Christmas With No Strings Attached
Chimes Opinions Article
I believe I was in the third grade when I was looking out the back window of my parents Honda Civic only to see our newly bought Christmas tree slide off the roof and tumble behind us across the highway.
"The tree!" I screamed, followed closely by my mother who just screamed, perhaps not even fully realizing what exactly I was screaming about.
The tree meanwhile spit off pine needles as it rolled.
"Maybe it's still okay," I thought to myself, shortly before it was run over by an eighteen-wheeler.
Stunned, my eyes began to water. It was the only tree in the lot that didn't have a massive bald spot on its side.
That wasn't so much the case anymore.
Its perfectly straight trunk was now separated into five or six smaller splintered trunks, and each of those wasn't in such great shape either.
I slunk down in my seat. My family of six was often crowded into the car, so I had since gotten used to sitting in what we called the "pod," and what everyone else from normal families usually calls the hatchback trunk. My father turned the car around. All the while he was reminded by my mother that we probably should have tied it down a bit tighter, or given up some change to tip the guys to tie it for us.
In retrospect I realize this is all just part of the challenge of the holidays, for which all men must give their own account. In olden days they had to trek out into the mountains and chop themselves a tree with nothing but their bare hands. The times may have changed, but the inconveniences of tree transportation will always be the same.
I'm not sure what I would've done if I were in my father’s shoes in such a situation. Would I have gone back to pick up the shredded pieces of our Christmas decor from the side of the highway? Perhaps, if only to take it back to Home Depot in a desperate and sad attempt to make an exchange.
Somehow we ended up getting a second tree, and this time we double-knotted it. My brother Nick would remember this lesson well when later in high school he would find himself being a tree salesman.
"Remember Nick," My father told him, "Don't ever tie the strings through the windows of the car." Laying his hand on his shoulder, my father continued to wisely note, "If you do, the people won't ever be able to get out."
Nick's eyes widened, and he nodded with the secret of the trade. My father nodded as well, and today I fear it may have been out of personal experience.
Even if the tree makes it home in one piece, there's always the chance it won't make it much longer after that. My father has since gotten into the habit of tying the tree to nails in the wall. This tradition has come to pass after one year in which we glanced through the living room window to see our cat Stimpy clutching the tree where the angel should go. It was a surreal sight for my father and I, to look through the window into our house as “Silent Night” played faintly in the distance, and see Stimpy begin to violently sway the tree back and forth from its peak, as if it were wagging the trunk like its own tail.
My oldest brother Ben takes a different approach. His yearly tradition is to toss the tree onto the top of his car, hop into the drivers seat, and then with one arm outstretched through the window he simply clutches the trunk of the tree with one fist as he drives. No strings attached. This has been his solution to just about anything the man has ever been forced to place on his car roof, including furniture, mattresses, and at one time a home-made raft that he and his friends used to briefly sail down the Potomac river.
I envy that confidence. I myself only bought a Christmas tree once, and from my previous experiences I was so nervous I briefly considered placing it into the car, buckling it in, and driving it home in the front seat.
I was a sophomore in college at the time and decided that the other nine guys I was living with could use a little something to get them into the holiday spirit. In search of something at least a little non-traditional I purchased a few strands of blue Christmas lights to string on the tree.
“Nice Jew lights,” Anthony said to me when I finished setting it up.
“I thought they looked nice,” I said.
By this point Ryan had walked in the front door and stopped immediately once he noticed there was something green in the living room.
“What do you think Ryan?” I asked.
“What is this, Hanukkah?”
Lacking in an angel we settled on topping the tree with a sombrero and then promptly forgot about it. In very little time the withering brown tree in the corner became a staple of the living room. It was something we weren’t even cognizant or aware of until every once in a while an ornament Micah had attempted to make over a month ago would become too heavy for the frail branches and shatter on the ground.
“Did you actually paint these ornaments, Micah?” Ryan would ask concerned while looking at the numerous splotches of paint on the hardwood, “or did you just fill the inside of them with paint and splash it around?”
“Let me put it this way,” Micah replied, “one way was faster.”
It wasn’t until late February that I returned from a trip to New York and was able to fully notice the sad decaying tree collapsed in the corner of the house. Now its sombrero was fully slouched, and below it a dense ring of grey pine needles had formed.
By the time I had carried it out to the gutter the branches were completely bare.
Later, when eight of us were all huddled around the television for a few rounds on the Nintendo 64, Anthony would glance in the corner and say “Something’s different in here. Did somebody move the furniture?”
Clearly, the sun-stained shape of a tree in the corner wasn’t enough for him, but later when he would find his shoes filled with the pine needles I had swept up from under the couch, it would hit him.
I meanwhile returned to my room, hung up the remaining Jew lights, and even though it was February, I thought of Christmas.