Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Perfect Christmas Tree, Part One

Gregg, Jaelithe, and Rebecca started The Most Beautiful/Perfect Christmas Tree Ever stories, so here is my contribution.

In 1977, we moved from Wichita, Kansas to the Lake of the Ozarks. This was a bit of an adjustment for me. I had been used to paved streets, neighbors, and subdivisions that backed up to other houses. Now, we lived in a house that sat off a dirt road, surrounded by trees. The closest neighbor was about a quarter-mile down the road, and they were only around in the summertime. Suffice it to say, we were rural. We had plumbing and electricity, but it was kuntry, folks.

The house was gorgeous. It sat on a hill, overlooking the Lake. It had an open living area, with 18 foot ceilings. A room like that needed a big Christmas tree. Our six-foot artificial one just wasn't going to cut it.

So, one Saturday we piled in the station wagon and headed out to find a tree. And by "find a tree" I mean drive the back roads until we didn't see any houses and cut one down from a field. No going to a staffed, well-lit, pre-cut commercial tree lot for us, no sir. We had a chain saw, rope and determination. Perhaps a six-pack as well.

We drove for hours (okay, maybe not, but I was nine, it felt like it), and looked over the trees along the road. My mom would suggest one, and my dad would say "no, let's keep going." My mom would say "what about that one?" and my dad would keep driving.

Finally, we found The Tree. It was sitting about 50 yards off the road, set apart from the others. Was it majestic? Was it full, lush and deep green? Was it surrounded by a corona of holy light?

No. It was a juniper tree, dull greenish-gray and covered with little blue berries. It also smelled different than a pine tree. Later in life, whenver I ordered a Bombay Sapphire with tonic, I woudl remember this day, but that's another story.

"This one?" asked my mom, with lifted eyebrows. I recognized that face and tone - it was the one she used on me when I told her my room was clean.

"Do you see any others?" asked my dad. My mom began mumbling something about "four miles ago," but she was heading back to the car, so I wasn't sure if that's what she said.

My dad fired up the chain saw, cut it down, and tied it to the roof of the station wagon. We headed home, and I noticed it was a lot colder in the car. I looked to see if a window was open, but no, they were all shut tight. I started to lean forward over the front seat to ask my dad to turn up the heat, but then realized the cold was emanating from my mother in waves, directed at my dad. I slowly leaned back, having learned that sudden movements can draw unwanted attention to you.

We got home and my parents began dragging the tree through the front door. My mom and dad were in the house but there was still a lot of tree on the porch. And the sidewalk. This cannot be good.

The tree made it through the door, and they stood it up. Yep, you guessed it, it was too tall. Actually, about three foot of the top of the tree was bent under the ceiling.

My dad said "let's take it back out and I'll cut some off the trunk." However, my mom chose this time to go to the bathroom, therefore, I wound up helping my dad. She also took her gloves with her, so I grated the flesh off my hands. However, the open wounds were sealed with the tree sap, so I'm sure it protected me against infection.

As we wrestled the tree out the door, it was so wide that the berries were being shorn off and let me tell you, those berries may be small but have you ever been shot with a pellet gun? Those are small, too, but they sting.

He cut off about six inches from the trunk, and I thought (but did not say), that's not going to be enough. He was the grown-up, so maybe he knew something I didn't.

We wrestled it back through the door, stood it up and it was still too tall. My mom rolled her eyes, and started looking for the vodka.

We took it back outside, and he started cutting more off the bottom. My mom came to the door and said, "Bart, why don't you...." but I didn't hear the rest, as my dad was revving the chainsaw. In her direction. She mouthed something that I'm sure wasn't to be repeated in polite company and shut the door. I remember thinking, "I bet she locked it."

Apparently my dad either understood her intentions, or came up with the idea on his own, but he also decided to trim some of the width from the tree. Now, if you've ever seen a juniper tree, that aren't exactly the classic triangle Christmas tree shape. A juniper is more along the lines of the "fat cousin you don't want in your wedding party" of the pine tree. Pear shaped would be an apt description.

Also, my dad isn't exactly basketball player material. He's a bit on the short side, but for god's sake never tell him his legs are short. I did once and he shot back "my legs go from my butt to the floor, don't they?!?"

Anyway, I digress.

He shaved off the sides of the tree, cut more off the trunk and we shoved it back through the door. It was still pretty wide but we weren't being pelted by juniper berries anymore, which was an improvement.

Into the stand it went. I held my breath and prayed that my dad had cut off enough, or that our house had grown taller, or failing all else, my mom had passed out from the vodka she'd probably been drinking over the last few hours.

It was still too tall. By this point, there wasn't much left of the trunk, so what were we going to do now? Would we have a tree-less Christmas? Where would the presents go? Whatever shall we do?

My dad knew what to do. We took the tree out one more time (and by "took" I mean my mom glared at my dad, he glared at the tree, and the tree suddenly grew legs and slunk outside on its own).

With one swipe of the chain saw, he cut off two feet of the top of the tree. If the tree had been going into the Marines, it had the perfect flat-top cut. I was aghast.

Remember the pear-shaped description? Imagine taking off the top third of that pear. That was our tree. Where do you put a star or an angel on that? I'm not even kidding. It was the ugliest misshapen Christmas tree that you ever hope to see. Charlie Brown's tree looked like a million bucks compared to this.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, because so much of the trunk had been cut off, it no longer stood upright in the stand. We had to use fishing line tied to the ceiling beams to keep it from falling over.

My mom came downstairs and looked at it. I waited for the fallout, but to my surprise (and I'm sure my dad's as well), she started laughing. Hard. She might have even snorted, but I'm not sure. It also might have been the vodka.

We put the lights and ornaments on it, and it wasn't much of an improvement. I don't think we had company over that Christmas, either.

But it was our tree, the first tree in the new house. And we had a great story to tell.

The following year my mom went to the Optimist tree lot, paid $25, carried it in the house on her own, and we had it set up and decorated by the time my dad got home after work. He said it didn't have character.

We used the artificial one for many years after that. My dad and I even managed to put it together upside down one year. We thought briefly about leaving it that way, but then we remembered the flat-top tree year and decided not to incur the Wrath of Pat Khan.

And that, dear friends, is my story of the perfect Christmas tree. Until tomorrow, when I have a new perfect tree to tell you about. Stay tuned....


Stacey said...

Haha! I love the story! What a great memory.

jodifur said...

Thats a great story.

Thanks for your comment on jodifur.

Shutter Bitch said...

Oh, too funny. I wish I had a good tree story.

Lynn said...

How in the WORLD did your dad get a 21+ foot tree home on the station wagon???? :D

My only rant this year is lights that work one night and the next night are half-out. It's a conspiracy!!!

MaLeah said...

This is the funniest thing I've ever read! I have a good tree story of my own that I'll post on my blog! I thought of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation when I was reading your story. I hope you have seen that. If not, drop what you are doing and go rent it right now (no buy it because you will will cherish it forever).

mn said...

funny story. i read every word and it kept me wondering what happened.

Anonymous said...

That was awesome!

Zip n Tizzy said...

Great story!
We had to cut the top off a tree once but never anything quite that good!
I'm partial to my fake tree... Easy up, easy down.
I let my mother get sentimental about the real pine smell.
I'm her practical girl.

Krys72599 said...

LOVED your story, Kim!
Can't wait for the next one!

Steff said...

Thanks for sharing! This had me cracking up!