Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Horrible Tree

I have a delightful view from my desktop, out my second story office window toward the formerly named Ainsley Street, now, unfortuately renamed the less than poetic 25th Avenue, over Fall leaf-filled rooftops, their red, orange and gold colors flipping about in the wind, as I sit and contemplate my story. With such a lovely Autumn picture, and with Thanksgiving coming up next week, I have been thinking about the Turkey, The Dressing, The Time Off, For Marie and Me, and the chance to meet and greet our loved ones on Thanksgiving Day. This year, we are going to Marie’s sister’s home, and we look forward to our time with them. And my wife’s killer Turkey Dressing.

For many years, even before I entered the picture, in 1997, Marie and my step-son Blaine have made it their ritual to buy a Christmas Tree the day after Thanksgiving, and to decorate it on the weekend. After I moved in, and gladly assumed many of the traditonal male roles, like herking the purchased tree into the back of my van, or, on some occasions, dragging the tree home from the lot in my arms, and standing the tree up in it’s stand, nothing much changed, except that there was a husband sitting nearby, coffee mug in hand, as the tree was trimmed, lighted, and ornaments hung. Blaine wheels out of his room and helps to the best of his ability, and from his wheelchair admirably hangs dozens of ornaments on the lower section of the tree, which have been carefully kept by a diligent saver of a Mom, whose XMAS boxes are jammed with memorial ornaments, collected as Blaine turned one, then two, then three, and on vacations and various other occasions over the years. “Here’s one we got in Maine” she might say, holding up a Shiny Moose for our approval.

Three years ago, after an especially busy Thanksgiving Day, Marie and I decided to bag the tree ritual for the year, and to relax for the weekend. I volunteered, as we testified to our exhaustion, by offering to take care of getting the tree myself the following week, and we gladly agreed that, for once, we would decorate the tree a week late. No problem.

So on Monday, or Tuesday, I drove our van to the Tree Seller, on a vacant lot very close to our home, and began my shopping, walking the rows, reaching in to stand a tree up straight, and then checking out it’s overall shape and condition. At our house, we like a “Noble Fir” tree, a popular variety here in Oregon, where Christmas Tree Farms That Serve The World diligently prune year round to create the perfect and fragrant 90 degree horizontally branched tree for ideal and safe ornament display.

Not being one to dally while shopping, (I once bought a $400 suit in 20 minutes) I soon said yes to an 8 foot tree that looked good to me, paid, tossed it in the truck, and after letting it sit on the porch overnight, lugged it into our living room, and popped it into the stand.

It was huge and bushy, and, as it turned out, a bit tall for the room, so I sought out some sawhorses, and my electric chain saw, and dragged that monster back onto the front porch. All the while, my son Blaine was hanging about, asking me what I was doing, etc., and I would confidently reply, in my best Lumberjackian, “Have no fear, Paul Bunyon is here”.

After having paid nearly $80 for this big tree, I thought I had better cut carefully, at the base of the stem, so I pruned off a dozen or so branches, and made the big cut with my chainsaw, straight as possible. It was at that moment, that I noticed that the tree stem was a bit odd, in that it held two trunks, really, which began about a foot above my cut. I grabbed the tree once again, through the branches, with my leather gloved hands, and brought the tree back into the house, dropping thousands of needles along the way, as usual, passing through the house doors and furnishings. “Now what are you doing?”, Blaine asked, with a tone of caution. “Just puttin’ up the tree, Blainey”, I replied, and hit the floor, wrenching my back and limb, and once again screwing the tree into the stand. A few minutes later I stood, to notice that the tree was crooked as hell, even though I had made a very straight cut. “Shit”, I think was the word I used, as the Christmas loving Blaine wheeled out of his room, quickly, and noisily, his seat belt buckle flappin’ in the wind, and jingling on his spokes. “What’s wrong?”, he responded to my cussin’, and I informed him that THIS particular tree was a bit of a challenge, and that I was gonna have to do some real pro cuttin’ and a’prunin’, to make this thing work, but, NO Worries, ol’ Ricky is up to the task.

I returned the tree to the front porch, sweatin’ bullets, got myself a cup of coffee, and began to study the tree for my best solution. Lessee, with those two wacky trunks, I thought, that’s why the tree is so crooked, so if i cut it diagonally right about there, blah blah blah. I made my mark, and made another cut, removing a good 8 more inches from the tree.

Blaine, who was 22 at the time, was waiting for me as I struggled with the still awkward, but much lighter tree, and I stood it back up in the tree stand, and tightened the screws. I got up once again from my most uncomfortable position on the floor, and, I admit, was immediately struck by how much shorter the tree was, and unfortunately, my $80 tree was still crooked. But, well, when you pay $80 for a tree, and bust your ass for a couple hours to get it to look good, and still fail, uh, well, you rationalize the situation, you say, as you stand exhausted “yeah, that’ll work, that’ll work jus’ fine. Maybe it’s not perfect this year, but we’ll make it work”.

I turned to Blaine, who was sitting in his chair about 2 feet away, arms folded, kinda glum. We were both looking, in silence, at the tree, and then at each other, and then back at the tree. Thinking back, I was standing, and Blaine was sitting, before a ridiculous short and crooked tree.

One thing about Blaine is, he is very honest, not brutally honest, really, but let’s just say, you can count on him to tell you what he thinks. As I stood there viewing the tree, I made some final comment like, “well, it’s not the best tree, but it’ll do”, and then, I looked his way one last time. Sitting there, looking so forlorn and annoyed, his doe eyes had welled up, and in his most honest, and manly 20 something voice he blurted out.............”IT’S HORRIBLE”. I don't think he meant to say it in a mean way, but there was a tiny hint of "you idiot" in the tone of his voice.

At that very moment, I realized that this tree was not gonna cut it. Never mind that I had stretched and strained for hours to try to make it work. Never mind that I had, in typical and criticizable haste, probably chosen a crappy tree in the first place. The truth was, I was gonna have to return the tree, and get another one. End of topic.

I thought the guys at the Christmas Tree Lot might be able to use the boughs, to make swags or something, so I took the tree back to the lot, once again cramming it into my van, and even taking along the largish section of tree that I had cut off.

As I opened the doors to my van, to reveal the tree and it’s hulking 35 lb. appendage, at the lot, one of the guys came over, and I told him my pathetic story, hemming and hawing, that I was bringing it back because I had botched the install, had cut too much off the tree, etc., and I just needed another dang tree, which of course I expected to pay for. He and his co-worker removed the remains of my $80 Noble Fir, and it’s parts, from the van, as I started looking for another, and I could see the two of them over by the wreath shack, in their cheery fucking Santa hats, while an instrumental version of “Chestnuts” filled the lot over tinny speakers, and their breath steamed forward, hardly concealing the best laugh they’d had all day.

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Pacific Beach, Washington, United States