Monday, December 26, 2005


O Tannen-Bomb

We didn't get the tree in until Dec. 23. It sat for a week in the snow, its Bad Side exposed to the entry way.

We'd bought it almost a week ago, an early date for us. I am married, okay... espoused to one of the great cheapskates, an anti-participant in American consumer culture. She likes nothing better than to buy a tree at half-price on Christmas Eve. One year she experienced true ecstasy when Lyman Johnson, the self-proclaimed Christmas Tree King, abandoned his trailer palace early and left his entire stock free for the taking. (He abdicated shortly after that, leaving no heir apparent.)

I don't know what we were thinking when we set out a week early, a date alien to our rhythms. It may have been a drive to purchase an additional tree for my darlin's parents, two dear but mostly sour beings who pretty much resist or forget about our attempts to cheer them.

Since our favorite lot was located on the Boulevard from Hell, a continuing exercise in small town gridlock, we headed for a quaint farm stand to escape the crowd. There a decidedly Nordic type in a red plaid jacket stalked us, muttering in what I guessed was Swedish, as we made our way around the ad hoc forest.

"These trees are from northern Vermont," Arvid told us. That was fine with me. Good, tough All-American trees ready to promote democracy in foreign lands. None of those sissy Canadian interlopers. No sir. Despite their warrior pedigree, they did seem to possess a slightly yellow pallor at their twig-tips.

I suspect that one of the reasons my spouse prefers last minute tree shopping is that she is spared the ordeal of dickering on the price, at which her lack of prowess rivals mine. She is especially ineffective at negotiating with men, not because she finds them irresistible, but because she expects them to be unfair. She was therefore a reluctant pawn of Sven. Or Hans. Or Lattke.

As we cruised the trees it became increasingly apparent to us both that it had been a while since these trees had seen Northern Vermont. A wilier soul would have pointed out this sign of truck-lag to Ole, but we are polite lasses, unaccustomed to assuming critical tones with strangers. We chose one tree with a kind of lurch-limb off to one side and a bald top shoot offset by a mole-like tuft of needles just below. It was thirty bucks, a fortune to my spouse. Somehow she bought a slightly smaller tree with none of the Charlie Brown touches for ten. Lars insisted on helping us lash them to our roof rack, and we drove away feeling only vaguely jolly, due more to a sort of renaissance in our un-civil union than the magic of the season. We brought the tree home, plunked it in a snowbank, and headed indoors to wrestle with the Times crossword, our daily guilty pleasure.

There the tree stood for the next while. Around us lights were strung, ornaments hung by merrier neighbors than we. I slunk around walking the dog, guilty as the anti-Christ for neglecting the tree, but each night my spouse came home too weary to bring the poor little sucker inside.

Finally, we took pity... gave in, really, since we were almost out of time. I would be working the day before Christmas and therefore too footsore to tackle the chore afterward. My out-laws would be coming Christmas Day, and their gifts would be more attractively displayed beneath the tree than on a pile of old New Yorkers.

We hummed tunelessly as we wound the lights around, selected the origami birds a friend made, added some cardinals from the Co-op, a few ornaments from friends. We didn't decorate heavily, preferring the beauty of the tree to shine through.

"That was surprisingly easy," my darlin' admitted after we'd finished. "I don't know why I put it off this long."

The tree looks nice. I'm not sure that there is such a thing as an ugly Christmas tree, that Disney monstrosity aside. Ours bears the intrusions of holiday lights and ornaments quite well. And its scent is divine.

We inhale deeply as we toss another log on the fire, push the kitties off our places on the loveseat, and huddle over the day's crossword, wholly happy to have a tree in the house.

If the Christmas tree didn't already exist, it would be necessary to invent one.

With a manic kitten in my house, my Christmas tree was a tabletop, 10" paper fiber tree, strung with one strand of metallic red beads leftover from Fiesta.
Upon my return from Christmas in Austin, I found it on the floor with baby Nick next to it, gnawing on a single red bead he'd removed from the strand.
Ho Ho Ho.
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