A Tale of Two Trees

One leans left, the other right. It seems the trait of picking imperfect holiday trees is carried on human DNA.

Illustration by Deanna Staffo

One of the things that brought my wife and I together was that, when it came to buying Christmas trees, we had the same fathers.

My wife describes her father’s selections as Charlie Brown trees. I, being more of an internationalist as a kid, described my father’s purchases as Sub-Saharan famine trees. Both our families’ trees looked like they had barely survived a brush fire or had succumbed to drought. We grew up wondering what was it about “evergreen” our fathers didn’t seem to understand.

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Still, the tradition of having a live Christmas tree ran deep with my wife and me, so we began our lives together accordingly. While living in upstate New York, I even ventured onto a cut-it-yourself tree farm. Gathering the family on a typically crisp -20 degree afternoon near the Adirondacks, we trudged off in search of a prize blue spruce.

When cutting your own tree, having the right equipment (a chain saw) rather than the wrong equipment (a bow saw) makes the difference between creating an experience the family will cherish for the rest of their lives, and one they will never forget as long as they live.

After a long time standing around in frostbite conditions while their husband and father alternately sawed, kicked, screamed and threw snow at an utterly uncooperative conifer, the family finally succeeded in getting its warm, jolly holiday @#$*&%@! tree back to the house.

Which is where I soon learned the value of having a tree pruned by professionals on a lot. After trimming enough bottom limbs to make another tree, I placed our salute to Christmas tradition in its stand. It looked like a tree that was missing the bottom of itself.

Which immediately led to a new tradition: buying an artificial tree. This produced several rather sterile Christmases where nothing much in the way of dramatic, on-the-brink behavior occurred. The kids got bored.

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“We want a real tree, Daddy,” they told me upon our first Christmas in Delaware.

“What about before?” I asked

They assured me the therapy had helped and that they’d be fine experiencing me and live trees again.

“It’s like when you play golf,” my youngest daughter intoned. “It’s kind of funny to watch now.”

There would be no more tree hunting here, as it turns out. I now have a new problem: I seem to pick trees with the arboreal version of a clubbed foot. Several times I’ve discovered that a tree that had stood militarily straight on the lot listed heavily to the side at home, the result of a crooked trunk. It has often looked like we are celebrating Christmas aboard the Titanic—after it hit the iceberg. Last year I bought a tree that was completely self-teetering. On several mornings I awoke to find it lying on its side, looking like the victim of a random drive-by. Had Joyce Kilmer known me, he would never have become a poet.

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We were almost convinced this year to return to an artificial tree, but will wind up with a real one again. My plan to buy artificial after last Christmas fell through, the result of not thinking about it until store clerks couldn’t understand why I was looking for a Christmas tree in March.

So this year we’ll again have a full, thick evergreen that leans so staggeringly that the angel on top will appear drunk. It’s another of those rich holiday memories now. 

Whether obtusely or acutely, Reid Champagne celebrates Christmas at an angle in Newark.


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