“That one looks good, Jim.” Mum said to Dad.
“It’s not bushy enough.” Dad replied.
“It’s the right height.”
I sat quietly in the back seat. Mum and Dad drove along a rutted, dirt road, arguing over tree-after-tree. It was a yearly ritual.
“There’s one!” Mum pointed to the left.
“Where?” Dad asked.
“Right there, next to that big rock.”
“It’s too tall.”
“Cut it shorter!”
“Ethel, it’s too tall.” Dad argued back.
My impatience grew. “Let’s just pick one.” I thought to myself. I’d spent months dreaming about the toys in the Sears catalogue. I wanted our tree. It didn’t matter what it looked like. The faster we got a tree, the faster Santa would come.
“How about that one?” Dad said.
“I don’t know.” Mum hesitated.
We got out of the car. I followed Mum and Dad up the side of a snowy hill. “Looks good to me,” Dad said.
Mum walked around to the other side. “It’s a little bare in the back.” She stared at it. “I guess we could turn that side to the wall. No one will notice.”
Dad got the saw, cut it down, and stuffed it into the trunk.
“Yes!” I cheered to myself. “Christmas was here.” Dad mounted the tree on the stand and dragged it into the house. With Mum’s direction, he got it on the box in the corner.
“Turn it the other way,” Mum Said. “I can see the bare spot.” Dad turned the tree. “A little more.” He turned it again. “I guess that will do. Christmas cards will hide the bad spots.”
Then the words I knew would come were spoken. “We should have got the other one."
“It was too tall!” Dad said.
“We could have cut it shorter,” Mum countered. It was the same every year.
I grew up, married, and had to pick my own tree. Like my dad, I cruised the roads looking for a tree. I’d walk miles through the woods. Snow turned to ice on my jeans. Branches slapped my eyes. The cold wind turned my face red.
I’d spot a tree, trudge through the snow, and look at it. “Too tall.” Another would catch my eye. “Bare on one side.” I grumbled. “I guess I can turn that side to the wall or put a
card in there to hide the open spot.”
New laws were implemented. Cutting a tree in the wild was illegal. I discovered a place where I could go in November, tag my tree, and return before Christmas to cut it. It was the perfect solution: I could cut my own tree; the lot was easy for kids to walk through; and they supplied free saws, hot chocolate, and sleigh rides.
In November, I drove to the lot and tagged my tree. I wrote my name on the little tag, tied it in a visible spot, and walked away. “The kids are going to enjoy this!” I said out loud.
A week before Christmas, I packed the kids into my Chevrolet Chevette—a small hatch-back, from the 80s. We drove to the lot, trudged to the area where I tagged my tree, and walked in circles.
“Where’s our tree, Daddy?” Vanessa asked.
“It’s around here somewhere. Maybe over there.” I pointed.
Justin tossed a snow ball and whined. “Daddy, I’m cold.”
“I know, son. We’ll find it soon.” We didn’t. We wandered all over the lot and couldn’t find it. I got upset. Someone cut my tree, even though I had my tag on it. We gave up and
looked for another tree.
“There it is!” I pointed. Justin and Vanessa looked. It was tall—about twelve feet high. The branches spread evenly on all sides. We had a large room with a high ceiling. It would fit perfectly. “This looks good. What do you guys think?”
“I love it, Dad.”
I knew what they thought, “The faster we got a tree, the faster Santa would come.”
I grabbed my saw and started to cut through the trunk of our tree. The blade was sharp and sliced easily through the soft wood.
“Dad!” Vanessa called out.
“What? Will you let me cut the tree!” I snapped and was immediately sorry for being irritable. “Sorry, Vanessa. Daddy is busy. What is it?”
“Dad, there’s a tag on this branch.”
“Oh No!” I thought. “Someone cut my tree. Now I’m cutting a tree that belongs to someone else.”
“What does it say, Vanessa?”
Vanessa was proud of her new reading skills. She read slowly, “Michael T. Smith—Tantallon. Dad, that’s you!” She screamed loud enough to flush a rabbit from it’s hiding spot.
“I told you it was here somewhere,” I said. To myself, I thought, “This tree was meant to be.”
I began to saw again. There was a crack as the last inch of wood snapped. The tree wobbled and began to fall—in my direction. I scrambled out of the way, tripped, and fell
face first into the snow, with the tree landing across my legs.
“Daddy? Daddy, are you OK?” Vanessa asked. She rushed to my side.
Justin threw a snowball at me. I knew what he thought, “Stop playing in the snow under the branches, Dad. The faster we get the tree home, the faster Santa will come.”
I stood up. Clumps of snow melted on the lenses of my glasses. The water droplets distorted my vision. My kids looked like they were swimming in a fishbowl.
After brushing myself off, I grabbed the lower branch of the tree and dragged it—what seemed like four miles—to the car. I tripped twice over tree stumps—putting my kids in the fishbowl again.
The tree was stretched out beside my small car. It was one of those moments when you realize: a tree in the woods looks a lot smaller than it does beside your car.
I grabbed an end and lifted it up onto the roof of my car. It teetered and held. I went to the other end, lifted, and the damn thing fell off, toppling me into the snow
again. The fishbowl-boy threw another snow-ball at me. “Hurry up, Dad. I’m cold.”
Two men, the size of small oxen came along. “Need a hand?”
“No! This tree is my blanket. I’m taking a nap.”
What I really said was, “That would be great. I’d appreciate it.” How did two oxen get into the fishbowl with my kids?
The tree sat on the roof of my car. “Thanks, guys!” I called after them, as they trudged off in search of their tree.
I got my rope, assessed the situation, and talked out loud. “If I open the windows, I can run the rope through them and keep the tree from sliding off. The tip of the tree can be roped to the front bumper and the trunk to the rear one. That’ll work.”
“Dad, I’m cold,” Vanessa whined.
“I know, Honey. Daddy is cold too.”
Justin hit me in the butt with a snowball. “Justin, stop it!” I yelled.
After the tree was secured, I took Justin and Vanessa for their hot chocolate and sleigh ride. They were cold before, but now didn’t want to leave. “Dad, can we do another ride?” Justin asked.
“No! We have to get the tree home.”
For the first time in his life, he didn’t whine. I knew why. He thought, “The faster we get the tree home, the faster Santa will come.”
At the car, I tried to open the door. It wouldn’t move. It was another one of those moments: if you tie a rope through the windows of your car, the doors will not open.
We finally got on our way. I peered through the branches, trying to see the road ahead. Wind whipped off the ocean, as we followed the road that twisted along the coast of Nova Scotia. Every gust caught in the branches and caused my small car to sway. The branches hung from all sides. People decorating their homes stopped and stared at the green tumbleweed pass their homes.
Back home, I pulled the tree through my door—with the help of a neighbor—and got it on the stand. After decorating, I sat back and admired it. It was a lot of work, but I’d found my tree. Now Santa could come.