I am fortunate to have very high ceilings in my apartment. That means we need a big Christmas tree, which would be fine if we lived in the country, but we live in New York City, and a ten-foot tree costs upwards of $200. A little absurd for what is essentially a glorified and very temporary houseplant. I have a sister that lives in Connecticut who tole me about this thing they have there called a "Tree Farm." It turns out that you can go to this farm, and not only chop down your very own tree, but take a little hayride and have some hot chocolate to boot! All for just $40! So, sometime last August, when cold weather was but a fond and distant memory, I told my children that this year we would chop down our tree. Like pinoeers!
Usually in a family there is one designated "tool person," the go-to guy for fixing broken toys, assembling the IKEA furniture, etc. In my home that is me. Stupidly, early on in our relationship, I must have picked up a screwdriver or adjustable wrench, and sealed my fate without even realizing it. I paved the way for my husband to look at me blankly when something requires assembly, giving him a free pass, as though he were incapable of following the illustrated directions that came inside the box with the pieces of the new lamp. It's my job.
Years ago my grandmother gave me some advice that she herself was given by her mother-in-law. My grandmother had gone over to her in-law's house and found her mother-in-law up on a ladder, cleaning out the gutters while her husband stood on the ground, telling her she was doing it wrong. My great-grandmother reportedly climbed down and said, "Never let them know how much you can do, or you will be doing it all your life." Of course, this wisdome didn't come back to me until it was too late.
My husband was all for the tree farm, at first. After all, he wouldn't be the one hacking the thing down. I did a Google search and found a farm in Easton, Connecticut, and this past Saturday, the coldest day of the year, we drove up there. It turns out that Easton is pretty much a Christmas tree choppers Mecca. Every car getting on the Merritt Parkway at Exit 46 had a tree tied to the roof, and some had two. If anyone knows what the second tree is used for, I would love to know. Backup tree in case one flies off the roof on the way home was my assumption.
I found the place easily enough, and pulled into the ice-covered driveway, skidding to a stop next to a family that clearly finds employment as models for the L.L. Bean catalog, happily tying up their tree, snow crusting the father's beard, and lightly dusting mother's. I asked, "Is there someone that helps you chop the tree?"
They had a good laugh at that. From what I could gather, we were meant to hike up this mountain, hack down the tree with a saw we were to have provided ourselves, and haul the thing back to our car. My daughter, in her sparkly pink Converse, and my son, already complaining loudly, "I'm in danger of getting hypothermia, people!" weren't going to make it. We got back in the car and drove up the road to another farm.
This one was nicer, with little warming huts and a hayride and some big oxen lowing behind a fence. They also had hot dogs and cocoa. Families in brightly colored parkas roamed the rolling hills in search of a beautiful Douglas fir or Blue Spruce. Perfection. Except that for some reason my husband hadn't brought thought to bring a hat and the sun was starting to go down and my son was again complaining of hypothermia, so the mission was declared "a nightmare."
I didn't want this whole exhausting journey to be a waste. I just wanted to get a stupid tree, strap it on the roof and go home. So I told my husband to wait with my son in the warming hut, grabbed my daughter and jumped on the hayride up the hill, thinking I would find a tree, chop it down and be done with the whole dirty business in less than twenty minutes. I would save Christmas! Except that on this whole entire farm there was not one tree over eight feet. And an eight-foot tree in my house might as well be in a pot on the end table. We got back in the car with lots of talk about how we should have just paid the stinking $200 and gotten the tree on 24th Street. They deliver!
My daughter on the freezing cold hayride.
The next farm had not only the hot chocolate and hayrides and oxen but also pre-cut trees. Hallelujah. They even had one that was exactly ten feet. We told the guys to tie it up and got the kids some hot chocolate. Then we spent about an hour trying to figure out how to tie the thing securely to the roof, a task everyone else seemed to accomplish with no more difficulty than tying their Timberlands. I had visions of the driver behind us on the Merritt Parkway being impaled on our White Pine, or a great gust of wind plucking us off the Henry Hudson Bridge and dumping us in the river. My hands were raw from using excessive twine.
The tree, tied to the roof. The boy, recovering in the car.
We made it home and even fit the tree in our building's old and crappy elevator. Fitting it in the old and crappy tree stand was another matter. After much cursing, and sending the children to go play computer games to shield them from all the cursing, and further discussion of how we should have just had the thing delivered by the guy on 24th Street who would also set it up for us, I ran down to see that guy on 24th Street. I explained that at that very moment, my husband was standing in my living room, holding a tree that was in serious danger of bursting into flames being in such close proximity to the steam coming from his ears. He sold me a bigger stand, and everything seemed okay. We called the children, got out the ornaments and put on some Christmas music. But the thing about a White Pine is it's sharp. Really sharp. It's needles may as well be hypodermic. My son, now fully recovered from his hypothermia, declared that he was going to have to ask Santa for some Band-Aids. Merry Christmas.
The effing tree.