Oh, Christmas Tree

By Jeffery Cohen

While we cleared the table of the Thanksgiving Day dishes, scores of small empty lots around town were being transformed into tiny makeshift pine forests. Strings of white bulbs stretched overhead mapping out their perimeters as lumber-jacketed men unloaded bundles of freshly cut Canadian and Frazier firs from trucks, then untied and lined them up in orderly rows.

As we watched these evergreens rise from what seemed like every street corner, my brothers and I began to feel Christmas drawing near. For days we followed my father around the house repeating the same question. “When are we going to pick out a tree?”

My Dad’s answer was always the same. “What’s the hurry? We haven’t even finished all of the turkey from Thanksgiving.” And though we begged and pleaded every hour on the hour, he would not be moved. “Don’t worry. We’ll get to it,” he promised.

That’s when we decided to recruit my mother, who always proved to be our best ally.

“You know, we shouldn’t wait until the last minute when all of the best trees are already taken,” she said.

“Don’t worry. There are plenty of trees for everyone,” my Dad nodded, his head cocked to one side, listening to the football game on the radio.

Mom tried again the next day. “Maybe we should go look for a tree while the weather’s nice, and it’s still warm out.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll get to it,” my father mumbled from behind his newspaper.

It was obviously time for my mother to resort to drastic measures. Paging through a mail order catalog, Mom casually mentioned that there were a number of lovely artificial trees for sale. “Just look how beautiful they are. They come in pink and blue and even silver.” Smiling, she flashed a peek in my father’s direction. “They say they’re so easy to assemble. No mess, no needles to vacuum up.” Before she could get another word out, my father was slipping his coat on.

“Who’s ready to go get the tree?” he said, shaking his head as he snatched up his car keys.

“But what about one of these artificial trees?” my mother asked innocently. “No mess, no trouble, no needles.”

“No smell, no life, no spirit of Christmas,” was his answer as he started up the old Ford.

As my brothers and I sang fractured holiday carols in the back seat of the old family jalopy, my folks had the same discussion they had every year.

“You know, I was thinking,” my mother began. “Maybe this year we could get a nice, small tree. Something with a good shape; one that I could put my angel on top of.” My mother had been saving a delicate angel ornament since before I was born. It had never even been taken out of the box.

“A small tree?” my father said. “Didn’t we have a small tree last year?”

“No.” My mother shook her head. “Remember I wanted a small tree? Instead, we wound up with that monster that took up half of the living room.”

My father grinned with pride. “Was that last year?” He shrugged as he pulled the car into the lot. “Alright, alright. We’ll see what they have.”

Dad loved big trees – the bigger the better. Half the time the trees he chose were so tall we had to cut off the top quarter just to stand the thing up inside the house. One year my dad insisted the giant he picked would certainly fit. He angled and bent and pushed the thing until the tree was finally upright…and punched a hole right through the ceiling!

“What about this one?” my mother smiled as she straightened up a five footer.

My dad squinted. “That’s no tree. That’s a bush.” Then he turned around and stared up at a ten foot tall colossus. “Now that’s a tree,” he said with satisfaction. “What do you think guys?” We cheered, our mittens slapping together, knowing the bigger the tree the more goodies it would carry. “What do you think, Hon?” my father asked my mother. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders knowing it would be another angel-less Christmas. My father tied the blue spruce on top of the car, and we headed off.

At home, we wound up chopping the usual two feet from the top of the tree, and then we just barely squeezed it through the front door. Dad fit it into its stand and wove strings of colored lights in, out and around the branches, careful to hide every inch of their wire. Mom lovingly opened boxes of ornaments that we’d collected over the years, slipped hooks on them and passed them to us for hanging. There were shiny balls, handmade stars we’d fashioned from yarn and popsicle sticks in elementary school, elegant blown glass and hand-painted globes that my folks bought the first year they were married. When all of the boxes were finally emptied, my brothers and I were set free to fill every available gap with red and white striped candy canes or cellophane-wrapped popcorn balls. We finished by hanging lead tinsel, strand by strand, then stood back to admire our work. I can still remember the way the lights bathed the room with holiday color as the silver tinsel shimmered.

Though more years have passed than I care to count, our Christmas tree tradition remains intact.

Last December my wife turned to me and said,”You know, we shouldn’t wait until last minute when all of the best trees are already taken.”

“Don’t worry. There are plenty of trees for everyone,” I nodded, without turning from the football game I was watching on TV.

“Maybe we should go look for a tree while the weather is nice and it’s still warm out,” she continued the next day.

Scanning the top news stories on my laptop, I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get to it.”Then as she stared at the screen of our computer, she casually mentioned that there were a number of lovely artificial trees for sale on eBay. “Just look how beautiful they are. They look so real these days.” She snuck a peek in my direction. “They say they’re so easy to assemble. No mess, no needles to vacuum up. They even have aerosol cans of pine scent that you can spray around the room and…”

Before she could get another word out, I started slipping on my coat. “Okay, who’s ready to go get the tree?”

On the drive over to the lot, my wife turned to me. “You know, I was thinking,” she began. “Maybe this year we could get a nice, small tree; something with a good shape; one that I could put your mother’s angel on top of.”

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen Freelance writer and newspaper humor columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Womens’ Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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2 Responses to “Oh, Christmas Tree”

  1. Rose Ann says:

    Oh, the waiting for the tree . . . that anticipation strung out until you wanted to jump out of your skin Your essay brought back so many wonderful memories.

  2. Erika Hoffman says:

    I laughed when I read this. It resonated. The difference between men and women even extends to picking out Tannenbaums. This anecdote should be in that book Men are from Mars: Women are from Venus. Every year, my husband wants to buy some evergreen that resembles a redwood, and I ask for a small replica of a tree. Every year, we purchase one just before it drops all its needles onto our carpet. We got the timing down. Thanks for your tale with the universal truth!

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