Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shameful Re-post of a Christmas Classic

I've dusted off last year's Christmas Post because, like re-runs of Frosty and Rudolph, it never gets old (it's only been a year, after all).  The following incident is true...really.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Where's My Albuterol Inhaler?

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and I as I pulled into the driveway after a hectic day at the 'ol Academy, I saw that a package had been dropped at our doorstep.  73 pounds of something, in a large, elongated cardboard box, and blocking the front doorway.

But what to my wondrous eyes could it be? I wondered, redundantly, stooping to take a closer look.

Why, it was an artificial Christmas tree.

And as I dragged the hefty box inside and down the stairs, settling in to unpack the festive limbs, I realized that this was no ordinary artificial tree.  Uh-uh.  This was a replica 6.5' Norway Spruce with 5,280 tip points and 600 color and clear lights, complete with a remote control with the option of snapping on color, clear, or both color and clear lights at the same time!

I re-heated some coffee and set to work bending and shaping the branches, donning the white gloves generously included in the box. When it was finished, we gathered around the tree, alternately taking turns clicking the remote.  Color, clear, both...color, clear both.  Ah, Christmas in the 21st Century.

It wasn't until later that night when it finally hit me.  The purchase of this artificial Christmas tree signaled the death knell of a time honored family tradition, sawing down a live tree.

Though, as I recall, our first such family endeavor wasn't exactly a Norman Rockwell moment.

(Insert Rod Serling Twilight Zone music here)

Picture, if you will, a pristine winter day, fifteen years ago.  Location:  Allen Hill Tree Farm, Brooklyn, CT.  On a whim, the family and I wheeled into the parking lot of the local tree farm, bent on selecting the perfect yuletide tree.

The temperature hovered near freezing, a bright December sky with traces of snow lingering in the air from the fresh coating that fell the night before.  The fields were dotted with people ducking in and out of lines of trees crisscrossing the landscape.  My stepsons, Michael, age 9, and Matthew, age 4, set off with their mother down the dirt path while I secured a tree cart and wood saw.

It took a bit of effort to catch up with them, but I managed, shuffling along the slushy road, the cart dragging behind, the cold air pressing in on my tightening lungs.

"This one!" shouted Michael.

"No, bigger!" yelled Matt.

The kids were flying in out of trees at breakneck speed.

"Mike, Matt, be careful, there are other people out here," said my wife, Beth.

And indeed, we were convening on a popular spot.  To my right, a family of five had circled around a tree.  They looked resplendent in LL Bean wear, the children in matching scarves and fluffy ear muffs.  The father was sizing up an 8 foot spruce, while the mother was dispensing a Thermos of hot chocolate in mugs clutched in tiny mittened hands.

Beth sidled in close to me, nodding toward the Christmas scene unfolding before our eyes. "Look at that.  Isn't it nice?"

I coughed.

The father asked the family if this was "the one." They answered in perfect unison, "Yes, Daddy, yes."  The family encircled the tree, and then began singing Silent Night, while the father knelt down, gracefully wielding the saw, and within six passes of the blade, the tree silently fell to earth, nestling into the snow.  As if on cue, a tractor appeared, towing a trailer of trees and more singing LL Bean families, rosy-cheeked and swilling cider and cocoa.

 "Got room for you," said the tractor guy, dressed as Father Christmas.  He hopped off the John Deere and helped the father wrestle the tree onto the trailer.  The family climbed aboard and off they went, tractor, trees, cocoa. Up the road and out of sight.

We were left alone.

I coughed again, redundantly.

Mike and Matt reemerged.  "Found one!" Mike announced.

Beth and I followed the boys through a maze of trees and ended up standing  in front of a stout 6 footer, round and full.  Beth circled it.

I coughed.

"This one's not too bad," she said.

"What do you think boys?" I asked, testing a sharp tooth of the saw.  My numb thumb began to bleed.

The boys started whipping pine cones at each other.

"Wanna get in a circle, around the tree?"  I asked.

A pine cone whizzed at my nose.

"Sing a carol or two?"

The boys began wrestling as another family emerged with a perfect tree.  Tractor number two arrived.  This one driven by a plump elf.  Everyone dressed in flannel, festive hats, smiling.  Everyone was singing.  The tractor drove off.

I turned back to Beth just in time to see Matt, dressed in torn jeans and a ragged sweatshirt, take a header into the only mud puddle visible for 9 acres.  The kid was covered in brown muck.  Suddenly, the sun sank 10,000 miles and a strong chilly breeze kicked up.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and knelt to cut the tree.  The branches were thick and low to the ground.  I crawled beneath, pulling in close to the trunk and raking the saw against the base of the pine, but couldn't maneuver my body at the right angle to extend my arms to effectively cut it.

Beth and Mike were attempting to retrieve a sobbing Matthew from the puddle.  Through the branches I could see him, resembling more of a mud-fudge popsicle than a crying little boy.

I struggled to get the saw going.  I could feel my chest tightening, the coughing jags increasing.  Five minutes of sawing and I was only a quarter of the way through.  Beth and the boys stood nearby now, slowly inching closer.

I started wheezing.

"How's it going, honey?"

"I'm c-c-c-o-l-d," chattered Matt.

"This sucks," said Mike.  "I want some hot chocolate.  What's taking so long?"

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  Ten minutes of sawing and I was only halfway through the tree.

It was at this point that I started to notice the stares.  You know, the ones from onlookers who sort of want to lend a hand, but don't want to infringe.  They stand off to the side, with that "no I'm not really paying attention to your sawing inadequacies, but I am looking at you with that rubber-necking car crash stare."

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  "What the hell," I yelled.  "Is this a pine or oak for Chrissakes!"

"Ah, honey?"  Beth asked.

"@#$^%!!!! tree!"  Cough, wheeze, cough, wheeze.

"Say, Mister, I gotta chainsaw in my truck," a man finally offered.

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  My lungs locked into a spasm.  "%^^%$!!!  You're mine now, tree!!!!  Yeah!!! Going down, sucker!!!!"

"Mommy, why is that man screaming at the Christmas tree?" a little girl asked.

Zhee, Zhee, Zhee, Zhee.... "Yeah! You dirtly little mutha!"

The tree tumbled down, and I pulled myself into a kneeling position, a predatory grin crossing my frozen face.

The two families standing nearby slowly edged away, mothers holding their little ones in close.

I turned to see my family gawking, staring silently at the wheezing lumberjack hacking up snowball-sized phlegm before them.

"Good job, Pop," Mike finally said.

Tired, cold, wheezing, and on the verge of vomiting, I dragged the tree to the edge of the road waiting for the arrival of Father Christmas or that fat little Elf on his John Deere.

They never came.


  1. Haha, was the saw a p.o.s.? Nice description of the scene. A- Tom Hochdorfer

  2. I can totally picture this! I chopped down my own tree once and it was way more work than I expected! From cutting it down to hauling it home and putting it up I was exhausted. I am not sure where those families come from that have everything work out perfectly! I hope you are enjoying your fake tree- it sounds like way less stress than sawing down your own (better for your lungs, too). Great story- it made me chuckle. Thanks for reposting since I didn't see it the first time.