Sunday, December 6, 2009


Last year we had a Christmas tree in the house, after several years of not. Actually, some of those several years we had alternatrees that did not suit the needs of three children. Sure, they want to be all grown up and have driver licenses and are practically ready to move out on their own if you asked them, but send around the holidays and they clam up their cries for independence and want instead presents and trees and stockings-full.

One year our untree was made from backyard scraps. I had some extra PVC pipe from a sprinkler project and I decided to build our own Christmas tree. It was more or less a pipe pyramid, with holes drilled along the tubes to hang ornaments. Lights were strung across and around, and it lit up just like any other Christmas trees. The kids demanded that it never come back.

Then there was the year we inherited a twelve-inch potted tree. We placed it on one of the stereo speakers and hung all the ornaments it could hold: about three. It was a legitimate Christmas tree, but would be better served in the land of midgets. The kids said they should be able to gather around our Christmas tree and look up in wonder. Not down.

I think it ended up in the trash.

There have even been a couple of years with no tree at all, real or alternate. Blame my frugality, or the misguided notion that it is cruel and unusual punishment to the tree. When you stop having a tree, the pattern ingrains. Last year’s tree almost broke the trend, but it was a fake tree we inherited from a friend. It had built in lights, went together fairly easily, and looked great. But the damned thing weighed a ton! Where was I going to keep it the other forty-eight weeks of the year?

So I found a great place to store it: the Salvation Army. Now it is in the way at someone else’s house.

This year there was again a debate about getting a tree. I was told that Kate was going away to college next year, that the house would smell great, that darn it the kids just wanted one! The kids, the kids, it’s all about the kids! It also ended up being all about the fact that it was four to one in favor of getting a tree. I was the lone dissenting opinion.

What a surprise. I lost.

We were thinking of going up in the hills to cut one down as we had in earlier years when the kids were much smaller (and when a Christmas tree made more sense, but I have to whisper this or I’ll get in trouble all over again with the family). I had done the same with my family when I was a kid. Christmas tree farms are plentiful in the mountains surrounding the Bay Area: all you have to do is drive along their pitted, alignment-jarring roads, grab a long-handled saw, and murder the tree of your choice. It is a lovely holiday tradition.

For those clamoring for a tree, all I asked was that it be a family trip, so that we could spend time together crammed into the car, whining about whose foot was in who’s space and can’t you just scoot over a little bit? You all want a tree? FINE! Get in the car and be quiet!

I don’t know what I was thinking. Why would I torture myself that way?

Instead we opted for a lovely specimen retrieved from the jolly holiday Home Depot parking lot. It worked out perfectly because Kelsey was practicing her driving skills in anticipation of her upcoming test and Kristin was in the car with her. Kristin was the real ringleader in the coup to get a tree, so I said, “Go, get a tree, have fun!”

They were driving down the road and saw the sign for cheap trees, and without causing an accident Kelsey made a legal left turn and parked mostly straight. Now the tree is in the house, and even I can admit it looks splendid. I had to do very little, nothing more than hold it straight while the kids screwed the clamps directly into its soft pulp.

Say, was that the sound of a tree screaming? Oh well, who cares, there’s is a nice pine aroma in the living room, glittering lights and shiny ornaments are festive and pretty, who cares if the decorated thing is dying. We can mask its pain with another decorative strand of tinsel. We can drown out its cries for help by singing the Christmas carols a little louder.


“Hey, maybe we should pick a different song,” I said.

Pine needles are strewn from one end of the house to the other, compliments of the dog, and we are on constant fire alert. “Did you water the tree?” “Who watered the tree?” “Does the tree have water?” I figure if the tree goes up in flames we can just borrow some chestnuts from whichever nutty neighbor would have some, and we can roast, roast, roast away!

Open fire, indeed.

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