I can't put it off any longer.
I've seen articles in the paper about how to select the perfect Christmas tree. How to keep it looking fresh. Outside-of-the-box ideas on how to decorate it. Fresh cut vs. artificial.
Gifts are piling up in the spare bedroom. And, the guy who used to live there keeps asking, "Pop, we don't have a Christmas tree yet?"
I'll get one this weekend. I promised on Monday. That night, I was visited by the ghosts of Christmas trees past.
When the boys were little, we went out to their grandparents' farm the first week in December to cut down one of the pines Grandpa had planted as little sticks years earlier. We visited the trees in the summer to see how they were doing and decide which one would be just right for that Christmas.
Those were the best trees. They weren't as tall as some, and had fewer branches for ornaments, but their great smell made up for it. For weeks, they filled the house with the aroma of fresh pine.
The boys took turns kneeling down with me in the snow and holding onto the tree saw as I pushed and pulled it through the trunk.
When we had cut most of the way through, we heard a CRACK! We scrambled to our feet and yelled: "Timber!" There were mittened high-fives (high-twos?) all around. We dragged our tree to the car, stuck the trunk in the trunk, with the top sticking out. We tied down the trunk lid and Grandpa tied a red rag tot the top of the tree, so nobody on Troy-Scott Road would run into the back of us.
The triumphant lumberjacks headed inside where Grandma had hot chocolate with those little marshmallows and freshly baked Christmas cookies waiting for us.
At our house, the tree looked fantastic with ornaments, lights, presents all around and an angel on top. When the boys' friends came over, they took them to see the tree first thing.
"We cut it down ourselves," they bragged, "Grandpa grew it."
In later years, we headed to the local tree lot. One December when the place was buzzing, I pulled a blue spruce out of a long row of trees when a Mom and her three kids started oohing and ahhing.
"That one's perfect," said a little girl, pointing right at me through the branches. She had mittens clipped to her coat sleeves, but her hands weren't in them. Mom said, "I don't know ... can you shake it a little?"
I did. Only a few needles fell off.
"That's good," she said. "But there's a bare spot on that side."
"Just turn that side to the wall," I said.
"I'll take it," she said. "Can you take it up to the counter?"
She thanked me and handed me a dollar tip.
"I don't work here. I'm just a dad," I said, handing it back as she blushed Santa-suit red. "Merry Christmas."
I picked out a nice one for our house, too.
We always got a nice tree, but we stayed out of the Forest of High Prices.
One year I told them they could have any tree on the lot. Before I could get out of the car, they were scampering up and down the aisles. They started in the $36.95 varieties, shaking them just like I did. They worked their way past the $60 Amazons to the $80-and-up needle-perfect trees with the blue tint.
"Dad! Over here. We found it," they called.
When I got there, they had it pulled out in the aisle, one smiling boy on each side. It was a nice tree, about as tall as me. It had a bald spot on one side. (The tree, not me.) "Doesn't matter, Dad. It'll be against the wall."
I had taught them well.
The trunk took a little jog to the left, but, with a few ornaments strategically placed, no one would be able to tell.
It cost $19.95. Take that, Charlie Brown.
One year, when the boys were away at school, I waited till the weekend before Christmas. I feared they might not have any decent trees left.
Wrong. There were still rows of trees.
"It's your lucky day," the guy in a Santa hat working the lot told me. He had just marked all the trees down 50 percent. He showed me a few 6-footers and shook them for me. I picked out the best one. The tag said $59.99. I got it for $30.
"It has a little bald spot here," he said as he sawed off an inch and pulled it through the netting gizmo. Carrying it to the car, he advised: "When you water it, use warm water, so you don't shock it."
"Look," I said, "This tree will probably see me running around in my underwear on Christmas morning putting presents under it. I don't think a little cold water will shock it."
When I got the tree home, I turned on KEZK-FM because somebody told me they were playing Christmas music non-stop. Cool. There was a great one on and I was singing along as I strung the lights. I was really in the mood when the deejay said in his deep radio voice, "... and that was 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' by the Barenaked Ladies."
The tree and I were shocked.