The holiday spirit dawned early for me this year at the festive party the Makawao Community Association held on a cool, rain-sprinkled evening before Thanksgiving. The event was to open the new museum of the county-funded Community History Project, on display through February at the old Randy Jay Braun gallery on Makawao Avenue.
People trooped outside to watch the annual lighting (since 2000) of the star atop the town's Christmas tree, a tall, old Norfolk pine on the grounds of the former Crook estate in the heart of town.
"The tree looks a bit frazzled," I commented to Glenda Berry, one of the project's board members, before Peter Baldwin and Rose Freitas flipped the switch. "It is," she said. "It was hit by lightning in the storm last summer."
Judy and Bill Mertens of Anuhea Flowers saw to it that "a crazy person," as MCA President Mike Foley joked (that would be arborist James Franzen), climbed to the top of the tree, not once, not twice, but five times before the damaged wiring was finally fixed.
Outside the museum on the sidewalk stood a "volunteer" pine tree from Maluhia donated by Jeremy Baldwin, on which people affixed paper stars stating what they like about Makawao. That nice small-town party set the Christmas tone for me.
(By the way, Theresa Thompson and I are conducting videotaped oral histories for the project. Please let me know if you or anyone you know grew up in Makawao and has stories to tell.)
For me, the holiday spirit begins with the decorations. Poinsettia arrived in the stores and we bought two for the house and a big fluffy one for a friend, a tradition. Holiday bells sprouted above the porch swing of a neighbor not usually given to such displays.
One evening in Kihei, I heard Bruddah Iz singing "on a white sandy beach, in Hawaii . . . " as a guy and his girl strung lights on their hedge, another little act of happiness.
I braced for our annual trip out to Kula Botanical Garden to purchase a Christmas tree. I can't remember a Christmas when this act didn't result in a fight, either in agreeing on it, struggling to put it up, or both.
"You just ran over a dove," he said last year as we started out in my station wagon, an inauspicious beginning to that excursion. Mood darkened, I retraced the route on the way back and felt absolved when no carcass lay on the road. But the damage was done. ("It could have been cleaned up," he said.)
Once again our kind neighbor, a former nuclear submarine mechanic, helped us put up the tree, averting further friction, but we barely got it decorated before the 25th. I vowed to do it differently this year.
"Let him pick the tree!" I wrote on my calendar, referring to the other half of the tangle. But could I live with that sacrifice? Would Miss Perfectionist really be able to get out of the way? Things were looking good for the Christmas spirit. Foodland had cranberries for the popcorn chain this year. I bought two boxes of yummy iced Christmas cookies at Whole Foods and ate them while he tolerated me watching sappy Hallmark Christmas movies. (Girl meets boy, underdog wins out, and the decorations are beautiful.)
The big day came. He'd gotten into a bad car accident and had a broken rib but gamely eased into the passenger seat for the trip to Warren and Helen McCord's tree farm. What does a tree matter? He's alive and OK, and the other driver is too. Dear reader, I admit it. I sulked on the sidelines.
In record time, he chose a perfect tree, trimmer than usual. It fit gracefully in the space, with a trunk small enough to maneuver in the stand. We carried it easily, and put it up readily ourselves.
We even remembered to score the bottom of the trunk to break the seal of sap accumulated on the drive home so the tree could imbibe its preservative-laden water freely. We importuned our neighbor to help only with the final straightening.
There the tree stood, green and fragrant, born in the mists of upper Kula. I put on a CD of classical Christmas masterpieces and we sat in the twilight admiring it over cups of gingerbread spiced tea.
"You picked a beauty," our neighbor said. "You guys did a good job this year."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.