Oh Christmas Tree

Posted on December 7, 2013 under Storytelling with 3 comments


I received a text from my daughter earlier today.  She and her partner are expecting their first child next spring and will spend their first Christmas together in their new house, later this month.  My daughter is a very sensible and practical woman.  She and her partner waited until she finished university before they bought a modest home in a brand new subdivision.  When she shops she is methodical – not many impulse purchases in her world.  Which is why I was not a bit surprised to read in her text that they had just bought an artificial Christmas tree.  Besides being very smart, she has a good memory and somewhere deep in her psyche, she remembers one memorable Christmas when our family procured a real Christmas tree, the old fashioned way.

We have four children of varying temperaments.  Daughter #2 was crazy about 4H.  For a period of time we lived in the country to accommodate a flock of chickens that we had been keeping in our yard in town.    Our neighbors were, by and large, a pretty good natured and patient lot.  But when the chickens had reached maturity, they were able to extricate themselves from their pen and find their way to adjacent vegetable gardens.  Most normal people move because of a change of employment, they want to downsize or upsize, or want a lifestyle change.  Precious few move to accommodate their chickens but that is precisely why we moved to Cloverville Road.  As part of the move, we relocated the kids’ playhouse.  This rugged wooden structure that once housed small children was reincarnated as a henhouse.  I digress.

Our neighbor in Cloverville owned a Christmas tree lot next to our property.  And being the good neighbor he was, he generously offered us a free Christmas tree.  All we had to do was walk about 1000 yards to his lot, choose a tree, chop it down and drag it home – a simple enough task on the surface, if you are a childless Paul Bunyan type.

Just getting everybody ready and out the door  was a Herculean effort as it had snowed heavily on the days leading up to the fun-filled event.  With feelings of peace, joy and goodwill, mixed with dread, we headed up the logging road.  And no Husqvarna chain saw for this crew.  No, just an old, dull handsaw.  If you saw what we owned that passed for tools, you would readily understand that we are not “do it yourselfers”.  The most basic carpentry is to be avoided.  Wielding a chainsaw would be akin to handling dynamite.

My memory is somewhat clouded (repression may be at work) but I believe Christmas carols were sung on the outward half of the journey.  You could almost touch and taste the Christmas spirit.  Large, fluffy snowflakes leant an air of magic to this Currier and Ives scene.  That was until the walking became more difficult and the first hint of sibling rivalry reared its ugly head.  And then, as if in a dream, the tree lot appeared before us.  Hundreds and hundreds, maybe even thousands of beautifully shaped balsam firs.  Let’s do the math.  Let’s just say that were 1000 trees and six of us trying to make a unanimous decision on the perfect tree.  I thought of my grade nine teacher and pondered the possible permutations and combinations that could lead us to the Promised Land.  Something in the pit of my stomach was telling me that trouble was just around the corner.

The snow was knee deep and the trees were covered.  The first decision was about the height of the tree. Our modest home did not have high ceilings and would require an equally modest size tree.  Try telling that to four kids salivating in front of a forest of trees.  Consensus in any endeavour is never a foregone conclusion.  Choosing the perfect Christmas tree with six people adjudicating is, well, impossible.  After a long, painstaking and at times tearful period of time, our tree, our bundle of Christmas joy, was selected.  Our ancestors were hewers of wood and drawers of water.  If my forefathers could clear the land with strength of will and abject determination, then I would certainly do them proud and quickly dispatch the lovely nine-footer staring me down.

Have you ever tried cutting down a tree, a large tree, with cold sap running through its veins, with a saw so dull that it couldn’t slice a watermelon?  Within minutes, although it felt like hours, I could feel the sweat underneath my stocking cap and was finding it hard to see with the fog accumulating on my glasses … and the snow falling from the branches down my neck … and the children becoming more and more exasperated.  I wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit as much as I was hoping to soon drink some Christmas spirits.

I waged war with the tree and eventually won but as you historians know, sometimes a conquest is only a Pyrrhic victory.  Someone who achieves this essentially wins the battle but loses the war.  Mercifully the tree gave up just before I did and fell quietly to the ground.  Did you ever notice that a tree, cut down in the forest, somehow undergoes a metamorphosis by the time it reaches a house?  What was once a stunning beauty, a perfect 10, the best tree ever, turns into something very different.  Gaps in the branches appeared where there were none only minutes earlier.  The shape wasn’t quite right and, wonder of wonders, it was too tall.  I assured the kids that once we cut it down to its proper size and had decorations on it, it would be awesome.

Who was I kidding?  Knowing I had to contend with the stump, I thought about trading in the saw for a bread and butter knife.  I wondered if simply chanting a yoga mantra would somehow remove the bottom two feet of the tree.  We dragged the tree into the living room and after a reasonable tussle with the tree stand (we all understand tree stands) the Christmas tree, the centerpiece of the Christmas season, stood proudly in the corner.

There was only one small problem.  The kids absolutely hated it.  No, that’s not strong enough.  They abhorred it, they detested it.  It was too short, had a poor shape and flat out sucked.  The only thing that could have made the situation worse was to throw in the towel and admit that there was no Santa Claus.  There were moments when I thought about it.

One of the most effective ads on television in the ‘60’s was for hair shampoo.  To increase sales, a clever ad man came up with the slogan “rinse and repeat”.  Well, when at first you don’t succeed … with dry mittens and a fresh outlook we returned to the scene of the crime and secured the perfect tree.

As a footnote, we eventually moved back to town when all the chickens ended up at Kentucky Fried.  There is a Christmas tree lot just around the corner from where we live, in the parking lot of a convenience store.  We would walk to the lot, pick out a tree and walk it home.  The children all grew up and moved away from home.  Last year we were running a bit behind and we secured our tree on December 24th.  There were only three trees left on the lot and the seller had gone home.  The odds of picking the perfect tree were very good.  Two people – three trees.  It was all over in 5 minutes.

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