How Awful Are Thy Branches

~ this post is a revision of one published last Christmas ~

My Dad could easily be misunderstood as a guy who doesn’t love holidays.

But the truth of the matter is, what he really hates…nay, abhors…is going “to town”. A true country boy, he hates the traffic. The noise. The crowds. The dark restaurants. The loud restaurants. The crowded restaurants. The exorbitant costs. The works.

So it’s not so much that he dislikes looking at Christmas lights. He just dislikes going “to town” to look at Christmas lights, waiting in a long line of traffic to do so and then bumping into the five thousand other people who are there looking at Christmas lights, all before paying $50 to buy hot chocolate for his entire family (2 of his 4 children are “in the ministry” – if he doesn’t buy our hot chocolate….nobody gets hot chocolate).

Likewise, he doesn’t hate going to pick out a Christmas tree. He hates having to go “to town” to pick out a Christmas tree.

So a couple of years ago, after hearing my brother, Pete, recount his single favorite Christmas as the one where our family went “out back” to chop down our Christmas tree, my Daddy had a really fun idea: to cut down a tree from the new 9-acre property he purchased in town (our small hometown, not busy Tulsa “town”), that joins up with the acre Mr. Gore and I were building our home on. He drives by the place every morning on the way to work and had spied a whole line-up of potential Christmas trees. The grandkids would love it, he enthused, and the best part? He wouldn’t have to go “to town”.

We’re stupid, so we easily caught his excitement and chose a day for our Christmas tree excursion, and what happened next went down in family history.

~

Now, I’ve got to preface this story by pointing out that my Dad is the MAN. He can do anything. He can measure things with his bare eyes. He can weld upside-down in a fiery hole. He has drained our lake and built islands in it. He knows how to properly secure a Christmas tree in the stand. And he can usually tell with a single glance whether or not a tree will fit inside of a house. That’s what makes this tree story so bizarre and unbelievable…

So here’s my Dad as he gases up his chainsaw. What is not pictured is the line of expectant family members, all bundled up for our outing. It was a frigid day, one I’ll never forget.

This picture of my niece, Anna Ruth, will give you an idea of exactly how cold it was. The children had on two or three layers of clothing, but nothing could shield us from that biting Oklahoma wind.

But freezing or not, here we go! Let’s do this thingy.

The further away we got from the house, the colder it got.

And right about here is when I started to realize that this might not have been the best idea. I’m carrying a 40-pound toddler against the coldest wind, I feel like we’ve walked about 3 miles already…and we’re only halfway there. But there is no turning back. We are committed to this adventure.

Sadly though, once we arrived, the trees didn’t look nearly as good as they did from the road. We just kind of wandered around in circles, surveying this ragtag group of cedars, some more like bushes, others more like…taller than my house.

Sidenote: I love this little boy and would do anything for him. Even carry him to a cedar wasteland in Antarctica.

“Hey, this one doesn’t look so bad!” my Daddy called out. Whether we truly agreed or were just eager to get this show on the road, it was unanimous – it was perfect!

Funny though, standing in the midst of a small forest, no one seemed to notice that this tree, in particular, was…oh, 16 feet tall?!

But yes! This is it! This is the one! Merry Christmas, one and all! Deck the halls with boughs of holly! God bless us, everyone!

And then came my Daddy’s big moment, the one that Granddaddies probably dream of…

As his grandchildren (and his wife) watched with wonder…

he revved up his chainsaw…

and cut that (and I quote) sucker down!

Timberrrrr!!!

And there she is.

Our prize.

(Huh. Is that the same tree? Now would be a good time to start noticing that this tree looks kind of totally different in every picture).

Back uphill we tromped, our brand new Christmas tree leading the way…

for about ten seconds. Then Gideon decided he wasn’t taking another step. So guess who got to carry him? His Aunt Amy. (I’m still thanking her for that).

Almost there (thank God!)…

Once back to the work truck, a quick measure showed that this tree might be just the right size for my parent’s house. Keyword: might.

They load ‘er up and drive ‘er to her new home in the country…

Exhausted Gideon slept all the way there.  (Noteworthy: Was he really that little?? And did we actually think this tree adventure would mean anything to him at this age?!)

So anyhow, we got the tree home and set it up in the front yard and…it seems to have expanded a little during its 10-mile trip down the highway. My Daddy stands in the yard and stares at it.

Mr. Gore drags it inside, nonetheless…

and it self-inflates to twice its normal size. This can’t be the same tree that was just standing in the yard. Impossible.

Scratch that…it has tripled in size! And doubled in plain old ugliness.

My Mom just fled the room, laughing until she cried.

Our ridiculous tree not only dwarfed the living room with its majestic girth, but its cedar scent infiltrated every corner of the house, not fresh and invigorating like a Colorado pine, but dank and dirty like it was from…well, a random pasture in Oklahoma. It gagged us one and all.

I initially tried trimming at the branches with some kitchen shears, but they were no match for this “tree” and I had to fetch some weed whackers.

Two whacks in, however, I gave up, afraid to make it worse. (Not to mention the rash that began creeping up my arms the minute they made contact with the tree).

That’s right…I said rash. I couldn’t go near this tree. Thus, Mr. Gore had to decorate it while I looked on from across the room. (I hate to be repetitive, but again…is this really the same tree? Does it not look like it has now cloned itself or given birth to triplets?)

The next day, Daddy tried to revive our Christmas spirit by heroically decorating the rest of the tree, and I so wish I had the pictures to show what happened next: this giant tree, full of breakable ornaments, fell over, smashing into the living room floor with all the gusto of its initial fall in the wilderness. Screaming in shock and terror, I scooped up both children and ran from the room, never once thinking to take just one picture of the aftermath.

I don’t know what was more disturbing…the heirloom ornaments that were shattered that day or the manic and wild nature of this tree that would cause it to just leap from its stand like that. I think it was sending us a message: You should’ve gone “to town”, suckers.

Christmas morning came, and our Giant Christmas Shrub of 2009 was there to greet us.

I will admit, the tree had its moments. At times, I would walk into the room and laugh, but at others, I would marvel at its beauty and admire its pioneer spirit and smell…

but by Christmas morning, it had begun to settle, and was 100% irrefutably…ugly. And kind of crooked.

You know, though, it’s funny…

We’ve had a lot of really beautiful Christmas trees over the years, and this tree is the only one I distinctly remember.

I could pick it out of a line-up.

p.s. That’s not a compliment.