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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tree in the Wild

Two years ago, our Christmas tree was a bush. I didn't know it was a bush, however, until a little neighbor girl asked me, "Why did y'all put up a Christmas bush? My mama and daddy put up a Christmas tree at our house." I of course gave her a talking to about asking personal questions then sent her home until after the holidays. When she left I sat down in the green wing-back chair in the living room and studied the dead plant in the corner holding up our ornaments. The child was right. It was indeed a bush.

Last year my parents drove into our driveway two weeks before the yule and tossed three trees on our front lawn. My mama said, "Y'all can choose one of these to be your tree. Whatever you don't choose I'm taking to your brother's house for him to pick from." What could I do? I didn't want my brother to get the best tree, so in the dark on the front lawn I had my husband hold up each specimen one at a time so I could observe it from all sides. Then he held up each one again so I could again walk around and around determining which had the best shape, height, color, clarity, and carat. We did this waltz until, frustrated, he exclaimed, "We're getting this one," and hauled it into the house.

That tree was 12 feet tall and had only four branches. I later found out it had been dead for two days before my parents delivered it to us because a bulldozer mowed it down along a fence line. My parents didn't want those nice cedar trees to go to waste. We hung 12 ornaments on it and called it Christmas.

All my children have ever known is Christmas trees that came straight from the wild. Trees with multiple choice spikes at the tip-top teasing that each would be best for the angel. Trees with gaping holes in one side where they grew around an obstacle like a fence post or a side of a barn. My children understand that the hunt for the Christmas tree goes on all year, up and down country roads, as we spy cedars that would be perfect and tell each other to remember this one or that one. Still, we end up with vast, room engulfing, evergreens of imperfection.

So when my 9 year-old daughter said to my mother-in-law, who buys her manicured fir from the boy scouts on the corner every year, "Your tree always looks so fake," I cringed. I didn't know which one of us, myself or my mother-in-law, she was insulting and which one of she was complimenting. Having been witness to our long parade of derelict Christmas trees, my mother-in-law took the child's statement as a sincere compliment, which meant I had to graciously accept the insult.

But although, in years past, as front heavy trees have crashed to the floor the day after Christmas, scattering ornaments and needles across the living room floor, I have threatened to throw the whole thing on the curb, lights, ornaments and all and be done with the homely holiday harbinger, I truly do love the thrill of finding a tree in the wild.

Identifying the perfect tree and sticking with it so it doesn't get away.

The kill.

The men folk haul it to the truck.

Cussed into corner.

Domesticated and lit in the living room.
Tradition beats perfection without exception.

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