every year when i take down our artificial christmas tree from the attic, i always remember that very first year in colorado.  that first year when i thought it would be cool to have a real tree.  we had real trees before, but we usually bought them from the temporary tree lots in town.  the trees were usually cut down long before christmas and rested on the pavement against a chain link fence with scribbled price tag tied to its tip.  i really disliked that ritual because it somehow seemed very commercial and less romantic. i naively thought that it would some how be more real christmas-like to have one that we cut down ourselves.

i talked the wife into my utopian vision of a perfect christmas, and before long we had researched and found a place that was a little over an hour away.  at the time we only had two kids, an 18 month old and a 4 and a half year old, so we dressed them warmly and packed them into my 1983 toyota tecel.  the weather was kind of rainy, but as we got closer to the place it quickly turned to light snow.  i remember thinking how perfect the conditions were for tree hunting.  we stopped at the check in station and pre-paid for our tree and borrowed a saw, since i didn’t have my own.

the area was a little disappointing, because for most of the year it was used for harvesting lumber.  we could see lots of clear cut patches as we drove up the winding gravel road.  we pulled over in one of the bigger pullouts on the side of the road and everyone got out of the car.  we were all pretty excited, or maybe it was just me.  after all… i had a saw in my hand and it was snowing and we were going to find the perfect tree.  we had the 18 month old in the backpack which my wife carried; we were going to switch off, but somehow i never took a turn… i guess because i was carrying the saw.

i was running around with the five year old jumping over logs and bush whacking our way to trees that seem ideal from a distance.  this went on for a while but soon my wife got tired and the excitement slowly wore away.  we were all pretty cold and went back to the car, disappointed and freezing, trying to figure out our next move.  as we sat there in the car warming our hands with the little heater vents, we saw one of the workers doing something near by.  at this point i was thinking refund.  how can i get my money back, there are no suitable trees here.  i went over to talk to the guy and told him that we couldn’t find anything.  without thinking he said to go up the road about another mile and there were a bunch of trees there.

i went back in the car and relayed the information to my wife.  we drove up to the spot he was talking about, and i started to get out of the car.  i decided that the wife and kids should stay in the car where it was warm;  i would scout around and call them for approval if i found anything good.  up here the snow on the ground was much thicker.  i had a much more difficult time moving about.  after too long i had found what seemed to be the perfect tree.  i walked around it several times making sure it was without defects.
after almost 2 hours of looking around and hiking up and down steep hills in very cold and now windy conditions, this tree was looking really good.  i ran back to the car full of jubilant excitement and told the family that i found the perfect tree.  my wife looked somewhat disbelieving because i had said this a couple times earlier.  this time i grabbed the 18 month old and my wife and the 5 yo followed behind cautiously.

i crossed the road and stood just at the edge on the snow covered shoulder.  i looked back for my lagging family and yelled out “this way!”  i stepped through the snow and started heading into the woods where my perfect tree was waiting for us.  after about three steps into the snow i realized that it was not a shoulder, but in fact a ditch that lined this road.  a very deep ditch. as i took that one endless step into the ditch i realized i was going to fall.  i had my 18 month old in one arm and would have crush him… if my reflexes didn’t take over.  as i sank down into the ditch my arms went up. and as my arms went up my child was ejected out of my arms and flew some five feet away into a pillow of soft snow.  at least i think it was soft.  no matter he cried like crazy.  my wife who was cautiously standing back the whole time could not restrain herself from laughing after seeing that the baby was ok.  it must have looked crazy funny from where she was.

after some confusion i finally found my tree again.  i showed her the tree and like any good used car salesman, i had her loving the tree as well.  i picked a good place to start sawing and began.  the saw blade kept getting bound up and i had to have my wife push one direction as i cut away.  the tree finally fell and it was so heavy that it broke a few of its branches on the way down.  i guess these “real” trees are a little heavier than the “parking lot” trees.  i drug this thing back to my little car and proceeded to put it on top.  i stood back and looked at my setup, and it kind of looked like a tree with a car underneath it. you know, like the tree had fallen and crushed my car.  i’m sure it was just an optical illusion.  i tied it up and drove off.

as i was driving back, and the family was asleep. i started to do a little math. i could see about 4 feet of tree sticking out the back of my car. i could see the tip of the tree passing the nose of my car.  this tree was over 20 feet tall!  we have vaulted ceilings in our house but i doubt they are 20 feet tall.

it did not fit in our house. not even close.  i had to cut almost 4 feet off the bottom, and it was still just barely fit.  this thing was almost six feet in diameter, the base of the tree was about 8 inches thick and the bottom row of branches spread almost 6 feet in diameter.  i had to build a custom tree stand for this monster, and we had to buy extra decorations since we had never had anything this huge before.  this tree was full of bark and it had pretty good sized pine cones all over it, and it dripped tree sap the entire time it stayed in our living room.  on christmas day our presents were covered in sticky gooey tree sap.

i don’t remember anything that anyone got that year.  i hardly remember christmas day for that matter.  but some how, the year we had the giant tree, was the most memorable christmas ever.

note: this was not taken from national lampoon’s christmas vacation…admittedly it is very similar, but it is my own story.

3 comments on: christmas story

  1. runnergrl

    the images are so vivid and funny. what i found touching about this story is how you and your wife both took the perfect vision of a christmas tree hunt to hear.in spite of not being a perfect journey, or having the perfect tree, the quest gave you a deeper shared family experience, which is now a shared memory. so much better than a shallow, perfect transaction that would have left no imprint. thank you for sharing.

  2. bsaunder

    I think most have been in that situation or near at least once in our lives. In college, the first time I went to cut a tree without my parents, my friends and I got a tree that was almost 10′ taller than we needed, ended up cutting it in half and having two “trees”…
    My family still gets a real tree that we cut down and we really do like the tradition of it. One thing that makes it more enjoyable for us is getting the tree from the forest service where they are thinning trees to prevent over growth etc. It usually means that the tree will have 1/4 to 1/2 of it not “perfect” as they are always cut from a bunch, but it goes into a corner in our house anyways, so a flat area is actually a bit preferable. Once we are done with the tree for Christmas, we get it chipped and use it as mulch in our garden; which is usually very needed.

  3. Henery Schaffer

    Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

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