The first carcass appeared the day after New Year's in my neighbor's front yard.
The next morning, a second victim lay smack in the northbound lane of street outside my neighborhood. An elderly man inched his rust-colored sedan toward it, attempting to either drive over the dead or push its remains aside. The rest of us drivers looked on -- some in anger, some in disbelief, but none shedding a tear -- as we looped around this awkward dance.
The body count has grown considerably since then. I even added to the tally this past weekend, humming to myself:
"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree.
Your branches brown and shedding."
Despite all the optimism a fledging year brings, its first month remains the saddest and bleakest. Inside, holiday cheer gives way to post-holiday bills and broken toys. Outside, it's all tundra whites, dingy grays and faded greenery decaying by the gutter. What hath Baby New Year wrought?
My Love delays this annual misery as long as possible because she hates to see all the festiveness she's hung, strung and displayed in our house disappear. Though I usually have my fill of snowmen singing "Winter Wonderland" in our foyer and shriveled poinsettia leaves crunching under my feet well before New Year's, I relent.
"The house always feels so empty after we've put everything away," she sighs every year, helping disengage my grip on the green snap-lid tote bins for another week.
We compromise with a day of undecking our halls sometime between the season's traditional end on January 6 (The Epiphany to Christians, Twelfth Night to the Shakespeareans) and the third Monday of the month (Martin Luther King Jr. Day to the federal government, Trip to the Indian Casino Day to My Love). Our lone exception is the miniature lights strung around our bushes and railings outside in accordance to the ancient proverb: Better to light a walkway than curse the dark ice.
My main role is tree disrobing and disassembly. Breaking down the artificial conifer in our living room always amazes me because, compared with my childhood memories of the 624 dangerously sharp metal and plastic branches on my parents' old faux tree, this one is a three-piece model of scientific ease. It even fits easily back into the mammoth plastic duffle bag it came with. This probably explains why JCPenney discontinued our particular model.
The live Fraser Fir in my office goes last. This year it was under-lit, owing to my switch to more efficient LED (or Less Exciting and Dimmer) bulbs, but it had lots of character.
The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Cosmo and Wanda from The Fairly Oddparents and other cartoon folk to be exact -- all ornaments picked out over the years by The Things during the annual tree trip to Stew Leonard's in Norwalk.
Then there were the handmade trinkets from pre-school and school years past.
Popsicle sticks with glitter glue.
Die-cut foam and construction paper.
A few made of some strange hardened dough that unbelievably have never been discovered by the dog.
Back into plastic bags and boxes they all went. But not without me giving each a final look in an attempt to recall the initial excitement and wonder that holiday magic brings, only to disappear as soon the wrapping hits the trash bin.
This sentimentality stopped with the final closing of the bin, which for the next 10-and-a-half months -- along with a dozen other bins like it, several yards of artificial evergreen roping and many other seasonal items that hang, light or sing -- will be the sole occupants of our attic.
If, of course, you don't count the dust bunnies.
My wife and I then hauled the fir out the front door and set it next to our mailbox, where I see it now every day alone and cold.
So long, pal. Mulch luck in your future endeavors.