Monday, December 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Trees

It's hard to believe, but this year marks the fifth Christmas that Precocious Daughter and I have spent in our little post-divorce apartment. It's been a pretty great home for us. We've seen some good times here, and some not-so-good times. And now, five Christmas seasons.

In 2015, our first Christmas here, we bought an artificial tree. We bought the best one we could afford. It wasn't great. But it was ours. We decorated it with the half of the lights and ornaments I'd taken from my marriage. The first year it seemed as if a lot of memories and cherished baubles were missing. But as the years went by, and we added a few new bits and pieces that were only ours, our little Christmas tree seemed more and more like a new tradition we had created ourselves.

I'm pretty sure that tree skirt came along later. Our first Christmas here, I think we used a very old skirt that my mom had made in the 70s, which was falling apart. I was very pleased when I could justify spending money on a new one, somewhere around our third Christmas.

But ever since that first year, I've been promising PDaughter and myself that one day we would buy a bigger and better tree. Every December, when we pull out the long skinny box it lived in the rest of the year, and PDaughter carefully arranges the wire "branches" on the plastic "trunk" (that's her job; stringing lights is my responsibility, and we hang the ornaments together), I watch her and promise her, "One of these years we're going to get a new tree." And every December, I watch my budget go to other, more important things. After each Christmas, the little tree gets disassembled and put back in its box, waiting to be called into service again.

This year, PDaughter is a sophomore in college, amazingly. Although she's not far away, she has an apartment on campus. I love that she's tasting independence, but I miss her like crazy during the semester. Last week, while she was taking her final exams, I pulled out all the Christmas stuff. I decorated the apartment so it would look nice when she came home for the winter break. Everything except the tree. That we would put up together. 

It went according to tradition at first. PDaughter fired up her Christmas playlist (because you can't trim the tree without Andy Williams, the Carpenters, and, uh, the Ramones). Then she began to assemble the little tree while I sighed, "One of these years we're going to get a nicer one." Tradition.

But then something happened.

Stay with me here.

If you've ever assembled an inexpensive fake tree, you know it's not brain surgery. You have a couple of lengths of pipe that fit together to make a tree-high pole. You have a base consisting of plastic or metal feet that you attach to the pole. And you have a bunch of metal arms covered with faux greenery, bent into a hook at one end to fit into the pole in an approximate tree-shaped pattern. You slide the hooks into a series of holes or notches or some such and voila - fake tree.

This was our fifth go-round with this particular specimen of pinus artificialis. PDaughter knew exactly what to do.

Except...she didn't. And I didn't. 

And damned if we didn't stare at that pole and those branches like a couple of Martians who had never so much heard of a Christmas tree, let alone tried to make one out of a box of parts.

I don't know how else to explain it, but we could not, for the life of us, figure out how the thing went together. Where were the holes, the notches, any little clue of how to insert Branch A into Trunk B? It was as if someone (the Grinch, perhaps) had snuck into the closet where our Christmas decorations live, removed our tree, and replaced it with something that sort of resembled our tree but wasn't. Like a box of Legos that's supposed to make a fire truck except none of the pieces inside are red or fire engine-shaped.

It made no sense. But that's what happened. And as we haplessly tried to figure out how two competent, educated women could suddenly forget how to put together a tree (or how said tree could suddenly become un-put-together-able), I said in frustration, "In about 30 seconds, I'm bundling us into the car to go look for a new tree."

PDaughter watched me uncertainly, not knowing if she should encourage this train of thought or not. We continued to puzzle over the pile of plastic and metal between us. Thirty seconds later, I said the same thing: "This is nuts. We're about to head to the store to get a new tree." 

And then, all at once, two thoughts hit me. The first was, You just got a Christmas bonus. You have a little extra money right now.

The second was: This is a sign.

I'm not one to ignore signs. They don't come around often, but when they do I pay attention. So we packed that sad, maddening little tree back into its box, and we went out and bought a new tree. 

As you can see, it's a touch larger than the old one. OK, it's a monster, relatively speaking. It's a big, beautiful tree. It fills our small living room in the most wonderful way. And it fills my heart, too. I feel as if PDaughter and I have earned this tree.

We kept the old tree. It's back in the closet, unassembled. PDaughter says she may put it up in her campus apartment next Christmas.

I have no doubt that she'll be able to assemble it without a hitch. It no longer needs to be difficult to put together, you see. Now it can go back to doing its job of being a small, modest Christmas decoration in someone's first apartment. A job it was - and will be - very good at doing.

It's hardly a miracle, even a Hallmark Channel-quality one. But it's a good Christmas story. Who doesn't need a good story to take from year to year?


  1. I haven't done a tree in a decade. Next year, perhaps. Happy 5th New Christmas!

  2. An undecorated aluminum pole sounds like a Festivus miracle, but the important thing is the new tree really is gorgeous. And I would honestly put this higher than a Hallmark-quality miracle. After all it's one you couldn't predict.

  3. What a nice story! And it's a lovely tree! Enjoy the holidays and the time with PD!!


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