I saw them just as I was headed toward the movie theater at Colonie Center.
One of the holiday merchants, who set up a small pop-up store along the Colonie Center concourse walkway, had a small forest of them on display.
Beautiful vintage ceramic light-up Christmas trees.
You’ve seen them. A big ceramic green tree, with little translucent plastic ornaments. Insert a light fixture inside, turn it on, bingo – instant holiday cheer.
I thought about where I saw those trees in my past.
And it reminded me of the old Char-Mar Ceramics Store and Studio in Slingerlands.
In the twilight of their lives, my Grandpa and Grandma Bragg opened a small ceramics studio and classroom in Slingerlands, a studio about a quarter of a mile from the Toll Gate Ice Cream store. On occasion, I worked there on Sunday afternoons doing simple, menial labor – inventory, cleaning molds, sweeping, that kind of stuff. Earned a dollar for my efforts each week.
The Char-Mar Ceramics Store and Studio did a brisk business in ceramics classes and sales, and one of the studio’s most popular items was a light-up ceramic Christmas tree. I remember building a few of those during my time with the store – pouring the liquid clay into the molds, waiting until the clay dried, painting the finished product with inks and glaze, firing it in the kiln, picking up the pieces that broke in the kiln because I messed something up and the clay went boom, retrying, reglazing, and eventually adding little plastic translucent pegs.
I worked at the studio for about a year. Maybe it was my first attempts at creativity, maybe it was just a Sunday diversion to get away from all the other traumas in my life. In fact, I actually made one of the ceramic Christmas trees and gave it to one of my high school friends for the holidays.
I found out later that when he plugged it in, because I had not properly wired the on-off switch, the tree shorted out his outlet. Oops.
The ceramics store and studio lasted for a few years, until my grandparents’ health issues forced them to relocate to Schoharie County. I think the building that once housed the ceramics studio is now a delicatessen.
Okay, now back to the present. Last Saturday, I saw one of those trees for sale. No, I know it wasn’t an original Char-Mar Ceramics tree. Those molds have been popular with ceramics crafters for ages; Char-Mar was one of many ceramics stores to use that imprint.
This tree at the Colonie Center vendor had all-red clear pegs. That was fine for me. I didn’t need a tree covered in dozens of multi-colored twinkle lights. I’m a simple man. Trust me, holiday decorating for me barely goes above hanging a garland wreath on the door.
A few dollars later, the craftsperson wrapped up the little tree and its lightbulb base, and I was on my way.
This is me, to be totally honest. I’m a simple man. I don’t need ornate decorations and a holiday display that can be seen from Tupper Lake on a clear night.
Sometimes the holidays are for remembrance. And they’re for making peace with the tragedies of the past.
And sometimes… it’s just about finding the holiday spirit in a holiday.