task at hand was to take the tree out of the living room, through the living room door, out the apartment door and down to the street for pickup by the sanitation department. Normally this would not be a big deal. This year, however, it did become quite an ordeal.

Sam, obviously not thinking clearly about the results (or not caring), pulled the dry tree out through the doorway with the top first. Now the bottom branches were much wider than the doorway so when being pulled through the narrower space, they were bent backwards and once through the door, they instantly sprung back into place.

Imagine what this meant. All of those brittle pine needles were now airborne, each a tiny sharp, sticky missile flying into the air until gravity brought them back down and they plummeted to the floor and covered it in a huge mass of green. By the time Sam was done dragging this poor tree through two doorways, most of it lay on the floor and not more than the trunk was taken to the curb.

If you have had the misfortune of feeling pine needles in this condition, you know that it is like trying to pick up sharp, biting objects covered in a sticky residue of pine tar. It is painful. Very painful.

Tree in playpen

When the kids were little, Martha put the tree in the playpen to protect it

For some unknown reason, Martha was not in the house at this time. She must have had a premonition that the taking down of the tree was going to be a disaster and made herself scarce on some errand. Smart lady.

Marcia was the only one left to clean up the mess as Sam had made it clear his job was done once the tree was out of the house. So, resigned to this nasty task, she began to try to gather up the needles. Ouch! This was NOT going to work. Her hands stung from the sharpness of the needles.

Being very creative and good at thinking up solutions to dilemmas, she had the bright idea to simply get out the vacuum cleaner and suck them up! Easy as pie, right?

First, she had to drag the heavy canister style Electrolux vacuum apparatus out of the closet and assemble the hoses. Then she turned it on and aimed the pipe at a pile of needles and whoosh! Up they went. This was going to be easy, she thought. But suddenly the whooshing sound changed to a funny, strangling noise that didn’t sound right. Oops! The needles, so abundant, were clogging up the hose and so the vacuum was trying to suck its little heart out, but nothing was moving.

Crap!  Now she had to unhook the hoses and try to unstick the clog. What a mess! When this chore was finally done and all the needles were extracted from the vacuum hose, she realized this process wasn’t going to work after all. History would just repeat itself. Another solution had to be found.

She rummaged around in the closet where their tools were kept and found a large pair of workman type gloves that were extremely too large, but better than nothing.

She tried scooping up the needles with the gloves and while it was clumsy, tedious and seemingly an unending task, it had to be done. She eventually got all the pine needles off the floor and in the trash, but she was exhausted.

She swore that was the last live tree she would ever clean up again.

The next year, she personally bought a four-foot fake tree which didn’t dry out and shed and so they continued to have a tree for Christmas. It just wasn’t a live one anymore. Some traditions just were not practical.

One Christmas somewhat later, when Sam and Martha lived in North Carolina, Marcia was at their house helping them put up their tree. Sam brought out the box of lights. Many of you will remember when the lights used to be a good size and if one burned out, they all went out. Then there was the annual struggle to untangle the strings because last year whoever put them away would just throw them in a box. This time, the lights they had were a newer kind: tiny little bulbs with delicate plastic petals surrounding each so they looked like a pretty flower all lit up. Pretty, yes; sturdy, not so much.

Marcia was untangling the strands so Sam could put them on the tree. As he was stringing the top part of the tree, the strand would hang down to the floor. As he walked around the tree, he would carelessly step on the strand and they heard the little crunch as he stepped on the delicate lights, crushing them into oblivion. Sam was like the proverbial bull in the china shop when he did things and this was no different. Anyway, finally the lights were on, the rest of the decoration was easier and once again, Christmas was held in the Singer family with “Sammy Claus”.

Sam in Hat

Sam in Hat

Christmas was never quite the same for the family after Sam died. They all missed him in the funny hat and his jokes.


One thought on “Sam and Christmas Tree Chaos

  1. God takes those who’s company he would enjoy as a guardian angel, my respects; for Sam. I loved looking through all of the photographs that you’ve posted being reminded of a different time in life, just by the shading and color quality of the pictures. It feels like being brought back 20 years

    -Carlos Hernandez

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