Friday, December 16, 2011

O Christmas Tree

Now let's get one thing straight at the outset: Christmas trees are, by nature, a little bit silly. Can we all just agree on that? Seriously, we have a few choices here.

1. We buy something at a store that looks very similar to a tree, but isn't, and we stand it up in our living rooms--where a tree is highly unlikely to ever be seen in regular life, and then we decorate the heck out of it until it is nearly unrecognizable as the tree that it isn't.

2. We buy something that doesn't really look like a real tree at all, but it is an artistic interpretation of a tree (enter Grandma's ubercool aluminum tree from the early 70's--the kind we are supposed to hate in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, but I secretly LOVED as a kid). Then we take said artistic interpretation of a tree, place it in our living rooms and decorate the heck out of it...etc.

3. We go to a parking lot on a street corner (an unlikely location for a such a dense forest) and buy an exceptionally expensive dead tree--one that has been cut for the express purpose of completing its process of drying out entirely and becoming a fire hazard in our living rooms. And we call it a 'live tree' and decorate...etc.

4. We go to an artificial forest, a Christmas tree 'farm' right outside town, so that we can do the honors of taking the tree's life ourselves...etc.

5. We spend an afternoon hiking around a real forest so we can be somehow more authentic when we chop down a perfectly good tree and place it in a ridiculous location like a living room, then decorate the heck out of it...etc.

Have I missed anything? I won't even bother addressing the flocking issue, as doing so just gets my blood pressure up. It's unlikely enough, folks, that you would have a pine tree growing in your house. Let's not pretend that it still has all the snow on the branches, particularly if you bought it in Los Angeles. But I said I wouldn't go there, so I'll stop. Let's see...oh, I suppose there are those in-a-pinch solutions, like the year that my poor-as-a-churchouse-husband and I taped green party streamers to the wall in the shape of a tree. I even came across a photo of a huge stack of books arranged in the shape of a tree, and I must say, that one was pretty cool.

Why do we have this odd obsession with bringing a tree (or at least the appearance of a tree) into our homes for the month of December? I could go into the traditions and pagan rituals, but I won't. I would have to Google them to get the details straight, and if I, useless fact hound and compulsive researcher that I am, don't know off the top of my head why we must have a Christmas tree for our celebration of the Incarnation to be complete, then I really don't think anyone is doing this for some significant reason, other than tradition.

And with that said, I will say this: I love getting a Christmas tree.


Growing up, the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree from the street corner lot could take hours. Every tree had to be examined for precisely the right size and shape. My family had it down to a science. But then there were the years at Grandma D's house with that sleek silver tree. Oh, how I loved that sparkly thing!

And yes, that's me rocking the sweet printed pants in my sweet red rocking chair. Off topic, but I think I've always had a thing for red rocking chairs, come to think of it. I took this photo in North Carolina this year:

My love of printed pants, on the other hand, has faded significantly over the years, except for a few rare exceptions.

The trees of Christmases past have varied widely since my husband and I married. They rarely achieve the perfection of my childhood, and none have ever been quite as striking as Grandma's silver tree, but I've liked them, all of them, even the ones borne from less than ideal circumstances.

I mentioned the crepe paper streamer tree. Before that, there was the year of the stolen Christmas decor. We were living in a small apartment and the storage space in our car port was broken into during the summer. The most heartbreaking part of the break-in was the loss of all of Andy's tools--the ones he used to make a living. He actually saw the thieves making off with his tools and hopped on his motorcycle to chase them down, but lost them in the maze of city streets. They got away. We mourned the loss of the tools, never considering what else might have been taken until it came time to decorate for Christmas, months later. We couldn't find the decor anywhere, and it was important stuff, as we had made a decision as newlyweds to never go out and just purchase Christmas decor and ornaments. Everything we had, therefore, was either an antique, a keepsake hand-me-down of some sort, or something we had made ourselves. Everything. I was almost as upset about losing those boxes as I'd been about the tools. Almost. Worse yet, I knew the thieves had likely dumped those boxes into a trash bin, once they realized they didn't contain anything of significant resale value. I tried to boycott Christmas decorating that year. I held out stubbornly until a friend dragged me to Target and began putting items in my cart against my will, then dragged me back home and decorated our little apartment while I sat and pouted.

It did look cheerful. I guess.

Since moving to Montana, most of our Christmas trees have come from up in the Sapphire Mountains, the eastern border of our valley. We turn left on Ambrose Creek Rd., just past the turn for the elementary school, and go up until we get to the 'saddle,' a flattened out area between peaks where several logging roads converge. From there, we just wander around the woods and pelt each other with snow balls until we find a tree the right size. It's really fun.

This past Sunday afternoon, we thought we'd come home from church, change into our boots and go up Ambrose again for our traditional tree hunt. But as we drove home, Andy suggested--mostly joking--that we should just pick one of the trees on our own property. To his surprise, we all loved the idea. Our six acre parcel is wooded, but with only one type of tree, ponderosa pines. These are not what you'd think of for Christmas trees. They are scraggly and sparse when young, with thick clusters of impossibly long needles growing not only from the spindly branches, but even from the trunk itself--like that guy everyone knows who grows a full beard but fails to shave his neck below the beard and it just grows in thinly all the way down until it meets up with his ample chest hair.

Noble firs, they are not.

They're awesome to behold when they reach maturity, towering high and strong with thick reddish bark that lights up in the late day sun and gives off an unmistakable aroma of cherry-vanilla cola. Seriously. But they are not much to look at until they reach a good 20-30 feet minimum. Our humble ceiling can accommodate a tree of not much more than seven feet.

We giggled at the prospects as we tromped through a meager inch or two of snow, up and down the hills of our yard. This tree would not be winning any beauty pageants.

But a funny thing happened when we brought that tree in the house (or at least the top seven feet of it--the rest has been cut up and stacked to add to next year's firewood supply); we fell in love with it. It's a great tree. We love that it is our tree from our property. It is a fairly ugly, misshapen thing, but it is OUR ugly, misshapen thing. It's a great tree.

I started to tell a friend that it was my favorite tree of all time, but then I remembered one more Christmas season that will forever hold the award for the best tree ever.

Christmas of 1996 in Vancouver, Washington, I was nine months pregnant with my firstborn, which we had learned was a son. We were living in a ramshackle house which we affectionately referred to as the Love Shack to try to make it more charming. In reality, it was a condemned property that was about to be torn down to make way for a dentist office parking lot. It was drafty and poorly heated with one small wood stove. The plumbing in the bathroom didn't work and there was a giant sinkhole rotted out under the linoleum on the bathroom floor. We took a Sharpie and marked it with a gigantic 'X' and the words, "Do Not Step Here!" for the sake of our visitors. I drew murals on the kitchen cupboard doors and we drew a dartboard on the ugly dark wood panelling in the living room. There was a terrible rodent problem, to the point that Andy was actually bitten on the ear while we slept in bed one night, prompting a bit of bleeding followed by a tetanus shot. It was not a pleasant living situation, but hey, we were young and poor and to that point childless and we were, as you can imagine, getting a screaming good deal on the rent.

Anyway, as the time drew near for the baby to be born, the young carpenter and his pregnant wife sought out a new place to live. The love shack was a bit like living in a barn and not exactly hospitable for bringing a child into the world. We found a new situation, but it needed a significant amount of construction done to it. Fortunately, that was Andy's specialty. We were able to exchange his labor for future rent, eventually living there rent-free for over a year. But that Christmas, we were in between homes. The Love Shack was packed with our moving boxes--down to the pots and pans. We had hoped maybe our extended family might invite us for Christmas, knowing our situation, but they didn't. Family is just like that sometimes. So we were packed up and ready to move the day after Christmas, into a home that wasn't at all ready for us, but was still a step up from where we were living, but ended up with nowhere to go for Christmas Day itself. I think we pulled out one pan and made some Top Ramen on the stove. Fortunately, the power hadn't yet been turned off.

With nothing to do and a baby coming soon, we decided to go for a walk to pass the time. We found ourselves at the grocery store nearby, admiring the leftovers of their parking lot Christmas tree display. A hand-scrawled sign declared that they were closed for Christmas and that the trees were free for the taking.

We smiled. We hadn't bothered to get a tree, of course, as we were all in boxes ready to move. And we didn't want to spend the money on one. But here they were, for free, and us with nothing to do. We began to shop, all alone, standing each leftover tree up and walking around it to view it from every side, just like I'd shopped for trees as a kid. We spent a good long time there, examining every tree on the lot, until we decided on the one that was just right. We stood it up again and took turns backing up to admire it.

Then we said a few kind words to the little neglected, overlooked tree.

"You are a good little tree."

"Of all the trees on the lot, we like you the best."

"We choose you."

Then we laid the tree back down on the cold pavement, smiled at each other, grasped hands, and walked back home to the Love Shack.

And THAT little tree still brings a smile to the faces of my husband and me. In our nineteen years of marriage, it was our favorite Christmas tree by far.

Merry Christmas, friends.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Sherry, I laughed out loud almost all of the way through this post!
That is, until I got to the story of your 1996 Christmas. That story has always made me very sad. Again, I just shake my head at the reminder of what happened to you and Andy that Christmas, shortly before we moved there. However, I'm amazed to realize the similarity of your plight to that of Mary and Joseph as they neared the birth of Jesus. Have you ever considered the amazing significance of that experience as perhaps a privilege that God allowed you to suffer through, in order to give you a much deeper understanding of how Mary and Joseph, the carpenter, felt, as they welcomed Jesus, the Son of God, into our lowly world?