It’s funny how looking back on Christmas’ past, it’s not the moments you think you would remember that make the most impact. Having a Christmas tree has always been one of my favorite traditions. I loved the lights. As a girl I spent hours curled up on the couch under a blanket enjoying the twinkling of the colored glow. In our house the tree was always decorated with our best personal love. My mother had a rule that only homemade decorations could go on our trees. I have years of memories of making ornaments, stringing popcorn, and decorating our yearly evergreen visitor. But the one I remember most, was not for the time spent by its side, it was for the short few moments of its astonishing exit.
My mother, brother and I lived on the first floor of an apartment complex at the time. Our family tradition then was to go to a local farm every year, pick our tree straight out of the wild, chop it down and then bring it home. My mother remembers that year as the one she finally got the height just perfect, but the width completely wrong.
“It’s hard to judge the size of a tree when it’s surrounded by even bigger trees growing in the wild,” she told me years later. “I was so proud of myself that year for finally figuring out the perhaps now obvious notion that I could choose the tree based on my own height,” she said. And that is what we did. For once, we got a tree that she didn’t have to saw the top off of to fit into our home. Unfortunately, though it wouldn’t knick the ceiling, it also wouldn’t fit through the front door.
The “little fatty tree,” as we have now come to call it, was short for an evergreen, just six feet, but huge around the middle.
“When I stretched my arms out,” my mom said, “they didn’t even go half way around the tree. That tree must have been over 10 feet a round.”
Nonetheless, she was determined to get it into the house. After all, we had just spent the whole evening picking it out. What were we going to do, return it? My mother came up with an alternative plan: Pass the tree through the living room windows, and lower it down to the floor.
I was about 6 years old at the time. I didn’t have enough Christmas’ under my belt to know that for most people, getting their tree into the living room didn’t involve opening windows, taking screens off in the cold December air, and shoving the tree through the opening. I guess at the time I thought it was all normal. It seemed logical to me—I mean the windows were closer to the car than the front door. We didn’t have to walk the tree in through the apartment building down the steps and through the hallway to our front door. We simply, or should I say, my mother and my uncle, simply dragged the tree from the car to the windows and jammed it through.
The tree was lovely. My mother bought five extra sets of lights just to outfit the circumference. It took up a huge portion of our living room. But it wasn’t the illumination that made it so memorable, nor was it the sparkling tinfoil ornament I made that year in school, and hung from its long branches. What I remember most about that tree was the fateful day it finally left.
First of all the tree stayed up until February, which was way past its welcome if you had asked me. Even at that age, I knew this wasn’t normal. I was tired of looking at the tree. After two months of gazing at it, all the Christmas magic and luster had gone. I wanted to move on to making Valentines and yet every time I returned home from school we had this huge holiday relic taking up half of our living room. Gone were the presents, even the packaging had been disposed of; the candy canes had long been eaten, and still the tree remained. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was staying up so long because my mom was trying to figure out how she was going to get it out of the house. She couldn’t lift it and shove it through the windows on her own, and going through the front door was clearly not optimal—but it seemed the only alternative.
So wrapping it in old bed sheets she yanked that thing through the front door and down the hall one Saturday in February. I was standing by the door watching the whole affair when I noticed the trail. In its wake the tree was leaving a veritable carpet of green needles. It was like a treasure map leading directly to our apartment.
“Mom! Stop! It’s trailing needles over the whole hallway!” I shouted to her.
“I know,” she grunted back in an unhappy but knowing tone.
It got worse the farther she went. What had been just a trickle through our living room was now turning into a flood as she moved forward. Loosened from their forceful exit through the three-foot wide door, craving release from their too long stance in our Christmas tree stand, it seemed like every needle on “little fatty” had come loose. The sheets intended to keep the needles in offered no help. They just held the needles for a moment before pouring them out the back end to the floor. I remember my jaw actually dropped as I watched her pull that thing up the stairs and heard the hard rain of needles falling through the stair slats to the rug below.
I stood there by our apartment door mortified. I envisioned every person who entered into the apartment building saying, “Who made this mess?” and then following it directly to our door. It was like a plush green carpet leading straight to us, probably the only family in the whole place who had kept their Christmas tree up long past the Yule tide glow.
I’m not exactly sure why the departure of this tree made such an impact on me. You would have thought that it would have been my mother (who actually cleaned up the mess) and not me that would have been stricken by the event. But today, I have the utmost appreciation for that tree in particular. I find it funny that this is the one I remember most. But what I like best about that tree is how it just keeps on giving. Even all of these later my mother and I can’t stop laughing when we talk about that tree. We reminisce about shoving that tree through the windows with a giggle. By the time we get to the part of the story where I’m standing by the door and she’s lugging the thing through the hallway, both of us are breathless with mirth. When she mentions that the tree actually wore holes in the sheets, I practically cry tears of hilarity.
Sometimes, she’ll conclude with a sigh, “It was a beautiful tree though.” But the truth is, it’s not always the most beautiful moments you remember most, or the most sweet and cozy experiences you’ve made. But in my eyes, if it still makes you laugh thirty years later that was a tree worth having, and definitely one fat success.