Another Christmas. Another tree.
In the beginning, the trees were rag-tag things, missing more limbs than they had. Even Charlie Brown wouldn’t have bothered with them.
But my father always did. He’d come home on a December night, a man with a mission, dragging in a long, skinny sapling, branches awry, half its needles frozen, the other half gone.
“It’s ugly,” my mother and I would say.
“It’s a work in progress,” he’d announce, then go get his tool box and saw off the tree’s bottom, set the remainder in a bucket full of sand, then begin the long, slow process of building a tree.
You couldn’t find a pretty Christmas tree back in the 1950s. Or maybe you could for the right price. But my father didn’t have a lot of cash. So he drilled holes in the tree’s bark, then filled the holes with branches he cut from its sawed off bottom. This took a lot of patience and a good glue gun, and the results of his work didn’t last all that long.
The truth is his trees turned brown even as we watched. But they were perfect long enough for us to gawk at, then pose in front of, and for my mother to say every year, “You did it again, Larry” tinsel and garland covering a host of sins.
“It’s the best tree ever,” I always declared.
And it always was.
My first Christmas married, my new husband and I chose a tree from a church parking lot. It had branches where a tree should have branches, and thick green needles. We squeezed the tree into the trunk of the car, dragged it into our living room and propped it up in a just-bought red metal stand. My husband strung the lights and I decorated with homemade gingerbread-cookie people, which took days to make, and popcorn, which took hours to string.
And that night, in the middle of the night, the tree came crashing down.
We had a puppy. There was food on the tree. My father asked the next day, “What were you thinking?”
So many Christmas trees. So many stories.
Sometimes we bought our trees at the L’il White Store just down the street and dragged them home. This was easy. Other years we took the kids to some distant farm where we’d walk around for an hour choosing the “just right” tree, then all lie on the cold ground and take turns cutting it down. This was not easy.
For about 10 years, we drove to Winchester where we got the most beautiful Canadian trees. Then, who knows why, we switched to fake trees.
The one constant? Year after year, fake or real, Canadian or US, hand cut or precut, we would always, and still do, step away from our decorated tree and declare, “This is the best tree ever.” And, remarkably, it always is.
This year, I bought a massive tree for the deck that even without lights and ornaments, totally bare, made me stand back and declare, “This is the best tree ever.”
My father would love it. It is symmetry and grace. And it is lush and it is huge.
So huge that it didn’t fit in the stand we had. So we bought a bigger stand. And the tree fell down anyway.
It has fallen once, twice, six times despite weights and ropes and invocations to God. The wonder is that the lights still work and that the branches haven’t snapped.
“This is the best tree ever,” we say when we are not saying, “*&%$!!” and putting on our coats to go outside and right it again.
And this is the magic of Christmas. That we can say, “This is the best tree ever.” And mean it. And have it be true. Year after year after year.