As I was growing up, we never put up our Christmas tree until about the middle of December, usually on or near my birthday. I always wanted to put it up earlier to enjoy it longer, but my dad stood firm. His reasoning was that a fresh tree could only maintain its freshness for a couple of weeks.
We generally purchased our tree from the farmers market or a parking lot that magically appeared to transform overnight from a cold and dismal plat of concrete into a lush and green forest. This was a concept I clearly didnt understand as a small child.
Where did these trees come from and how did they pop up full grown in the concrete? I would ask my parents. They always laughed and said they didnt grow there but were chopped down and transported there to be sold.
Daddy parked the car and our family entered deep into the maze surrounded by rich forest greens, becoming intoxicated by the unmistakable aroma of fresh cut pines, cedars and spruces. The air was crisp and we could actually see our breath as we meandered up and down the rows of trees.
Occasionally, we would stop at one to study its shape and decide if we thought it had the potential of becoming our Christmas tree. The process of selecting a Christmas tree was always much more involved than we ever anticipated.
That ones perfect, my mother would say. No, its not. Look how crooked the base of the tree is. Ill never be able to get it to stand up in the stand, Daddy would reply.
Our tour through the green maze revealed trees that were either too tall or that looked more like shrubs than trees. It was difficult to decide. Standing next to a tree in a parking lot and then seeing it in your house are two very different things. After many years of realizing when we returned home that our tree was much too tall or too fat, Daddy began to bring a measuring tape with him.
Im chuckling as I type this remembering the years where furniture had to be completely removed from our living room to accommodate the massive tree that had actually appeared much smaller in the parking lot.
Mark, hold this measuring tape firmly at the base of the tree, Daddy commanded. Dont let it move, he said. See! This one is much too tall for our ceiling. Lets move on to the next tree.
After several measuring attempts in what seemed like miles and miles of trees, my daddys patience was waning and tempers were starting to flair. But we forged ahead on our mission to bring home a tree. With all of Daddys Christmas tree criteria, we usually left with one that we really didnt like, but knew would fit into our Christmas tree stand and, for that matter, our house.
When the car had barely come to a stop, my mother prepared a bucket full of water and a sugar-based clear soda that she was convinced acted as glue to keep the needles adhered to the tree. Daddy grabbed his saw and cut off the bottom portion of the trunk to allow it to better drink up Mothers magic elixir. By the time the tree was placed in the bucket of water, he had worked up a sweat.
I always wanted to decorate it right then, but Mother made me wait until the next night so the tree would be totally hydrated and full of glucose. Before I went to bed, I would glance at the tree sitting in the bucket on our carport propped against a wall imagining what it would look like decorated.
The next evening, we would usually decorate it. It stood proudly for a couple of weeks, even though, in my opinion, it needed many more ornaments, lights and tinsel. My grandmother had us convinced that if we didnt have it down before New Years Day, we would have bad luck all year long. The last present was hardly put away before Daddy declared it was time to take the tree down. This part was always sad for me because it meant Christmas was over -- as was my birthday.
Mother never said a word as we saw the needles falling like pieces of uncooked rice the entire way out the door leaving a trail of brown that had once been a beautiful green. She just left and came back with the vacuum cleaner. I can still hear the hideous sound a vacuum makes when it confronts dried spruce needles embedded in carpeting.
After the fifth vacuuming of the living room and a slight smell of smoke lingering from the vacuums motor, Mother put everything back in place. For months we would see an occasional dried needle hanging on for dear life after narrowly escaping being sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.
Our tree is no longer real, but the memories of our Christmas tree hunts certainly are.
This week Ive really thought about all this a lot because I associate this process with my birthday. Maybe thats why I still love to decorate so much for the holidays. Maybe its a special birthday present I give to myself. But maybe its because I wish I just had one more time to be a little boy hunting for a tree with my mother and daddy. Yeah, thats the reason.
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