Two years after I was widowed at age 57, I realized I was ready to have a Christmas tree again. But not just any tree. I wanted one that would tell a story—my story.
When my beautiful husband Michael was still here and we were raising our two little girls, the family Christmas tree was right out of a preschooler’s play corner. Jess and Susannah would bring home the yarn-haired angels, glittery dreidels, and Kwanzaa candles they’d made in their diverse urban classrooms, and soon those rollicking decorations would be part of our star-topped tree.
It was time for me to be brave and move on with my choice of a different kind of Christmas tree.
Through the years I kept all those charming ornaments, as a fond mother tends to do. But by the time I moved into my first solo apartment, my children were grown and living brave lives of their own. It was time for me to be brave and move on with my choice of a different kind of Christmas tree. One that would fit my new, if unwelcome, way of life.
Rock the Lobster
There was never any question about where my tree would come from. Ever since I was old enough to eat blueberry pie, I’ve been pulled back to the same dreamy Maine lake to swim with the loons every summer. And over the years, my love for the place has never lapsed. So I happily ordered a fragrant balsam tree from a mail-order evergreens company not far from our lake. Then all I had to do was figure out how to decorate it.
Fortunately, I’d gotten something of a head start on that project the previous summer. When I reached into a kitchen drawer in the family log cabin in Maine, I pulled out a brand-new oven mitt in the shape of a fish. I’d given it to my teacher parents long before and they’d tucked it away, maybe even forgotten about it. But there it was, all merry and bright and ready to be a star. Just what I needed to top my first lobster tree.
Lobsters are red. Christmas trees are green. What could be more fitting or more fabulous?
The idea of trimming my tree with lobster lights had come to me that same Maine summer as well, possibly while I was eating one. Lobsters are red. Christmas trees are green. What could be more fitting or more fabulous?
If you’re as old as me, you might remember “Party Lights,” a girl-group song from 1962, brilliantly sung and written by Claudine Clark (“I see the lights, I see the party lights, They’re red and blue and green . . .”) I’ve always loved it and I might have even been singing it as I searched online for a party-lights website.
Bingo! Once I got past the strings of chili peppers and cowboy boots and cans of beer, I found what I was looking for. Lobster lights, better than I could have imagined. A minute or two after I plugged them in, their tails—yes, their tails—started winking and blinking away at me.
A Loon, a Moose, and a Lighthouse Too
Okay, I’m going to brag a little here. I’m the woman who brought the lobster tree to Manhattan. Not one of my New Yorker friends had ever seen anything like it. But it didn’t take them long to get into it.
Some who grew up without Christmas trees have become particularly keen about mine. But even those who can sing “Oh Christmas Tree” in their sleep now phone me in early December to ask, “Is your tree up yet?”
Among these friends are writers, musicians, artists, teachers, accountants, and consultants who have shown up over the years, sometimes with an iconic ornament—a loon, a lighthouse—to add to my collection. Among the best of my Maine-inspired ornaments are a birch-bark lake trout and moose, made by my crafty sister Paula in Florida, who shares many of the same childhood memories from our favorite lake.
A Reason to Gather
Those first Christmases when I was learning to be a woman on her own, my lobster tree helped me more than I can say. My daughters and their partners always came by to see it, of course (and these days, their precious children too). And in recent years, even some of my lake neighbors who live as far away as Maine and Vermont have been able to join in.
There is something mesmerizing about it, like watching fireflies from the back porch in August.
When family and friends come to see my lobster tree, I’m proud to say they stay and stay. There is something mesmerizing about it, like watching fireflies from the back porch in August. We bask in the glow of the lobster lights, sip something cheery, and share our stories with each other, often for hours on end.
How lucky I was, after losing the one person in the world I couldn’t lose, to realize that I needed a lobster tree in my life. For me and mine, it has become a delightful reason to meet and mingle and hold each other in the light, year after blinking year.
Susan Lapinski is a writer and the former editor of Sesame Street Parents and Working Mother. She’s now wrapping up a book about escaping to her beloved lake in Maine.