Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Our Hometown Tree

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree beginning its journey from my hometown of Flanders, NJ

Last night started like most other weeknights: I was hungry in bed trying to convince myself NOT to have ice cream (FAIL), Jeff was in the living room reading about nineteenth century Russia, and I tried my best to maintain optimal focus between concurrent games of Draw Something and Bravo reality shows.  Then something magical happened.   Lighting up my facebook news feed like a Christmas tree, was just that: a Christmas tree, but this was no ordinary tree—THIS was a 10 ton Norway Spruce from my hometown of Flanders, New Jersey, selected as this year’s iconic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

My parents still live in Flanders, while many of my classmates from high school live in or nearby the suburban town located in northwestern New Jersey.  The town and its surrounding areas were not spared from Hurricane Sandy’s destructive path, and while my parents were extremely fortunate to lose electricity for only 48 hours, I learned through facebook that many of my old friends went up to almost two weeks without power.  Many also waited for hours to fill their gas tanks, suffered through long trips at the grocery store and were unable to return to their schools, workplaces, and businesses.  In fact, many friends had their power restored just the day before the wondrous news of the Rockefeller tree.  I imagine that going from heartache and exhaustion to civic pride was a real morale booster for the Flanders residents.

It was for me too.  Four hours north of Flanders in my upstate NY town, I had been feeling kind of glum.  And to make it worse, I felt guilty for feeling this way because I knew my troubles were minuscule compared to those trying to move past the hurricane.  When the weatherman warned of Sandy’s potential damage,  I absolutely went out and bought an extensive supply of bottled water and groceries, but Sandy’s presence in my town was nothing more than a somewhat windy rain shower.  There was no damage-- aside from what I was viewing as an ongoing catastrophe on the right side of my head.  Now in November, I had reached a plateau with my cochlear implant progress, and even more embarrassing is that in recent weeks when I struggle to hear, I have suddenly burst into tears, a totally unfortunate and unprofessional occurrence.

But how can you be sad when an 80-foot tree from your hometown will soon be the most famous Christmas tree in the world?  You can’t. Upon sharing the excitement in my own facebook status, I started daydreaming how amazing it would be for all my friends of Flanders past to come together in Manhattan to view the tree- OUR tree.  Then I took the daydream to the next level, imagining that I would sing “O Holy Night” at the tree lighting.   And then I started laughing at the thought of us all ice skating together beneath the spruce, similar to how we had skated in middle school at a place that I hold near and dear to my heart: The Hackettstown Roller Rink.

During my middle school years, I spent many Friday nights at this establishment.  For a boy-crazy pre-teen like myself, it was heaven.  Sporting a kickass bodysuit or perhaps a hooded baja shirt,  I would glide around that rink to tunes by Ace of Base and Crash Test Dummies, strategically positioning myself to grab a nearby boy for the much anticipated couple skate.  Young couples would demonstrate their love to each other when the rink dimmed the lights, skating hand in hand to “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, or “I Swear” by All-4-One.  And sometimes, we would use this opportunity to exit the rink and kiss by the video games, fulfilling all of my dreams of middle school romance.

I then started thinking about my hearing in relation to the rink.  It was certainly a noisy place with all the kids, and the loud music, and such environments are usually not my favorite locales because of the background noise.  Maybe it was because I was skating (or kissing) more than talking, or maybe my hearing was just so much better than it is now, but I can’t remember even thinking about my hearing at the roller rink—a much different situation from today, as I rarely go an hour without silently acknowledging and damning my disability.

Thanks to facebook, another wave of nostalgia washed over me. My high school boyfriend, Andrew, had liked my status about the tree from Flanders, and my thoughts shifted from middle school years at the roller rink to high school years when he and I had dated.  Andrew was in the class ahead of mine, played on the varsity soccer team and drove a sweet Grand Am.  He had earned the nickname Rico Suave, I think because he would unabashedly sing the god-awful song on demand (fortunately he did not look like Gerardo), and also, because he grew up in an Italian/Spanish household and acknowledged women with over-dramatic charm and flattery.  And I loved him.  For being 15 and 16 years old, we thought we were so mature, not knowing at the time that adult relationships rarely include constant love notes, dramatic marathon sessions on the telephone (YOU hang up first.  No, YOU hang up first!), and the hormonal drive to touch one another as often as possible.

By the time I was in high school, I had developed a greater awareness of my hearing impairment.  It didn’t interfere all that much with my teenage activities (I spent hours on the telephone, for example), but there were minor instances when I assumed my hearing was obvious to everyone, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed, and totally uncool.   As Andrew and I grew closer, I one day mustered the courage to tell him about my hearing, which of course led to a crying fit despite Andrew’s reaction of absolute indifference.  Looking back, this might have marked the first time I honestly revealed my truth to someone.   Sixteen years have passed since then, and I now recognize that any time I “come out” to someone, it never results in the person not liking me.  Still even today, even with this blog, I still fight the shame that comes with revealing my true self to people.

Some more about Andrew: I’m surprising myself by even including him in the blog.  Our breakup was just as dramatic as the relationship that preceded it, and up until meeting my husband, I mourned that Andrew and I would likely never speak again. Though I have not seen Andrew in more than a decade, he and I have started to reconnect in the last year via facebook, and it's an unforeseen joy to read posts that he is advancing in his career and look at pictures of him and his adorable wife and feel genuine happiness for the boy that shaped so much of my teenage experience.   When I started the blog, he sent me an encouraging message wishing me the best.  He also gave me his blessing to include stories of him in the blog (he was never very shy, after all) and assured me my hearing had always been a non-factor for him, a sentiment that the insecure teenager in me truly appreciates.

Cut down today and shipped to Manhattan, the heavy tree from Flanders will soon be admired by millions of people.  It will serve as a symbol of joy, and of tradition, and for many looking up at its white lights this holiday season, it will serve as a symbol of hope. Whether or not I get to view the hometown tree in Rockefeller Center, I am grateful it has already reminded me of my roots and how far I’ve come. 


  1. I'm so proud that you spelled "minuscule" correctly.

  2. I always enjoy reading your blog entries..and now, even *I* will have fond thoughts of our Nation's Christmas Tree knowing it has come from your home town!