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Essay: Christmas From Summerland


Essayist Ed Makowski reads his essay about selling Christmas trees in Florida.

For the past few years I've gone to Florida to sell Christmas trees. It's an interesting random change of scenery from my native Wisconsin and I can rationalize it because it pays a little.

Each year about 1,400 trees leave the sides of our big white temporary tent between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. During many of those sales I see parents pick out a tree with their kids, then instruct the children to pose in front of the tree for a picture. Each time I offer to take the picture so they can join in the photo. Nearly every time the parent declines my offer.

I realize I'm just a guy at a Christmas tree lot and that probably ranks somewhere between carney and Wal-Mart greeter. Customers aren't lining up to ask my insights on life between choosing a Frasier or Nordman fir tree. But every time I see those kids in front of the tree without their parents in the photo, I think of all the memories they someday won't have of their parents.

Like with most things, it's probably my own life experience coming through. My father became ill and stopped participating in regular family activities at a pretty young age. The only photos I have of him are of me sitting on his shoulders in my diaper, cowboy hat and six shooter cap gun, the other our faces are enclosed in motorcycle helmets. I'm an adult, my dad's been dead ten years and I have a hard time remembering him. There's a vague feeling, but pictures would help fill in the fuzz of imperfect memory and the passage of time. One of my favorite pictures of my mother is when she dressed as a green and warted witch for Halloween when I was seven. I don't remember a single one of my dad's Halloween outfits, though it was always him who donned a costume and walked us around the block.

Parents, when you take photos of your kids, I implore you to consider your kids - their someday. They're never going to care that you were wearing your gym outfit, or your hair was a mess, or you're embarrassed of your nine-to-five clothing. Fashion becomes dated, people are rarely their goal weight, the lighting isn't perfect, and you will be dead someday. Very hopefully before your children. When they think about you in 40 years, will you help them recall their experiences with you, or will they just be staring into their own eyes as a seven year old?

Your call.

Ed Makowski is a Milwaukee writer and poet, and former Lake Effect volunteer.