Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tree Trouble

As I write this, there's an undecorated Christmas tree sitting behind me. That ought to be a good thing, a happy harbinger of struggles with lights and accusations of "Tree Nazi!" when I refuse to let others join in the decorating. But ultimately, our tree is a thing of wonder because we have two or three times more ornaments than any sensible person would consider.

During all the years when our friends came over to decorate it, I often needed pruners and pliers to remove the ornaments after Christmas, because they'd twist the hooks too tightly around branches (despite my pleading and threats). I've broken too many ornaments from this, and have cried and sworn too many times as I watched my favorite vintage Czech and German ones detach themselves from their metal tops and fall to earth. So call me any name you want, but my ornaments are off limits to everyone from now on.

But I digress. This tree is the wrong tree. It's short and fat, misshapen and weird. I'm devastated. I come from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Christmas City of the USA. Had anyone attempted to sell this tree there, they would have received a strongly worded letter from the Chamber of Commerce. When I was a kid, my father and I could spend more than a week — after school, on weekends, at night — hunting for the perfect tree in the freezing cold. I would drag him from nursery to farm to gas station to market, and I'd reject every one I saw. Finally, I'd find an acceptable tree — and he would reject it. Neither one of us is known for our patience, so I learned that finding the right tree must transcend moodiness, boredom, and discomfort.

I guess I forgot.

When my husband and I went to Wilson Farm last December, and fell in love with the very first tree we looked at, I immediately called dad from the tree lot. "You won't believe this, but tree-hunting took less than 3 minutes this year." He thought this was impossible, that I'd lost my standards. But it truly was the perfect tree: about 8 feet tall, slender enought to fit nicely into a tight corner of our living room, and perfectly formed. 

I decorated it with a few hundred tiny colored lights set deeply into the branches, then strung another 600 or so white lights around the outside. Then I added my golden Moravian stars, and hundreds of the ornaments I've collected since I was in college (the survivors of our friends' manhandling). The tree was especially lovely last year, and brought us joy every day. Our cats would curl up under it, sated from snarfing its needles and puking them up on the carpet and the tree skirt. But, really, the tree was perfect.

Two nights ago, in a cold, driving rain, we went to Wilson Farm in Lexington for our tree, wreaths, boughs for the mantels, and roping for the building's front doors. I don't know why we didn't wait; I guess we thought the weather would be even worse  the next day. We were miserable as soon as we headed for the car. Even the promise of Sicilian slices from Armando's Pizza didn't help. At the tree lot, we stood around dripping, looking for a tree salesman. The one who finally appeared told us he didn't have much in our size, and showed us a few sopping trees in the pitch dark. Under those conditions, as we stood freezing, hungry, tired, and soaked, this tree looked pretty darn good. I guess we imagined it might grow another 6 inches overnight. Anyway, it was $39.99, and we grabbed it.  When it was on top of the car, its net kept getting caught on our windshield wipers. But we made it home and all was well until we stuck in the stand late last night, and I cringed. It even has branches that grow at right angles, pointing up or down instead of out, giving it a sort of deer-antler effect. 

So I'm doing what I generally do, whether it's dried pasta with live moths from Trader Joe's, or the wrong wedding dress from Filene's Basement. I'm returning it! I called Wilson Farm this morning and talked to the manager. He heard my story and said those magic words: "No problem! Bring it back, and ask for Pat or Jeff." You'd imagine people returned trees all the time. We've always loved Wilson Farm for their friendly staff as well as top-quality produce and plants, but this was beyond expectations. So we're about to drag it downstairs, tie to the car roof, and try again. My dad will approve, after he finishes yelling at me for settling for a lousy tree in the first place.

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