by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter December 2000 and the Boston City Paper December 2006
When I was four, I tried to climb up the Christmas tree and knocked it down on top of myself. When I was 10, I nearly set the Christmas tree on fire by fiddling with the wires, causing a display of pyrotechnics that my mother reminds me about every chance she gets. For some strange reason, Mom continues to use an artificial tree every year. But I yearn for those balsam-scented trees of childhood long ago, so Sue and I get a real tree each December.
When we first got together, this process was fairly simple, we would just stop at one of the handy tree lots located on just about every corner, pick out one of the better specimens, and drive home. Problem was, these trees come from Canada and were cut back in August. They just don’t last very long. On two occasions, they didn’t even last through the Christmas season despite constant watering, tree food and earnest prayers. One year, we actually needed to take down a tree and buy a new one four days before Christmas.
A few years back, Sue suggested that we would go to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. The romance and Christmas spirit in this activity is intoxicating — as visions of Norman Rockwell scenes (and Chevy Chase Christmas movies) danced in our heads — we arrived at the tree farm, and were amazed by the entire fields of trees. A light snow was falling. Couples walked hand in hand. You could smell the cider mulling (or whatever cider does when it gets hot).
This is wonderful, I thought to myself. It’s so romantic! So Christmassy! So … So … So …
Well, so cold.
To further add to the Christmas adventure, Sue and I have somewhat different opinions over what constitutes the perfect tree. For me, a classification of “This one is nice” will do. For Sue, she needs to see the ray of light shining on the tree, the music playing on the wind, every branch and pine needle in perfect symmetry. She has actually said words to this effect on numerous occasions.
So there we are last Sunday, with Charlotte Church Christmas carols playing on the tape deck, in a town called Uxbridge, or Sturbridge, or bridge over troubled waters, or something, lost somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy, having driven through towns whose names I’d never heard of and doubt really exist. Finally, we found the tree farm.
The place has a huge selection, much better than any place we’ve been to. The couples are here, the kids, acres of trees, cider …
And it’s cold.
For me, as the temperature drops and hypothermia becomes a very real possibility, I do my best to keep smiling.
“Oh, I know, you’re cold,” Sue says, the emphasis on that last word dropping the temperature at least five more degrees. “It’s fun! It’s Christmassy!” she insists.
“It’s cold,” I remind her. I’m whining. I hate it when I do that. “How about this one?” It’s a nice tree.
“You just want to pick anything so we can go,” Sue says.
“YES!” my brain screams. “No,” I say out loud.
She’s holding a map of the tree farm that looks like those pirates’ maps we drew as kids. The sections are numbered and we trudge across frozen wasteland with other searchers. A sign reminds us to watch our step because of the abundant cut tree trunks; I demonstrate the need for this sign by repeatedly stumbling over dozens of these little land mines.
Finally, somewhere between Uxbridge and Neptune, Sue points out a tree. “I like this one.”
“Praise be to God,” I think to myself. “Ok,” I say out loud with hopes overflowing, “let’s call the guys to cut it down.”
“Or maybe that one,” she says, pointing in the far, far distance. “Which one do you like?”
Trick question. Only one possible answer: “Whichever one you like, sweetie,” I reply smoothly.
Now, it’s not I’m not enjoying myself — I am — and I know I probably won’t freeze to death in this icy, tree-lined landscape. But can’t we do this in, say, July?
Well, finally she picks one, and it is a nice tree. A little smaller than usual, but we wanted to get something smaller this year. After all, each year the tree has gotten bigger, and last year’s tree got a little silly, as we managed 22 sets of lights on it. The tree was so bright you could read by its light, and I suspect planes landing at TF Green were using it as a beacon on final approach. So we went a little more conservative this year, maybe just 17 sets of lights. Or 20.
We got the tree shaken, netted and home safely, and set up in record time, with only minimal fuss to get the tree straight.
So as I sit in the living room and I look at the tree I risked hypothermia to acquire, I reflect It was well worth the effort. It’s a tree that made Sue happy, the tree that felt “right” to her, and despite protests of my freezing to death, I do enjoy our annual adventure of finding the “perfect” Christmas tree.