Naked little ficus likes to dress up as a Christmas tree

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I was a little guy in 1975 when I first came to live with Betty and Bob as a housewarming gift for their home on Morrison Drive in Mt. Lebanon.

Being the only inhabitant of a black slate planter that ran the width of the far side of their living room was a lonely existence. On the plus side, I was warmed by skylights that allowed the sun to shine on me, and I was given water regularly. As time went on I could feel myself getting taller and stronger.

Eventually, other plants were added, and I felt more comfortable in my new environment. Plus, I knew I was Betty's favorite because she didn't call any of the other plants by name.

She called me Benji, short for Benjamin Ficus. In December of that first year we were introduced to a pretty little thing with pink flowers, a Christmas cactus.

Christmas was a bittersweet time for me. Betty and Bob would erect a very full, fragrant Douglas fir. It took the two of them to fit it into a small container with feet and to get it to stand straight and tall in the center of the three long windows.

Colored lights were strung among its branches. Then ornaments, some old, some new, would be hung strategically from top to bottom, followed by silver things called icicles. When all this was finished, they'd turn on the colored lights, turn off the regular lights, have a glass of wine and chat while they admired what I have to admit was a truly beautiful Christmas tree.

I was envious. I wanted lights and ornaments. I wanted to look beautiful. My only consolation was that she didn't call the tree by any special name, and she still called me Benji.

Even after Bob passed away in 1989, she continued to erect a Christmas tree but needed help carrying it into the house and getting it into the stand. Things changed in 1996 when her grandson, Colin, was 2 years old. She fretted he might be allergic to fir trees -- a lot of this allergy stuff was in the news. Might he also get hurt trying to take an ornament off the tree?

Betty looked at me, now grown tall and strong.

"Benji, my friend," she said, "you will make a perfect Christmas tree!"

I was then adorned with tiny lights and delicate ornaments, and I was very, very happy.

Betty and I moved to a condominium in 2007. Unfortunately, I didn't get enough light in my new surroundings and eventually lost all of my bright green leaves -- yet I'm still here. Betty wrapped my trunk and bare branches with small metallic green leaves.

Year round, my branches support miniature cardinals, bluebirds, robins and various colored fruits. At Christmas the beautiful delicate ornaments are added, and they shimmer when the tiny lights are turned on.

I expect the two of us will continue to enjoy Christmases together for many more years.

Betty Cook of Scott, a registered dietitian, can be reached at

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