My hands look like they’ve been hit by shrapnel. The Persian rug is imbedded with sawdust, pine needles and sticky spots of sap. The trunk of our Christmas tree, which can be clearly seen through the sparse branches, is warped in the middle.
That’s what I get for telling my husband to pick out the tree without me this year.
I had the perfect day planned. The neighborhood looked like a winter wonderland with fluffy white snow stuck to every surface. Neighbors merrily buzzed about, bundling kids for sledding and stocking up on holiday provisions.
My husband, Francis, and our son met the Boy Scout troop early to help with the annual Christmas tree sales event, and mid-morning, I walked our dog to the lot to check up on them.
The scene was sweet: twinkle lights draped, music playing, kids savoring candy canes, a fire crackling. Dads could be heard wishing customers a “Merry Christmas” as uniformed boys loaded trees onto cars.
Whatever “cockles” are, mine were warmed.
“Hi, Honey! Did you get us a good tree?” I inquired. “Sure did, you wanna see it?” he offered, excitedly.
As Francis opened the back of our minivan, the smell of fresh pine tickled my nose. “Looks good, Hon,” I said without much thought.
On the walk home, I ran the afternoon plan through my head: bring decorations up from basement, put up tree, make hot cocoa, set up Lionel train, play Christmas music while whole family decorates, gaze at tree while snuggled up in family room. I love this time of year.
An hour later the boys came home, brought the wrapped tree up to our apartment and started to put the stand on the trunk.
Francis has never been handy, and moments like these are always a bit tense.
Sensing he needed assistance, I grabbed the top of the tree. “Ow!” I wailed, looking down at four tiny pin holes in my thumb. “What kind of tree is this, anyway?”
“I don’t know…a fir, a spruce, how the heck do I know,” Francis stammered.
Wearing gloves, we secured the tree in its stand and began to lift.
“Uh oh,” I said when the tree was at ten o’clock.
“What?” Francis barked, nervously.
“It’s not going to fit. How tall is this thing, anyway?”
“I don’t know…but we have high ceilings, right?”
“No, Hon, we have low ceilings, remember?” I said, trying to remain calm.
I instructed Francis on where to find our saw. He hates tools, and refers to hardware stores as “haunted houses,” so home repairs are generally handled by me. But in the spirit of holiday tradition, and while the kids were watching, we thought it best to not reverse conventional gender roles.
My husband emerged from our basement with a saw and stood, befuddled, over our tree.
I’d seen this look on his face a thousand times, and knew exactly what it meant: he had no clue what to do.
Quickly measuring the tree and ceiling heights, I declared, “According to my calculations, you need to cut off one foot eight inches, plus four more so the angel will have some headroom.”
Francis took a step toward the top of the tree, poking out from the netted wrap.
“No! Not from the top!”
Wincing, I held the spiky middle while Francis timidly sliced at the barbed trunk. A few painful minutes later, the bottom of the tree surrendered, and we were able to get the remainder upright in the family room.
“It looks so small now,” our son observed as we gawked at the maimed tree before us in a pile of sawdust and needles. “And it’s crooked too.”
We ascertained that the top of the tree grew at a slight angle from the rest of the trunk, so we resolved to disguise the problem with as many lights as possible. It took another hour to untangle the massive snarl of wires we found in the basement, which only produced two working strings of lights.
Francis haphazardly threw (the tree was too painful to touch) the lights over the scrawny branches, while I went to the basement to scrounge up some more.
“Are we ever gonna put the ornaments on?” our youngest whined for the thousandth time. After drowning their disappointment in several mugs of hot cocoa, the kids finally abandoned us and ran off to play.
Around five-o-clock, I had sufficiently disguised our crooked tree with four strands of mismatched lights, but Francis lay on the floor with the train set, emitting various expletives.
Having found the manual too confusing, he randomly stuck straight and curved pieces of track together and jammed frayed wires into the terminal. The train would not budge.
I didn’t want to reinforce Francis’ if-I-screw-this-up-she’ll-fix-it-anyway habit, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened the manual, found the diagram of track configurations, assembled the track in an elongated circle, stripped the wires to expose fresh copper, inserted the wiring into the correct terminal, made sure the wheels were properly positioned, turned on the power, and away she went like the wind.
Exhausted by the fiasco, I ordered Chinese take away for dinner.
“Great job with the train, Dad,” our middle child said as she crunched into a spring roll.
“And the tree looks terrific, too, Dad,” our son offered with a mouthful of rice.
“Yea, thanks Dad!” our youngest exclaimed as she threw her arms around Francis’ neck.
“You’re quite welcome, kids,” my husband said with a wink, “that’s what dads are for.”