2017-12-01 / Features

There’s something fishy going on

The following holiday-themed story was written a few weeks after Christmas a few celebrations ago, but it still reminds me of happy times. If you have a treasured holiday tree-trimming tradition of your own, perhaps it will make you smile, too. Whether it does, or not, please accept it as a Merry Christmas greeting. T he only reason my Christmas tree is not still taking up space in my living room is that it was real.

And it was dead.

And it was sort of a naked fire hazard.

So I stripped it of everything I planned to use again during the next quarter century and HE and I dragged it outside to the curb. Then HE vacuumed up the few needles that had managed to survive extreme dehydration and general post-holiday neglect, only to fall victim to a particularly vicious exit attack by the front door frame.

It was a bittersweet moment. Kind of.

We had decorated that tree the Sunday night before Christmas after it proved itself a valiant sentinel, stationed as it had been on our front porch for the preceding week, plus a couple of days. We would have invited it in for lights and ornaments sooner, but HE was determined we would only decorate it when “all of us” were in attendance for the event.

There were days when the four offspring who still use our washer and dryer and eat our food were all present and accounted for. There were days when their sibling and their new sibling-in-law, who now have a washer and dryer of their own but still like our food, were present and accounted for. There were even days when HE was present and accounted for. It was just never the same day.

Eventually we scrapped our hopes for a family moment and “just did it,” minus only one offspring. I figure it’s the best odds we’re likely to get from now on.

There is an established order and a carefully maintained balance associated with our tree trimming. HE and HE alone decides which lights we will use and how they will be arranged on the tree. It’s not a job I want, so I refrain from sharing my expertise and express my gratitude and praise HIS efforts. I have learned a few things in the 29 Christmases we have gussied up a tree together.

We always put Christmas carols on the current music-machine-of-choice and while HE adds the finishing touches to the light show, the oldest female sibling begins separating the ornaments into piles. This little ritual ensures that each offspring can place the ornaments that have special significance for her, or him, on the tree.

HE videotapes the proceedings for posterity and I debate whether I will make an issue of icicles. To my mind, “real” Christmas trees simply cry out for icicles. This holiday, however, since I have obviously once again won the battle that surrounds our use of a live tree, I elect to suffer the absence of icicles nobly and in silence.

But it is hard. It is very hard.

Icicles are a Christmas tree basic to me, and I have been known to sneak in under cover of darkness and add them to my family’s handiwork. The cat loves them. The dog loves them. All God’s other creatures love them.

My family hates them. This year, they win.

And so, we come to the place where we can stand back and admire. We make adjustments. We sing bits of Christmas carols -- some reverent, but mostly otherwise. We recall earlier Christmas tree decorating experiences. We discuss the history of various ornaments.

Somebody always laughs, hysterically.

Somebody always cries, briefly.

It’s your basic Norman Rockwell moment, except that he generally avoided crowd scenes.

And HE and I always look at each other and smile. It’s one of those memories I pray will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten essentials like my age and Social Security number.

And that’s the story of our Christmas tree.

Simple.

Quaint.

A basic mirror image of your own holiday happening, perhaps.

Except for one detail.

Two days after we consigned the denuded tree to a curb-side waiting room before its final journey to that big landfill in the sky, I stopped by home on my lunch break. As I stepped out of the car, a pick-up truck approached slowly and gradually stopped next to my vehicle. A smiling young man leaned out the window and gestured toward my now-prone-and-basicallybare holiday vegetation.

“Is that yours?” he asked.

I suppose I must have nodded. I know I grinned foolishly, because that’s what I always do when I have the vague feeling something of great consequence has encountered turbulence, altered course and gone right over my head.

“Do you care if I take it?” he continued.

For the first time I noticed that another bare evergreen already rode in the bed of his pickup. I searched my memory for press releases concerning bizarre rituals involving dead Christmas trees. Nothing came to mind immediately. And he seemed like a decent young man. Like someone you could trust to take your Christmas tree home and be good to it.

“Help yourself,” I said (or something close to that).

So he did.

“I want to put it in my pond,” he volunteered as he lugged it toward his vehicle. “My fish will love it.”

You know, I’ve had happy visions of my tree, salvaged from chipster-hood and submerged in that young man’s pond, providing habitat for his little finned friends.

I picture them gliding serenely in and out of the branches, nibbling occasionally on a toothsome twig, playing hide and seek around the trunk, burbling fishy Christmas carols and offering watered-down assessments of the new pond decor.

It’s such a happy scene, such a pleasing vision. It warms my heart to think that I played some part in improving the living conditions of those little bubble breathers.

I just wish I could have done it up in icicles for them.

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