Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Ghosts of Christmas Past

Tam and I went out to find our tree Monday night. Unlike my own experiences of years past, we went to one place with pre-cut specimens, wandered around until we found one light enough to lift, and made our purchase. I have no idea what it’s going to look like once we have it in the house, mainly because it’s still outside waiting for someone to brave the attic long enough to find the goddamn tree stand and the decorations.

In my life, there have been many Christmas trees. More than my years, as there were a number of times in my childhood when I was allowed to have a tree of my very own in my bedroom. It. Was. AWESOME!

Getting the tree was never a particularly easy process, as I’m a picky person when it comes to dead foliage for the living room. I’ve always been a fan of the natural look, turning my nose up at the cropped and shaved cones harvested from local tree farms. Finding something that remotely looked like it came from a forest instead of a can is impossible unless you go to the forest and cut down a tree.

When I was a kid that was pretty much what we’d do, although we didn’t always get to the official forest. Sometimes we were lucky to get headed in the right direction before my father became so annoyed at the excitement exuded by his six-year-old offspring, that he would stop at the side of the first country road we found, climb through the barbed wire fence, and bag himself a tree.

When the forest service opened up their territories, we were able to go up there legally and fetch us a tree. We’d get about half way there, and my father would get annoyed with the 10 year old offspring, that he’d stop the car, wander a few feet off the road, and once again, bag himself a tree.

Finally, I became old enough to get my own damn tree. Sort of. It had snowed heavily, so my father drove me all the way up to the forest service area. The snow was deep and the whole world looked like Christmas. I was decked out in my winter finest of snow boots, nylon ski overalls, and matching jacket. I shushed with every move. We drove for miles and miles up and down narrow snow-covered forest service roads, his knuckles turning whiter and whiter with each passing mile as I looked for the One Tree.

“Stop the truck!” I yelled, “I see it!” I leaped from the cab of the truck, bow saw in hand, and headed to the side of the road. Looking over the edge, I could see it was a little steep, but The Tree was there, waiting patiently for me to kill it and bring it home. When I took my first step I realized the snow was camouflaging a LOT of uneven ground and deadfalls from clearcutting. I lost my footing and, according to my father, disappeared in a cloud of white. He said he tracked my descent by watching the small trees shudder as I pinballed off them.

What he didn’t see was the deep ravine I was heading for like an out of control juggernaut. At the last moment, I struck out with the saw, which bit into the trunk of The Tree, halting my descent. Once I had secured myself, I thanked The Tree by cutting it down and hauling it up the steep slope. My dad said all was quiet at the top, when a tree suddenly came hurling over the embankment onto the road, followed by a saw and finally me.

Tam and I did the forest service trip a couple times, and once it was pretty fun. The other time, it was ok, and the last time was ridiculous because my fiancĂ© made a mess of the hood of his car because he was getting frustrated with his inability to tie down the trees well enough so they wouldn’t fly off. We stepped away to give him plenty of space to swing his macho while standing on the hood of his 82 Honda Civic.

When the former LOTM (Lord Of The Manor, a.k.a., my ex) and I went tree shopping, it was an event that was limited to one tree farm near our house. We’d wander for an hour or so in usually nasty weather, toting small children on hips and in back packs. Sometimes we’d go opposite directions, find a good tree, then lose track of it while attempting to hunt each other down.

One year, we tried to eliminate that problem, by playing the Christmas version of “Marco!” “Polo!” Instead of hollering for a Mongolian explorer, we’d shout, “Merry!” and the other party would yell, “Christmas!” This game only works when there is no cranky woman there by the name of Mary who was NOT amused. “Mary!” “Now what the hell do you want?” is not a fun game.

Then came the advent of cell phones and we tried using those, but… “Where are you?” “I’m over here” is also not much fun at a tree farm. Texting was worse, because then we had the kids with us and they were no help at all. No one could agree on where to look, so they’d all head different directions, leaving their father and I to wander aimlessly around hoping someone would give us a hint they were actually looking at trees and not sulking in the car, texting a friend to complain at how lame parents are, or getting lost on a 100 acre tree farm an hour before closing and realizing your phone battery has died.

Once the tree was purchased, it had to be secured to the top of the vehicle, a feat that, if left to my ex, would require no less than 1,000 yards of twine, two spools of duct tape, and thirty bungee cords. Even with all of that, we usually ended up driving home with the sunroof and/or windows open and someone hanging on to the damn tree so it wouldn’t fly off. One year we figured it would make more sense to tie LOTM into the car seat while I secured the tree to the roof rack.

Back at home, the quest for ornaments and other decorations would begin. Offspring would be distracted with the task of keeping the cats out of the attic. This always involved catnip and laser pointers, and someone would find the lamest Christmas CD’s and stack them on the player where they would stay for the duration of the holidays, filling home with the repetitive obnoxious sounds we heard at every store we visited. Despite my dire warnings and pleadings of caution, my extra fragile antique ornaments always ended up in the box at the bottom of the pile.

Decorations changed over the years, going from fragile glass antiques, to unbreakable plastic, fabric, and other sturdier materials that could withstand small children and large dogs. Then there was the year of the fake tree, which was a lot of fun… for the kitten. Many times I would be sitting back, enjoying the decorations only to realize one of them was looking at me. He would sleep in one spot until the wire arms were bent and there was no recovering the original shape from that. We discovered that Spawn was allergic to the fake tree because the damn thing collected dust. Thing is allergic to the real trees, but not quite as bad.

There was the year of the “TIMBER!” tree; it got knocked over several times when our 100 lb dog got over-excited and crashed into it. There were the under decorated years, where we began with a lovely tree, but ended up moving the ornaments out of the reach of cats, kids, and dogs, leaving the bottom half of the tree devoid of decorations. The year the dog wagged her tail and yanked out the lights; the year we anchored the tree to the curtain rod and ended up with the rod and the curtains hanging in the tree, much to the delight of two small boys. The playpen tree (it was easier to put the tree in the playpen than the kids because the tree did not sit there and scream bloody murder at being cooped up).

Each tree has held a special place in my heart, and every year I do my best to reconnect with those marvelous beauties of my childhood; those trees that somehow got more beautiful each passing year. I will take a little time by myself and marvel at the colors, the sparkles, and that faint echo of Christmases past that allow the child within a few moments to shove adult worries off to the side and revel in the magic.


  1. Love this post. It sums up the whole business of the Christmas tree memory for me. Plus, it makes me laugh.

  2. Oh yes. Beautiful memories. I have a few trees in my past that meant a lot to me too. I miss them all. They are things of magic.

  3. Read this aloud to Britt, after she demanded to know what I was cackling about... I started over from the beginning, and now have tears of mirth streaking my face.



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