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The tree (11/28/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

I said I’d never do it, but I did. I bought an artificial Christmas tree. I know, I know! And after forty-two years of real trees, I can tell you it is definitely not the same thing to come down the stairs and have a pre-lit tree sitting on its metal legs waiting to be decorated.

When I thought about Christmas this year, and the tree, my practical side for once trumped my romantic side. Since John’s death, I have to think carefully before acting, because he isn’t there to be my beast of burden, ladder-climber, fellow light-string-curser, and pusher of tree to one side and the other until it stands straight. Those jobs would now fall on my daughter and son-in-law, and I thought they had enough on their Christmas plates with two little girls, their jobs, and their own huge Christmas tree. I suppose I could have hired help, but there is something unseemly about cursing a tree in front of someone who is not your mate.

So, I ordered a tree online (another move unlike me—I like to see things in person). I texted my daughter Morgan: Just ordered first ever artificial tree. Am I old or lazy. She texted back: Neither. You should have conferred with me, though. If you don’t spend money, you can tell. Also, did you get pre-lit? P.S. You’re only old if you flocked it.

John and I have a reputation in the family for being cheap. Don’t know why!

While I was waiting for the tree to be shipped, I wistfully gazed at the tree lots around town as I drove past. I imagined the perfect tree, its smell, the way it would fill up the room…but I couldn’t cancel the order.

I dreamed of the wonderful times we had choosing trees. When we were newlyweds, we often cut a small tree in the woods—Charlie Brown trees, but with plenty of hand-me-down ornaments and that coverer of all flaws, tinsel.

When kids came along, we bundled them up, I put on a pair of John’s Sorels, and we made an adventure of going to a cut-your-own place. Part of the adventure was getting the tree home. It was my job to watch the rear-view mirror for the sudden appearance of the tree on the road behind us. The kids kept their eyes on the stray branch hanging down by the side windows. “It’s still there, Daddy!” Once, a tree did fall off, at the intersection of Hwys. 14/61 and 43. It was a frigid, windy day, and a crosswind just swept it from the top of the car. It was a hardy tree, though, and didn’t suffer much from being dragged a ways. Thank goodness for rooms with corners.

The real adventure always began when the tree came into the house. John always groused when I insisted that he saw a chunk of the trunk off, to let the tree drink the water. Then it took three people to bring the tree in from the garage, one of us at each end of the tree and one to hold the door open.

Once inside, we stuffed it into the latest version of the “tree will be straight and will not fall over” tree stand I had purchased. Then the “is it straight?” procedure began, guaranteed to put one or both of us in a bad mood. When it finally stood straight (enough), it was time to uncoil the strings of lights. In the olden days, if one light was burned out, the entire string of lights wouldn’t work until you located the bad bulb and replaced it. Did I mention before that we are cheap? After a couple of years of dead strings, we learned to just throw the darned thing out and go to Fleet Farm for another string.

Once the lights were on (not an easy task for us, for some reason), the kids got into the game and helped decorate. There was still a lot for me to do, since they couldn’t reach the branches that were over forty inches from the floor. After it was all decorated, I wanted to have John play Christmas carols on the piano, and the rest of us sing along. But that was my romantic dream, and no one else’s. The husband got a sour look on his face, wanting nothing more than to retreat to the football game. The kids whined, because they wanted to go to a friend’s house. That left me, humming Adeste Fidelis to myself and sitting with a glass of wine staring at the tree, waiting for it to fall over, which it almost always would do at least once. Often it was helped to the ground by the dog or the cat, until we learned to tie it to the window locks with fishing line.

So now my tree (approved by Morgan) is up, with her help. The lights are already on it. I now simply have to decorate it. It just isn’t the same, all alone. 


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