By the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, young Husband and Wife realized that it was "now or never" to fetch a Christmas tree. So after New Baby's post-lunch nap, they strapped him into the mini van's car seat and headed off to the pick-your-own lot, the place that advertised the farm-fresh, down-home experience of cutting your tree the "traditional" way. Naturally, it was the coldest and windiest day of the year. Not to mention that the snow lay deep from a recent storm. As they turned into the farm's lot, Husband and Wife found themselves facing hills and fields that looked like a World War I battlefield. The snow was dimpled with craters where trees had already been cut. Here and there, a stray trunk poked out of the snow, its ragged bottom limbs clawing skyward in a plaintive plea against the bitter wind.
"It's looking grim," Husband opined, surveying the scene while draped over the steering wheel. "Maybe we'd better try again tomorrow."
"Uh-uh, " replied Wife. "I'm not coming out into this wintry hell again. Besides, it'll be dark by the time work lets out."
Beyond the battlefield, a few lines of trees were visible in the graying and pinking light of the onrushing sunset. Husband considered the twenty-minute hike up to the stand, plowing a path for wife and child in the gloom through thigh-deep snow. He could just imagine their nature magazine boots filling with snow, roots grabbing for shins, hidden rocks ready to hurl them onto their faces. He then remembered his gloves and hat lying atop New Baby's changing table back at home. His warm, comfortable home.
"Honey, this isn't going to work out," he said, hopelessly.
"Well, it's either this or Paymart."
He recall the furious arguments about buying an artificial tree at Paymart -- she for and he against. Ever the idealist, Husband was opposed to the mega store's global politics. But he harbored an even deeper aversion to having the same kind of "fake" tree that Mom and Dad had for their fake Christmases -- complete with their very real perennial holiday cat fights. A real tree was a subconscious assertion that his family life would be different from theirs. But now, Husband was as stuck as a tree stick frozen into pond ice. He couldn't move forward to the trees he could see, and he couldn't face the prospect of a Paymart tree in his living room.
With stinging ears, burning cheeks and a sinking feeling in his stomach, he scanned the area for alternatives. And there it stood. Back by the cashier, the hot cocoa stand and the tree shaking machine, he saw it, perfectly silhouetted against the deepening twilight, like the inspiration for a Christmas card.
Wife, with snow-suited New Baby strapped onto her belly like a five-pointed starfish, gave him a quizzical sidelong glance, then trudged off after him as he headed across the lot to the tree.
The tree was about five feet tall, and had been inserted into a metal tube too big for it. It flopped to the side and shivered in the brisk wind. Husband grabbed the tree and held it upright. He twisted it back and forth, apprising it like a trophy polo pony or newly-landed game fish.
"It's kind of brown, don't you think?"
"Just a few dead needles," he replied.
"The trunk is all twisted."
"It's straight at the top," he said, squinting at the tree's crown.
"This side is completely bare."
"We'll put that side against the wall."
"Are these scorch marks?"
Husband continued to apprise the tree. Then, lifting it from the stand, he stamped it once on the frozen ground. A shower of dead needles fell.
He held it awkwardly in front of him and headed toward the cashier. Wife, whether from an aversion to public squabbling are an intuitive sense of what the moment called for, followed.
"Give me the keys," she said. "I'm going to warm the van."
A few minutes later, after talking the owner down from his $50 asking price (the tree was brown, half-bare and twisted, after all. And where those scorch marks?) Husband toddled off with the tree in an awkward hug, his face poked by the stiff needles. Fumbling with cold-stiffened, needle-pocked fingers, he tied the tree sloppily to the car roof with knots no more sophisticated than those used to tie his boots. He tested for fastness by tugging the tree from side to side. It moved freely, flopping like a newly-caught trout on the ice, loosening the already-loose cords.
He eased himself into the van and felt the merciful hot air on his numbed ears and frost-stung fingers. New Baby was asleep. A mix of light holiday music was playing on the radio. His wife passed over a warm cup of cocoa.
"Are you sure it's going to stay up there? We have some highway driving to do," she asked.
"Absolutely," replied Husband. "We'll use the slow lane."
And off they went, making it home in one piece, with the tree hardly dragging along the road at all by the time they got there. Whatever dead needles hadn't blown off on the highway were knocked off in the kitchen and dining room when the tree was dragged through the house. The bare side fit perfectly against the wall where the couch once sat. Strung with lights, decorated with cheap balls (Paymart happened to be on the ride home), and topped with a lighted star, the tree didn't look half bad. And when the family came down on Christmas morning -- what with the smells of coffee and baby formula, and the sounds of cooing and ripping paper -- that dressed-up gnarled wreck of a tree looked down on what for all the world looked like a traditional Christmas.
Based on a true stories.