Mrs. T and I put up Christmas trees last year and the year before that, and both of them meant the world to me. Things have been more than a little bit hectic for both of us in recent months, though, and since we’re only going to be together in Connecticut for nine days before we fly south to Florida, we discussed it on the phone while I was in Chicago and decided to forgo a tree this year.
On Monday afternoon she picked me up at the train station in New London and drove me to our place in rural Connecticut. We talked about our decision again, agreeing that we’d made the right call—which didn’t keep me from feeling wistful about not having a Christmas tree to enjoy.
No sooner did we get home than she jumped out of the car and ran inside while I opened the trunk, took out my suitcases, and dragged them to the door. I pushed it open and saw…you guessed it…a fully trimmed tree, all lit up.
I couldn’t say anything at first. I’m sure you can guess why. Then I had the presence of mind to quote from memory the last couple of lines of a scene from Satchmo at the Waldorf that Barry Shabaka Henley, Charles Newell, and I were working on just last week in the rehearsal room of Chicago’s Court Theatre. “Lucille” is, of course, Louis Armstrong’s fourth and last wife, and the story he tells in the play is one that Armstrong loved to tell in real life:
We get married, Lucille goes out on the road with me and it’s Christmas. Come back to the hotel after the show and there’s a little tree right there in the room, all lit up like nothing you ever seen before. She done trimmed it and put on the lights for old Pops! Now I ain’t never had no Christmas tree before. We couldn’t afford nothing like that back in New Orleans. Then I go out in the world, hit the road, nobody ever thought to put up no tree for me in no hotel room—not till Lucille. I come in, see that tree in the corner, and she say, “Merry Christmas, Louis!” And you know what? I wouldn’t let her turn it off. Lay in bed all night looking at them pretty lights winking and blinking, and I say to myself, “Satch, you done lucked out. Better do what you gotta do to hang onto that gal. You ain’t gonna do no better long as you live.”
You never saw anybody smile as big as Mrs. T did right then. Unless it was me.