"It's the day after Thanksgiving. Time to get our Christmas tree."
A chorus of groans erupts around the room. Okay...its not a chorus, it's just my mom. My brothers and sisters and I are excited. It was a tradition in my family every year and we loved it. After my Dad died when I was seventeen, it was too much for my mom to drag all the kids out to cut our own tree and the tradition died. My sister and I cut one some years ago when we were both in college. We had a great time and I didn't really understand why my mother dreaded the excursion.
Well mom...now I get it!
With the exception of a couple of years, my family cuts our own tree as well. When my husband learned of my dead family tradition, he reinstated it with our kids. I don't know if there is a curse from Christmas tree farms everywhere, damning us to disaster or if its just my life, but every year something goes wrong.
If we're not fighting over who picked the best tree, or gets the last doughnut. We're driving through a snowstorm in Tooele, Utah after sitting all day long in the INS offices. That year we pulled over in the blizzard, cut the first thing that looked like a pine tree and shoved it in the back of our car. We pulled pine needles out of the back of the car for years afterward.
The most memorable year though was a few years ago.
It was about 16 degrees and snowing, a magical feat when you live on the edge of the Mojave desert, but this Christmas it happened. We were headed for Dixie National forest with our permit, hoping we'd make it on the rutted muddy roads. After bouncing along for what seemed like days, we pulled over and Dad announced we'd be hiking over the next knoll to find our tree. The kids all jumped from the truck, making snowballs, throwing icicles at each other and falling in the mud. I hate the cold. I lack the ability to maintain my own body temperature even in the summer so I'm always cold. This day I was in 250 layers and still a Popsicle. When my husband said "uh-oh", I knew it would be a long day. "I forgot to bring a saw," he told us.
A Chorus of moans and groans later, Dad had a plan. Using a cement stake he found in the bed of the truck, and a hammer from his tool box, we'd break the tree off and then take it home and clean it up. With his confidence and my reluctance to start all over hours later, we trudged up the 'knoll'. A mud slide and a snowball fight later. we'd narrowed our choices down to three trees. My job was to sit by Dad's tree while he took the kids the forty miles between trees to look at each one. By the time they returned to my tree, I didn't care if we hung lights from my plastic potted tree in the living room at home. I was done.
A "winner" was finally chosen and Dad went to work with the cement stake.
Well, evidently, this tree was father by one from the petrified forest, because after we'd scarred the bark and battered the trunk for another hour, Mr. Tree wasn't budging.
Defeated, cold, wet and covered in mud, we agreed we'd have to come back...with a saw...the next day.
A heater in an old truck never felt so good. Sore but content to try again, we drove back to town, stopping to get gas for the return trip before going home. Now only six blocks from my fireplace and fuzzy socks, my husband groaned again. "The back tire is flat."
Even the kids complained this time. "Worse," he said, "I don't have a spare or a jack."
There's a lot more to this story, like our neighbor driving to our house and bringing us the tools and spare we needed, but the moral of the story is this...
We eventually got a tree and we eventually had to clean up the sap all over the floor, the dead needles in the rug and the fire hazard it became by Christmas day. More than all the trouble though is the memory.
We still laugh, grumble, and reminisce about the year we tried to cut our own tree with a cement stake. Our 'Charlie Brown' Christmas trees aren't majestic, gorgeous, or even shapely. They are...symbols of all the love, fun, forgiveness and laughter that cutting our own tree provides. I've heard a lot of people say-"I love your little tree. We don't cut our own because...its too much trouble, its too messy, we bought one a few years back that comes out of a box."
You're right about all of that. Those trees are probably prettier, cleaner, and less work. That's how we prefer our lives, right?
Our trees are often pathetic, ugly, or down right, painful to bring home. However, through it all, the time we spend with our kids and each other is worth the trial of the tree.
When life offers you the opportunity to ease your experiences from a box, or have them delivered neat and clean. Take a deep breath, strap on your hiking boots and say, "No thanks. I'll cut my own tree."