The Most Beautiful Tree

When I think of Christmas trees, I don’t think of the traditional majestic cone of tinsel, ornaments and bright bubbling lights that adorn the living rooms in those Christmas cards and holiday movies. Less picturesque holiday tree memories come to mind. Memories of what mom would call the war zone. Every year dad fought WW Christmas Tree in our in our living room. The whole family would be prisoners of this undeclared war for the next next eleven months; trying to repair the collateral damage.

The tree had to meet dad’s vision of the perfect tree. It had to be tall, a least nine feet high. Of course our living room ceiling was only eight feet from the floor but dad had that figured in his calculations. The tree had to be wide and full. The needles had to be short because it made hanging the ornaments easier. Finally, the tree should be fresh to the point that the sap was running out of the trunk. Dad would only make an exception if the lot was close to the house, the lot was next to a bar or he waited too long and had to take whatever tree was still available. He was prone to exceptions.

The holiday season would start officially when dad went to pick out the tree. Normally that would require a trip to the gas station across the street. A couple of important things to remember when selecting a tree: never pick a tree in daylight; you may see its flaws. Arrive late, take what was left and complain about the lousy trees on the lot. Again, this was part of the calculations. Nobody wants a ten foot tree in a neighborhood of rowhomes, except dad.

Like an unwilling prisoner, the unfortunate tree would be dragged across the street, down the sidewalk and up the concrete steps leading to our house. At the front door, dad would suddenly remember that a tree with a six foot wing span rarely fits through thirty-two inches of door. That miscalculation would become more evident as the tree became wedged in the doorway. When an immovable object meets a drunken Bohemian something has to break. The sound of snapping branches; my father cussing the tree and my mother cussing my father announced the birth of our savior. Dad had won the battle but the war was just beginning.

I can still see the blood from my father’s knuckles staining what was left of the white door jamb. The worn Persian carpet was now a mine field covered with sticky sap, sharp pine needles and broken branches. The furniture was pushed to side of the room; the lamp was overturned and broken. Even the dog took cover under the bed and refused to come out until Armistice Day. The only thing missing was the smell of napalm in the morning.

Dad continued to drink and calculate. Mom continued to fume. My father was never one to quit. With his broken wooden folding ruler and his trusty rusty hand saw he went about the business of cutting that tree down to the proper size. It took about an hour for my dad to cut off six inches for the stand and four inches for the platform with that rusty old saw. The base of that tree was still too wide to fit into the stand which was meant for a much smaller trunk. Huffing and puffing he grabbed his trusty hatchet and hacked away the excess tree. Proud as a peacock of his ability to adapt and overcome, dad righted the tree. It was a tight fit that scraped most of the paint from the ceiling on its way to being vertical. It was the precise fit that my dad wanted.

My mom had to be the one to notice where dad had failed. Excuse me General Patton but we have a problem. “How are you going to set the angel on the top?

At that point dad started dropping the F-bombs. The heat and the fallout from his anger made the living room uninhabitable for months after Christmas. He told my mother where she could put that promiscuous heavenly messenger and it wasn’t on the tree. My mom, being a good Irish Catholic, was not going to take any crap; returned the fire. I think everyone’s guardian angel had to leave the room after their exchange.

Never go to bed or trim a tree when angry. Red faced and still seething, my dad went about fixing the problem. Grabbing and squeezing the tree about two feet from the top with his left hand, he proceeded to saw eighteen inches off the top of that pine with the right. He cut off eight inches for the angel and another ten inches for spite. With all the trimming and broken branches, the tree looked like a big green box sitting on a stand.

To the conqueror, belong the spoils. To drive his message home, dad picked up the angel and tried to place it at the top of the stump. The stump was now too wide for the angel to rest. My last memory of that tree was dad using electrical tape to strap that angel to the top of the tree while muttering, “Damn witch” over and over again.

Mom took her victory in stride, “Next year were getting one of those aluminum trees. I don’t care if everyone gets electrocuted, it’s better than watching you butcher some innocent tree every Christmas.” The next year indeed was different. When mom saw my father dragging the tree down the street she would yell, “Put the dog away, get the bandages from the medicine cabinet, hide the saw and get me my broom. I’ll probably need it.”

The time passed too quickly. Thirty years went by in the blink of an eye. It was my turn to bring the tree. It was a two foot, pre-potted, decorated spruce. I purchased it to sit on dad’s bedside table as he lay dying of lung cancer. His only wish was not to “crap out” before or on Christmas day. He did not want his death to ruin the holiday. As I entered the room he gave me a smile to let me know it was alright. He was ready. We talked about my job and the grandchildren and I left. Two days later, dad died. Mom followed ten months later of the same disease.

A couple of days after we buried dad, I planted his tree. Another 30 years have gone by and that tree is almost forty feet tall, full and perfectly symmetrical. Every time I walk by that tree I think, “Dad, you really got this trimming thing down pat”. Then I hear my mom whisper, “Yea, but it took that crazy bo-hunk sixty years to get it right”.

This year trim your tree with ornaments of love. Light it up with hope. Support your tree in a base made of faith. Gingerly toss on the tinsel of charity and wrap the tree in a garland of forgiveness.