Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Tree Too Far

Perhaps we should not have given it a name.

Some shamans say that when you name something, you give it power.


The name we chose was "Sasquatch" and, given the height of the damn thing, it seemed appropriate at the time.



Somewhat threatening -- (although the words "Canadian" and "threatening" are not often uttered in the same sentence I'll admit) -- it all seemed to fit the other name for Big Foot.

I think perhaps, given the result, we instead should have called it "Tree That Shall Not be Named."

And to be honest, our Christmas tree did not come from Canada.

It was a native of East Coventry and had to come only a short distance to stand tall in our Pottstown living room.

The best thing you can say about Sasquatch is, he was free.

Our good friends in had decided it was time to clear a space in their garden and, good recyclers that they are, they asked us if we wanted a tree they had just cut down. Talk about fresh!

Given that trees can run into the $60 range, this seemed like a wonderful idea, and a wonderful gift and we want them to know we do not blame them in any way.


(Although, given that when we are playing cards, Matthew often gives me a hard look and reminds me he is of Sicilian descent, I must confess a seed of doubt remains in the back of mind. Could this all be part of some nefarious scheme and he is now chortling in his office saying "I made them an offer they couldn't refuse ... a free tree...)

Anyway, the other good thing about Sasquatch was that he is big.

I mentioned that this tree is big right?
Really big. (Have I mentioned he is big?)

When you have a Victorian-era home with nine-foot ceilings and enough ornaments to open your own ornament store, you dream of erecting a magnificent conifer there; towering over the festivities; festooned with ornaments so tasteful that Martha Stewart swoons in deliciously obvious envy, accented by red and gold ribbon that seems a continuation of the robe worn by the angel on top, and glittering with your Victorian-style re-usable tinsel.

And so this was the year that dream was to come true; so true I had to cut two to three feet off his trunk just to make sure Sasquatch would not hit his head on the ceiling.

But, as with any relationship on which too many expectations have been piled, there were problems.

In addition to his impressive size, Sasquatch is also impressive in the pokiness of his needles and, as a result, the wife and son found other things to keep them busy while dad OUCH!-ed his way through the trimming.

Karen demurred all but the most desperate calls for assistance, calling him "the tree that bites back."

None of this kept them from offering helpful advice of course: "You missed a spot dad," or "Isn't that kind of crooked dear?"

The other problem was on our end.

See how easy it looks? Bunk!
Several years ago, we bought a fancy tree stand called a "Swivel-Straight."

I have bragged about it to my guy friends the way men more manly than me talk about their pick-up trucks or their chain saws.

The truth is, this is one of those products that sounds great in the catalog. (The danger siren should already have been wailing at this point).

"Look," she said. "It has a removable reservoir to fill and a clamp system that allows you to step on a built-in pedal to 'swivel' the tree until you get it where you want it."

Then, like magic, you step off the pedal and ... well in catalog the clamps lock on and your tree is perfectly straight -- all with just a touch of your foot.

In reality what happens is, you take your foot off the pedal and when whip the tree around like you're trying to use a tree-sized tennis racket to swat a fly just to trigger the damn clamps so they lock.

The stand is also too small. We saved $20 when we ordered it (to be fair, we lived in a townhouse at the time with normal-sized ceilings) rather than get the largest size.

So obviously, you can see where all this is going -- down.

And this morning, that's what Sasquatch did.

Being a devious devil tree, he waited until, after hours of evening trimming sessions (OUCH!), the job was officially completed

Last night before bed, I had finally hung the last piece of tinsel and carried the ornament tubs (yes "tubs" -- plural) back up into the attic.

"What? You did the tinsel?" the 13-year-old asked accusingly, looking up during a commercial break of the NCIS marathon. "I would have helped you with that."

My response, tinged perhaps by enough pine needle tracks on my arms to make me pass for a Hollywood junkie, was not what might be described as "verbal."

At least, it can be said, Sasquatch let us sleep last night.

And then, like every World War II movie I've seen, he attacked at dawn.

In retrospect, I suppose it's possible it may not have been an attack, so much as an escape attempt.

Several years ago, we heard a garden expert on KYW say the best way to keep a tree fresh is to add clear citrus soda to the water, the theory being that the extra sugar mimics the sap that can be hard to find in our living rooms.

And I had been amazed and impressed at the volume of the stuff Sasquatch was consuming -- two reservoirs a day.

So perhaps, like a kid on too many sodas, Sasquatch was feeling a little more frisky than a tree with his trunk cut, clamped inside a Swivel Straight stand in a Pottstown living room had any right to feel.

Whatever the reason, Sasquatch made his move, just as the morning frenzy had hit its peak, which is to say, I was still in bed.

My wife was between getting herself and getting the 13-year-old ready and there was scant time to figure out the problem; figure out how to fix it; get the tree back up; secure it; mop up the sticky soda water before it ruined our antique hardwood floors; and get Karen to work and Dylan to school.

Like MacGyver, I leaped into action and 15 minutes, two cup hooks, one spool of extra strong craft wire and many new and inventive expletives later, the tree was back up.

But like in every attack, there were casualties, very real casualties.

The one ornament we always strive to protect, the one my wife had inherited from her grandparents, was the one thrown the furthest and the one broken beyond repair. An odd oval-shaped ornament of painted glass and glitter, I have never seen it's like.

It was not exactly beautiful, and a bit bulky to be honest, but it nevertheless always had pride of place.

That's because it was a physical manifestation of the idealized Christmases of Karen's past, of a time when, as a child, she knew Christmas not as a seriously doughty "to-do" list, but a time when grandmothers made cookies and a child's primary Christmas responsibility was anticipation.

I have some too, some cloth ornaments my mother's mother made, and even some wooden ones I painted as a youngster.

But they were not as invested with meaning as the one belonging to Karen's grandmother. We even still had the original box with the name of the store in Ridgewood, N.J. where it had been purchased.

Also gone was a fish ornament my son loved. And his suggestion that we give it "a proper funeral" by flushing it down the toilet did lighten the mood somewhat.

But the loss of the antique is a true loss. Those things are, after all, irreplaceable.

Christmas is, for us, about traditions as much as it is about family, presents and good cheer; and the tradition of hanging that ornament was among the oldest and most important.

But the truth of the matter is, these things happen.

And this Christmas will always be remembered as "the one when the tree fell down."

Not our "suicide tree," but similar
We've had near misses before.

We had the year of the "Suicide Tree," in which the tree's dangerous angle toward a window suggested a desire to end it all.

We had the year that the natural curiosity of a friend's child almost brought the thing down on her head.

Luckily we were there to catch it.

It could have been worse, I suppose.

Many treasured ornaments, each with a specific memory of when it was purchased or received as a gift, survived the fall.

It was significant, I thought, that among the survivors was a Darth Vader ornament -- reminiscent of a much younger boy's obsession -- whole but for a missing gloved fist it held up in all its "you-don't-know-the-power-of-the-dark-side" menace.

It was the same hand the character had lost in the movies and I found it on the rug and rescued it from the vacuum.

I'm toying with the idea of gluing it back on, but there is a part of me that is considering leaving it off -- as a warning.

If I remember my Star Wars lore correctly (OK, I'll confess, I know this stuff backwards and forwards) the younger Skywalker lost his hand trying to take on something that was too beyond him.

He paid a steep price.

And perhaps, trying to have an eight-foot tree to hold all our ornaments is overreaching and we paid the price. As Clint Eastwood said through gritted teeth: "Man's got to know his limitations."

Perhaps, it was the tree too far....or maybe it's just time to bite the bullet and buy a fake one!

In any case, I have my Jerry Garcia Christmas tie on, listened to Christmas carols on my two-minute drive to work and will attend the school district's Christmas concert tonight.

So the other interpretation of that Darth Vader fist is that is represents the fist of defiance. I will not let Father Christmas toy with our Christmas Spirit!


  1. Loved this, Evan! My life insurance policy actually forbids Sasquatch trees.

  2. I second that: loved this piece!

    BTW, now that our kids are grown, Sasquatch trees that formerly occupied the Zlomek living room are but a distant memory. My once most dreaded part of Christmas was driving to North Coventry to cut down a selected tree in the freezing, windy, snowy dead of winter; now I simply bring the ersatz tree out of attic storage. I call that fun.

    Joe Zlomek, Managing Editor
    The Sanatoga Post