Creative works by author Dan Foley.

The Christmas Tree: Every year about this time, give or take a week or so……..

The Christmas Tree

Every year about this time, give or take a week or so, I dig through the shed to try to figure out where I left the tree saw the last time I used it. And, since I lack the plan-ahead gene commonly found in most people, this is not a simple task. As a result, I usually wind up climbing over the grill, lawn mower, hose reel, lawn chairs, mountain bike and other sundry summer paraphernalia in search of it. This takes about twenty minutes and usually results in my destroying at least one stored item and either puncturing or crushing some part of my body. And, I usually can’t find the saw anyway. OK, battered, bruised and defeated, now I’m really in the mood to cut down a tree.

Cutting the tree is another fun tradition. This is done at a local live tree lot and Christmas Tree Shop. The shop is conveniently located near the road but the trees are on the other side of a large field. After tiptoeing across the “wet” part of the field which guards the tree stand like a castle moat, the wife and I (and whatever kids or grandkids have made this annual pilgrimage) set out to select the perfect tree. To her the ultimate tree is five feet tall, three feet across, full in shape, soft of needle and contains at least one bird nest for its esthetic value. For the kids/grandkids, no tree is large enough  except that ten footer at the far end of the lot which might be OK. As for myself, I like anything reasonably shaped and as close to the car as possible. Oh, and since I have to carry it, soft needles are definitely a plus. Generally the selection process takes at least a half hour. Through past experience we have learned to settle on a tree we are actually standing in front of at the time. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to say, “Lets take the other one,” only to return to find some happy family dragging it behind them as they head for home.

Once the sacred one has been chosen, the ceremonial cutting of the tree can commence. This involves yours truly laying on the ground and squirming under the lower branches to attack the trunk of this years tree with a saw kindly provided by the lot’s owner. This exercise is usually carried out on either a blanket of beautiful but cold and wet snow or not so beautiful cold and wet ground. Finally ready to place blade to bark, I invariably hear, “Honey, look this way so I can take a picture.” Without stopping to pose for pictures this job would take about five minutes; with pictures it takes about ten. During these ten minutes of bliss I usually manage to get stuck in the eye at least once and get the rest of my body as wet as my moat-kissed sneakers. In the end though, we always manage to fell the icon and return to the car with our best tree ever.

Speaking of back at the car, it’s here that the next challenge awaits. Do we tie it to the top, or stuff it into the trunk? Each method has its own set of rewards and consequences. It’s harder to get it on top, and you risk the danger of scratching the paint, but once up there it’s an easy ride home and it comes off with no trouble at all. The trunk presents an easier loading job (you just stuff it in kitty-corner and tie the lid down), but it requires a slower ride home without benefit of a rear view window. Unloading becomes a problem too because you have to be careful not to break any of the now wrong facing branches as you take it out. Another problem the trunk method presents is the amazing amount of needles the tree managed to shed on the way home. Sometimes I wonder how we have any tree left when most of it seems to find its way onto the trunk floor. Luckily I’ve managed to solve this problem by making sure we drive my wife’s car on these trips.

Once the tree is home, the really challenging part of the process starts; successfully getting it into the stand in a reasonably perpendicular position. The first part involves cutting of the lower five or six branches. This results in a rather unsightly bare stump sticking out of the bottom of a once perfectly shaped tree. The branches can be discarded on the front lawn where they will serve as seasonal decorations until my wife reminds me to pick them up. (This can take anywhere from two minutes to two months depending on how observant she is.) Next the tree is actually fitted to the base. Over the years this task has been made easier by the improved stands available on the market. This year it only took me a mere fifteen minutes, which is a new record for me. Once firmly mounted, with the naked stump hidden in the base, the tree can be transported through the front door, across the hall and proudly placed in a prominent place in the living room. Then, invariably, as I step back to admire my work, my wife will declare, “It looks great, but I hope you remembered to shake out all the dead needles before you brought it in!” Yeah, Right!

With the tree in place and as straight as possible, the decorating can begin. The lights go on first but I don’t really consider this decorating. It’s just one more step that has to be accomplished before we can get to the fun part, which is putting on the ornaments. In our house we don’t really decorate with ornaments; instead we adorn the tree with memories. As each treasure comes out of its box or paper wrap it conjures up ghosts of Christmas past: the red clad graduate from my wife’s college graduation, the ceramic figure skates from our youngest daughters year of lessons and competitions, Our oldest daughter and her husband’s love birds, the middle daughters artist, a ceramic angel crafted by Navy friends. And of course, the pipe cleaner ladder of Santa and his elves I fashioned on our first Christmas together when we had no money for fancy decorations. Every Christmas each of us adds a special ornament to the tree to mark the year’s passing. Just as our years together have grown, so has our box of memories and the size of the tree required to hold them. And then, as each child departed, she took a part of those memories with her, seeds for her own memory tree. The tree is no less full for their departure, just another reflection of the roads we have traveled.

For the next three or four weeks I’ll sit opposite the tree in the living room and from time to time notice an old friend peeking out at me through the branches. Then the memories attached to that ornament creep into my mind as magically as Santa coming down the chimney. And by Christmas Day, the pile of presents I’ve found in the tree is always far greater than any I will ever find under it.