When it comes to Christmas trees, my husband and I are inexplicably irrational. Friends shake their heads, our children sigh, but we can’t help ourselves. For us, the annual trek to the tree lot is a crapshoot: We back the car out of the garage happily married, never quite knowing what will come next. All we know is that given our history, it probably won’t be good.
Perversely, we persevere anyway.
This year, the gods of good fortune seemed to be on our side. The day we went to the Boy Scout tree lot was warm. No frozen plumes of pine this year. The Scouts pulled trees away from the fence, banged the bottom of the trunks against the pavement, and the branches spread nicely. There’d be no surprises of a gap here or broken branch there after we got the tree home and warmed up: a good sign. Or so I thought.
We paid for the tree and bought a wreath for the front door, too. The tree got a fresh cut with a chainsaw — sort of thin — and a man helped us get the tree tied to the top of our vehicle. What I interpreted as more good signs were that the tree stayed on top of the vehicle for the drive back home, our old tree stand was in the first place I looked and wasn’t particularly yucky, and the tree went into the stand with such ease it appeared to have been planted in it. As my friend’s father used to say, we were “cooking with gas.”
Actually, we’d already had indications this year might turn out to be that elusive, banner Christmas-tree year. My husband had ordered a new sno-flocking kit at the last minute and it had arrived in record time. (More about our flocking obsession in a minute.) Best of all, the flocking product appeared to be new.
Many years at this point in the process we’d need a cup of coffee to calm down, because marital tension was rising over a problem with the tree or the stand or both and our fingers felt like popsicles in a glove. Not this year. Without missing a beat, we moved right on to flocking.
For those who did not grow up in its hey-day of the 1950s and 60s, flocking is done with a vacuum cleaner reversed to act as a blower. A plastic canister of water and a bag of white “sno” that attaches complete the ensemble. It’s done outside. (We do it in our driveway; real snow may melt, but we have white residue on our cement all winter long.) To do the flocking, water is blown on the tree, followed by a mixture of water and flock. We like light flocking, and the result can be pretty. However, the apparatus is prone to plugging up, causing such happy moments as the bag bursting all over the flocker (my husband) instead of the flockee (the tree). Our jackets always need washing when we’re through. Some years the whole mess freezes as we work, which causes a ring of goo on the floor when the needles thaw inside the house.
This year, though, nothing went wrong. And relaxed as we were, with lots of energy and good will, we didn’t wait a day to decorate. Up went strings of lights, dozens and dozens of ornaments, garland, and bows. Then we cozied up on the couch, toasting our success, a happy couple just loving our Christmas tree.
And then … (with us, there’s always an “and then”) the tree didn’t take water — not the first day, not the second day. On the third day, we had to face it. The tree needed a fresh cut or it wouldn’t last. We removed the most fragile ornaments, wet-vacced the water out of the stand, manhandled the decorated tree out the door and onto its side, sawed several inches off the trunk, lifted it up, shoved it through the door, and finally back into the stand.
And what did we have? A floor that looked like we’d just filmed “White Christmas” and a tree that appeared decorated by somebody on a three-day drunk.
And the marriage? Shaky. But we’re hopeful.
A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
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