Monday, December 8, 2008


This year, it’s the Christmas Tree from hell. At least, it sure seems that way. This drama begins a few days ago when Trina and I go in search of the Holy Grail. The perfect tree. I grew up in a family where every December, the men put on their woolies and trekked out into the deep woods in search of a trophy tree. We’d trudge through the snow, braving the icy cold, armed with saws, axes and assorted implements of destruction. Frasier Fir, Blue Spruce, Scotch Pine, we knew our wily prey. Sometimes it took all day to find that perfectly-shaped tree. No Charlie Brown Christmas Trees allowed. We never, ever, came home empty handed.

Okay, so we really just went to a tree farm at the end of the street. But we did cut the tree down with our own hands and hauled it to the car like manly men. We lashed it to the roof like freshly-killed game. And as we drove home (with our hands and feet jammed into the heat vents) everyone could see that we’d bagged our quarry. They envied our prowess and the trophy tree that was now ours. Of course, the women folk also went along to make sure we didn’t bring home a tree that was:

a) too big

b) too scraggly

c) too homely

d) too thick

e) too tall

f) ewwwwww!

g) all of the above

Trina grew up in a house where the tree came out of a box. All shiny and pre-loaded with tinsel-trimmed sparkly lights. She’s not wild about live trees in general. She’s less thrilled about the whole process of hunting for a live tree. I think she gets a little woozy at the sight of sap. It usually takes a lot of begging and pleading. But Trina always indulges my hunter-gatherer instincts.

This time, we drive 60 miles to the hinterlands of central Pennsylvania. In part, because Harrisburg is prime territory for perfect trees. And partly, because there’s a Mega-Christmas Tree Farm perched right beside the turnpike. So it wasn’t too hard to find. We stealthily maneuver our car into the parking lot, careful to stay downwind to keep from spooking the trees. Of course, there are 150 other cars already in the parking lot. So the element of surprise appears lost. There’s a friendly yellow lab who wants his belly rubbed. There’s the faint scent of hot chocolate, extra sweet. There are garlands & wreaths & ribbons. And horses hitched to wagons, ready to ferry us Christmas Tree hunters to the promised land. This, I tell Trina, is perfect Christmas Tree territory. Until we see the prices. $9.50 a foot. $12.50 a foot if we wimp out and buy a pre-cut?

Back in the car, the hunt resumes. We drive through Lancaster County. The fields are freshly turned, the thick brown loam stretching into the distance. The Amish are out in force. Buggys everywhere. I wonder, do the Amish put up Christmas trees? And if so, do they hunt them down or just take the buggy over there to the Mega-Christmas Tree Farm? Trina rolls her eyes. Stopping at a convenience store, I slip a clerk some extra cash. She slyly gives me directions to the local Christmas Tree hunting ground. We quickly drive there, our hearts pounding. It’s a small Christmas Tree farm. A modest home is set in the middle of this Arboreal Nirvana. “How much?” I inquire. The woman in charge eyes me over. “20 bucks, for any tree you can catch.” We shake on it. “Deal”. Trina and I take a saw and begin to prowl. I’m ready to pounce. But time and again, Trina says, “too little”, “too scrawny”, too many needles”. Yada Yada Yada. An hour later we leave sans tree. But you should have seen the one that got away.

The minutes pass by, then hours. Darkness begins to fill the sky. We are lost. Almost magically, we find a highway. Civilization at last! And right there is a huge sign, pointing back into the wasteland we’ve just left. “Christmas Trees” it says. Undaunted, we turn back, following the jagged spore of Christmas Tree Farm signs. Until, suddenly, there they are. Christmas trees stretching out into the twilight. They charge $7.50 a foot. It’s too much. But I…Must…. Have…. A … Tree. In moments we have found it. The perfect Christmas tree. Just as I place my saw blade to its pulsing trunk, Trina shrieks “STOP”. “Are you kidding me?” “No”, she says, “this tree is already tagged. I shudder. Some other Christmas Tree hunter has beaten us to the spot. Murphy is the name on the tag attached to an upper limb. Murphy’s Law indeed. Trina and I go on. Finally we find a tree. Not quite perfect. But close enough. The girl at the exit says our tree measures seven feet. She even counts the foot-long scrawny twiglet sticking out of the top. I hand her my credit card. “Oh”, she says, “there’s a four-percent fee to use credit”. I’m beginning to tremble. I pay cash instead. $55.65. I could have gotten it cheaper at the MegaTree Farm six-hours ago…

Back at home, we resurrect the tree in our foyer. It fits “perfectly”. Lights, ornaments, ribbons. It’s majestic. We gaily wrap Christmas presents and gently place them next to the tree. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The next day, as I add water to the tree stand, our tree unexpectedly lurches forward. It’s still alive! Putting my hands up in self-defense, I wrestle the tree to the ground, ornaments flying in all direction. Two gallons of water cascade across the floor, swamping our presents. So there I stand, maniacally ripping open gifts in a desperate race to save them before they’re soaked through. I am successful. But now, we must re-wrap everything. We mop the floor. We place the tree back in its stand. And we lash it to the walls with 15 gauge wire. Subdued, the tree knows it’s going nowhere.

Later, as night approaches, I turn on the lights. No lights. They shorted out in the flood. Those pre-packaged tinsel trees are starting to look pretty good.

Copyright 2008

All rights reserved

No part can be reprinted or reused in any way without express written permission from the author

No comments: