Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh! Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree, front view:

As if on cue, the weather turned chilly on Thanksgiving Day. When you're driving six hours in the rain, there's little else to do but grip the wheel, focus and try to quell your mind while the windshield wipers slap out a steady mantra. When we left on Tuesday before the holiday there were still a few golden leaves on the trees. Now, just a few days later, the cold front brought rain as if to target the those last leaves of fall and bring them down to earth. 
   Arriving back in Birmingham, I noted that some houses already had their Christmas decorations up, but the wet and barren chill didn't inspire a sense of merriment.
    I've always loved Christmas, or maybe just the promise of Christmas. A holiday so filled with songs about Peace of Earth and Joy to the World and topped off with giving and love, must generate a lot of good karma. No matter your religious beliefs, Christmas is hard to ignore. Gift giving is intoxicating, really, as are the parties and festive lights and delicious food. 
   Last night Jack and I made the definitive step into the Yuletide: We purchased a Christmas tree. The skies were gray and a light mist was falling when I picked Jack up from school, but no matter. We needed a tree, and today was the day. 
   By the time we made it to the Boy Scout tree lot, the rain was coming down steadily. I grabbed two umbrellas from the backseat, but Jack preferred to run ahead through the maze of trees. (Thankfully, it was a warm day.) We were handed a price list. The trees ranged from thirty-nine dollars up to over a hundred dollars. I asked where I could find the thirty-nine dollar trees.
   "They're in the back over there," explained a kindly Cub Scout Master. "Those are the trees with the yellow ribbons." 
    "Look for yellow!" I shouted after Jack. He was eyeing a blue, which was not in our price range.
    Jack stood by a stately spruce that towered over his head and mine. 
   "I like this one," he said.
    "Look for yellow," I countered, "That tree is $159."
    Jack looked at the tree with new respect, and then ran ahead to find a yellow-ribbon tree.
   The yellows were in the back of the lot, as foretold. The tallest was about the same height as Jack. This was not what I had in mind for the foyer of my new home. I had envisioned a stately evergreen, shimmering with lights and ornaments, visible from the street through my windows and door. My hopes sank. This was not the tree of my dreams, but I wasn't ready to settle just yet.
   "Let's keep looking," I said.
   "I like this one," said Jack, petting the fronds of a diminutive spruce. "It's cute and cuddly." 
   It's times like this that I feel unworthy to have this child. He would be happy with the littlest, scruffiest tree. He always goes for the underdog—like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the cartoon.
   "Okay, we'll keep that one in mind," I said, looking down at the price sheet. "Let's try to find the white-ribbon trees."
   Jack sprinted through the trees as I looked for white ribbons. The white-ribbon trees were fifty-four dollars. Not a bargain, but perhaps worth it if they were a bit more grand.
   Smelling a sure sale in the air, the Cub Scout Master approached us.
   "Did ya find one ya like?" he asked.
   "We're still looking around," I said. "Where are the white-ribbon trees?"
    The Scout Master trudged to the other end of the tree lot and pointed to a row of white-ribboned spruces. The first one was stout and full and—tall. It was the tallest of the white-ribbons. Jack ran up behind me and shouted, "I want that one!"
   "We'll take it!" I said to the Scout Master. 
   The rain was steadily coming down now. The Scout Master took off his glasses and wiped them on the end of his shirt. He motioned to an Eagle Scout who was standing under a tent, and together they hoisted the tree and carried to my car.

   As I drove home with the large tree strapped to the hood of my car like a prize elk, I begin to wonder how I would get the tree into my house. Surely it wasn't as heavy as all that. I couldn't recall what I had done on Christmas' past—before I was married, but then, I probably hadn't purchased an eight-foot tree. Well, I would manage, I thought. How heavy can a tree possibly be? I drove slowly, fearing the tree would shift and slide off the back of my car. A lot of discordant karma could be caused by a tree flying off of a car into traffic. "I'll figure it out when I get home," I thought, focusing on the wet road. 
   And as if scripted, as I pulled up in front of my house, a man who was out walking his dog in the rain stopped and asked me if I needed help with my tree. (Note: I am not making this up.) I'd seen this guy before, sometimes in scrubs. He lived on my street, but we'd never met. His dog was a well-groomed Sheep Dog, who probably weighed almost as much as my tree. I took the dog leash, and in no time, Dr. Do-Good had my prize tree on my front porch. 
   "It'll probably be lighter once it dries out," he said.
    I thanked him profusely and marveled at my luck. Getting the tree to the porch had been no problem at all, surely getting the tree into its stand and into my house wouldn't be so hard...

  There have only been a few points in my life where I felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew. One instance occurred while I was editing a story for NPR and the deadline was ticking down by the second. The other instance occurred while I was hanging on for dear life to my eight-foot tall spruce as it swayed precariously threatening to fall. 
   The following day, while Jack was at school, I determined to set up the tree so it would be ready to decorate when he came home. Problem: The tree—even dry—must have weighed eighty pounds. I could lift it, but only for a brief time. I managed to grab it full-on and wrangle it inside the front door. Then I managed to lift it into the stand. But once in the stand I had no way to secure it with those maddening metal screws provided in the tree stand. I couldn't hold the tree and secure it at the same time. While I was contemplating my next move, the tree swayed, swinging its weight and almost tipping over in the stand. I felt it falling toward me, and braced it with both arms. An image flashed in my head: There I was lying on the floor for days, pinned beneath my Christmas tree. I somehow found the strength to right the tree, but now I was stuck holding it up. And my arms were beginning to ache. I wasn't sure how long I could hold on.
   Fortunately, I brought my cell phone downstairs. Unfortunately, it was on the foyer table about four feet out of my reach. If I let the tree fall, it might ruin the tree and my new floors. This was an "I Love Lucy Moment" if ever there was one. And yet, I was determined to accomplish this feat. I hated to think that I had to depend upon a guy to do all the heavy lifting. Surely I could think of a solution.
   Slowly, I maneuvered around the tree to position myself closer to the phone. Keeping one hand on the trunk, I fully extended my arms until my fingertips grazed the phone and pulled it closer. Then, still holding up the tree with one hand, I called my next door neighbor, Emily, and prayed that she was home. (She's a freelance writer, like me, so there was a good chance she'd be there.) I put the phone on speaker and waited for the sound of the Emily's phone ringing. The call dropped. I redialed and waited for the sound of Emily's phone ringing. The call dropped again. My right arm, which was holding up the 80 lb. tree, began to tremble. I hit the redial button again...and the phone began to ring. Emily answered right away. She was at my front door in moments, following the trail of spruce fronds and laughing at me for trying to handle this enormous tree by myself. Within about five minutes we had the tree secured in the stand, but there was one little problem: The trunk was hopelessly crooked.
My Christmas tree, side view:
the Crooked Tree
I once thought of Christmas as the ultimate romance—filled with longing and love and hope. As a culture, we have a love affair with this holiday. And like a good love affair, Christmas is fleeting and intense and brings with it the heady feelings of joy. And as with romantic love, often the payoff is not as good as the build-up. Once the presents are opened and the parties are over, it's back to business as usual.  

   But maybe I've been going about it all wrong. Maybe—like the rest of life—Christmas is about the journey and not about the Big Day. Perhaps this Christmas will be about how I was almost smothered by my Christmas tree. And this tree will be special not because it is stately and grand, but because it's imperfect and funny—just like me. Christmas won't be perfect this year, but—with spruce fronds in my hair and the gentle scent of Ben Gay perfuming my aching arms—it could be the best Christmas ever.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't put up a tree or unpacked the decorations in four years! Bah Humbug, right? Well no, it's just that the kids are away and we meet elsewhere for the holidays...a certain "elsewhere" that is overflowing sights and smells of Christmas. But now it's payback time and we are hosting this year. My two trees have made it into the garage but I'll have to wrestle them in soon. Why don't you come show me the way! X