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Politically Incorrect

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Last-minute Christmas

Let it be said, I love Christmas. You’ll never hear me grumbling about how early the stores put out their holiday displays because, if left up to me, the Christmas season would begin sometime right after the 4th of July.

Five years ago that all changed, right about the time I became a newly single woman and discovered that every other year, my favorite holiday of all was going to be spent without my favorite people of all – my children. My celebratory spirit took a nose dive and has disappeared on a bi-annual basis ever since.

This is one of those years. Knowing my children would be gone, the magic of Christmas never entered my soul. I didn’t get a tree; I neither shopped for presents, nor thought about them; even Ernie and Rich had to arrange our River Journal Christmas party between them because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of a holiday. Trying to print our second issue of the paper five days early was my total investment in the season.

Then my children told me – “Dad said he’s not taking us for Christmas this year.”

My heart practically jumped out of my chest, a huge smile spread across my face, and tears of happiness filled my eyes. My favorite people would be right beside me for my favorite holiday of all time! Then I realized – I had 15 days in which to put out two newspapers, and put together Christmas.

I’ve recognized, ever since that first holiday the kids spent with their dad, that Christmas isn’t about decorations and presents and a big meal. Magic, the magic that comes with Christmas, resides in the hearts and minds of those you celebrate it with – it is about love, after all. Unfortunately, my kids don’t totally agree. “When are we getting a tree?" they asked. “A tree?” I responded.

A tree. Now I really love Christmas, but Christmas trees and I have a long relationship that’s been totally adversarial. Trees don’t like me. I get my Christmas tree on Thanksgiving because I need that much lead time to get the darn thing together.

Then Ernie sent out invitations to come out to his place on the weekend to cut a little fir tree from the overgrown forest on his place that desperately needs thinned. “We’ll get a tree after the paper is done,” I told my kids. “We’re going out to Ernie’s house to cut a wild one.”

We arrived at Ernie's around 4 pm and he kindly refrained from mentioning my tardiness. In pouring rain, in a wet forest, in near dark, we searched until we found the perfect tree – one with branches all the way around the trunk. Ernie’s forest really does need thinned. Ernie made quick work of cutting the tree and kept his facial contortions to a minimum when I realized I’d forgot to bring any rope to tie it to the roof of the truck. I left that job to the men.

Funny thing about men and knots. It’s not about tying something so it doesn’t fall off – it’s all about showing how elaborate a knot you can tie. Ernie, a sailor, was the worst. When I saw how securely that tree was tied, I considered leaving it there, running some lights into the cigarette lighter, and placing a glowing star in the middle of my bug guard. Then I realized I don’t have a bug guard, so I got to work getting the tree off the truck and into the house.

As tired as I was, I knew I had to decorate my tree right away. My record in getting a tree up is ten days, and this short-notice holiday, with another newspaper deadline looming, wasn’t going to allow me that sort of luxury.

As soon as I got the tree in the house, I realized we’d fulfilled one of our long-standing Christmas traditions – it was about five feet too tall for the living room. After a quick peek in the pantry to see if my hand saw was stored where it’s supposed to be (it wasn’t) I walked over to my mother’s house to see if she had something better than Fisher scissors and a serrated knife to cut the tree with. Mother, whose goal in life is to possess her own completely stocked department store, had a brand new bow saw she let me borrow.

Brand new meant the silly thing had a plastic guard over the blade and it took an hour to figure out how to get it off. Actually, it only took five minutes but by then I had broken the saw and it took an hour to figure out how to put it together again, and to staunch the blood from the many cuts I took in the process.

Ernie cut that tree in about a minute flat but it took me forever to saw through that trunk and, every time I tried to get a good grip with my left hand, sap bubbles would pop all over me. Cutting the tree had me in a heavy sweat and one eye was glued partly closed from using a sap-covered hand to wipe the hair out of my face.

I had stored the tree stand in a “special place” last year and, unlike most special places in my life, I remembered exactly where this one was, saving myself the standard three hours of “hunt the Christmas tree stand” that characterizes most of my holidays. Then I noticed wild trees have little trunks.

Not that that stopped me from trying to make it fit. Jam the tree into the stand, screw those eye bolts ‘til your fingers are bruised and... they don’t reach the trunk. I let the tree fall and thought about this for a bit. “Hmm, if I had a small block of wood to put between the trunk and the screws....” I began hunting through the house for a small block of wood, which I couldn’t find. But I did have Mother’s nifty new bow saw... and a wooden porch. Luckily I remembered the part of the tree I had already cut off. I sawed away on the trunk until I got a couple of pieces of wood I thought would work. They didn’t, and the tree fell over.

“Okay. Maybe if I jam some of the branches in there, too...” The tree fell again, proving that didn’t work, either.

“What if I filled the tree stand with styrofoam?” I questioned. Although I had reached the stage where I was talking to myself out loud, my children ignored me. They’ve each had over a decade’s experience of “Mother putting up the Christmas tree” and no longer even try to participate until the tree is standing on its own.

Did you know cutting styrofoam with a bow saw is how you get that ugly, fake snow people put around their Christmas villages? I would have saved all mine for Ernie, but I couldn’t get it out of the carpet. Nonetheless, I got some chunks of styrofoam which I jammed into the tree stand. Pushed the tree in and crawled underneath for another round of turn that eye bolt.

About this time, Dennis walks in the door. “Look, you’re putting up your Christmas tree!” he said. I kid you not, that’s what he said. There I lay, bruised, bloody and covered in sap. My back, which had felt marvelously wonderful earlier in the day, was one big knot of pain from trying to hold the tree upright, then shoving it off when it fell down across me – 1,700 times. “No duh,” I said to Dennis.

The tree continued to tip and wobble as I screwed, unscrewed and re-screwed eye bolts. “You know,” Dennis offered, peering through the tree to where I was laying on the floor, “you need to cut the top off. It’s all jammed against the ceiling and is making the tree tip.”

“The pruners are right next to your foot,” I said and graciously offered him the opportunity of helping with the tree.

Dennis snipped the top, then held the tree while I continued to screw. “All right,” I told him when I was through. “Is it standing now?” Dennis let go and it fell in my face. "I don't think so," he said, nearly bent double with laughter.

I crawled out from under the tree, ready to slap him upside his head. “It’s this tree stand that’s the problem,” he offered quickly, undoubtedly recognizing the gleam in my eye as an incipient head-slapping. “Why don’t you use a bucket?”

I held my blow while I considered this. A bucket. It sounded pretty ugly but I didn’t have any better ideas.     Grumbling, I went off to search for a bucket.

“We’re going to have to cut some of these bottom branches to make this work,” he said.

“But the bottom’s the only part that has branches,” I protested. “If you cut them off, then you're going to have to figure out how to tie them into the top part of the tree.”

“Go fill the bucket with rock,” he said, giving me one of those looks that brought him really close to that head-slapping again.

Where in the heck am I supposed to find small rock this late at night? Then I remembered my favorite rock pile and jumped into the truck, contemplating whether it was totally appropriate for the foundation of the entire holiday season to be resting in a bed of stolen property. So I asked my neighbor, Tim, for permission and filled up a big garbage can with legal rock.

Of course, it’s pretty hard to lift a garbage can full of rock into the back of a truck, though it was easier after I dropped it once.

We stuck the tree in the bucket, poured rock around it and, wonder of wonders, it stood without falling over.

By the time I strung the lights and hung the decorations (the kids helped with that part) I could no longer stand up straight. Even from my sideways, hunched over view, however, I could tell that I had what might possibly be the ugliest Christmas tree ever seen on the face of the earth. “That is one ugly tree,” Dustin said. “Uh huh,” Amy concurred. "It might look better with a lot of presents under it though." 

“It’s not so bad,” Dennis said. “It’s only a little ugly.”

I didn’t care, though. Because the ugly tree was standing up straight without being tied to the wall, and the magic of Christmas was right there in my living room, shining out of faces lit only by twinkling, multi-colored lights. It's going to be a very Merry Christmas at my house this year - I hope it is at yours, as well.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

children, Christmas, parenting, Christmas tree, decorating

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