For a Light into the Past

The Christmas tree tradition is a special one for me, filled with childhood memories of picking out just the right tree sometime during the summer in our very own woods, watching to make sure it didn’t get too tall through the growing season, and then making the trek to cut it down exactly one week before Christmas.  The cutting of a tree one has watched grow over years is bittersweet, but no tree was ever loved as much as that tree for the two weeks it was festooned and draped with lights, garlands, ornaments and tinsel with gifts piled high beneath its branches.

One of my childhood decorating tasks included anchoring the string of bubble lights onto sturdy branches so the little clear glass candle lights stood upright.  Once their little bulb heated the liquid inside, a string of bubbles perpetually boiled up to the top.  The bubbles animated the tree and fed the eye already overwhelmed with so much light and color.  I remember sitting on the floor looking up at the tree for hours,  just drinking in the magic of the blinking, bubbling and sparkle of those special lights.  I was the official monitor of the strings of lights, inspecting them each day as the tree was illuminated to see if any bulbs had gone out, as the whole string would fail to light up.  It took detective work to find the culprit bulb and replace it.

One day our one string of bubble lights failed to light when plugged in. I had a spare bulb to add to the string as I tried to determine which bubble light no longer worked.  As I moved the bulbs from socket to socket, carefully handling the fragile glass columns of colored liquid, I lost my hold on one and it dropped to the linoleum floor.  The glass  fractured,  the red liquid bleeding out and quite unexpectedly started to cause the linoleum tile to melt, leaving a significant hole, exposing the plywood subflooring underneath.  My parents were quite concerned about such a toxic acid being inside the lights, wondering if I had been splashed, but my worry was that I had no other spare light bulb and a string of bubble lights that still didn’t light up.   I had a job to do.  The hole in the floor was a mere inconvenience to me but, of course, a big deal to my parents once they realized I hadn’t been harmed.  My father patched the floor with some spare linoleum he cut out from the floor inside a nearby closet.  That patch always looked fresher and a bit stark in the middle of a well-traveled spot, a constant reminder of my bubble light mishap.

The liquid inside modern bubble lights doesn’t melt through floors or skin.  The bulbs are still fragile to handle but the lovely bubbles are worth the extra care it takes to place them on the tree.   I find just the right branches for them, gazing into their amber bubbles and remembering the younger me so long ago, just as captivated now as I was then.  Some things really don’t ever change, although now my wrinkles are illuminated by bubbling lights that highlight my greying hair.

The tree and its lights may only be for a couple weeks each year, but the memories linger more than half a century, and I hope for a few decades more.  Someday, the bubble lights will be gently placed on a tree by an adult grandchild, who will tell the story of a great grandmother who melted a hole in the floor long long ago.

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