Without the stand, the tree wouldn't be the same

The best foundations, often left unseen, can still make mighty impressions.

ORNAMENTS: Colorful Christmas decorations brighten trees during the holidays.

I know when people marvel at our Christmas tree, their eyes rarely, if ever, head directly to its absolute bottom.

First, its sheer size causes onlookers to lift their gaze to its surprisingly high angel-topped pinnacle.

"Is that tree 10 or 12 feet?" they ask of the artificial pine we bought at a department store during a sale in the late 1980s.

Then, the admirers continue with the queries: "Who does the ladder duty?" And, "How long does it take you to decorate that baby?"

We selected the tree because it was tall and spindly, meaning we would have the maximum possible hanging places for the ornament collection of our lifetime. The tree was also just the right size for the staircase area of the home it initially decorated. Since then, the tree has stood in two other houses, and much to our delight, it always seems to fit.

The donning of the eight strings of multicolored lights is probably the only time the tree hears harsh remarks uttered in her direction. I understand the popularity of the newer prelit models, but I have convinced myself our tree is a charmer because of her old-fashioned dazzle.

The ornaments adorning her are too numerous to count. We definitely have hundreds; most likely we have more than a thousand. Observers who scan the tree each admire a different delicate beauty. Among the most surprising, perhaps, are a Yankee Doodle, a pickle, a pineapple, a grandfather clock, a bumblebee, Olive Oyl, the Phantom of the Opera, and a table lamp.

Dad likes the ship-in-the-bottle ornament. Mom says the mini teakettle makes her think of how her mother treasured the dishware ornaments. My favorite is a bright orange smiley face. It reminds me of a special cup that I used to drink orange juice from during a sunshiny family vacation in Florida when I was a little girl.

By the time the pine masterpiece is fully trimmed, it is weighted with glass baubles and priceless memories.

If our tree toppled, the ear-piercing shatter would be the terrifying sound of our history crashing. In fact, our decorated tree is so heavy, we have a custom base to support its immensity.

A welder friend fabricated the stand out of green metal. I didn't see him make it, but I love to imagine him using his glowing tradesman flame to make the holder. His work is really why our tree's bottom is worth particular notice.

When we begin our decorating effort each season, we think of his purposeful gift and how much it means to us.

"I wonder what Billy is doing this holiday?" one of us will ask. "He sure did us a favor," we always agree when the three stages of our tree slip securely into place.

I don't recall him presenting his creation with any fanfare. Considering how important it is to us now, I feel like we should have had a ceremony to recognize the receipt of such a thoughtfully engineered item.

We could have expressed our appreciation in a more prestigious manner with a grand speech and a hearty handshake. Instead, we merely gave a simple, sincere thanks and put the stand to immediate use.

I suppose it doesn't look all that remarkable. The stand has the usual cross design, but it is industrial strength. It was crafted specifically to uphold a hefty responsibility. Not only that, but each of the stand's four points can be adjusted if our tree is listing unnaturally in any one direction. We inevitably need to compensate for a slight, but obvious imbalance of ornaments on one side (or is the floor uneven?)

As soon as the tree is entirely ready, the final step of the decorating process includes covering the custom base with white cotton batting to resemble snow. I always think it's a shame to hide the stand, because my family feels such affection toward it.

After all, the gift from our welder friend many years ago has reinforced a heartfelt lesson for me.

The best foundations may be unseen, but they can still make mighty impressions. The most eye-catching Christmas tree ever only sparkles and stands in full splendor when a strong base is at its core.

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