For my husband Mike, there is direct correlation between his success and the size of our Christmas tree.
In the early years of our marriage we had small salaries and small apartments and he always lobbied for not getting a tree. And I was like “What’s WRONG with you? You don’t NOT get a tree.” Our first year, we didn’t even have any ornaments so we nestled our Christmas cards in its Charlie Brown branches. It was so pathetic. And what I didn’t know then was that the tiny trees shamed him. That squat, misshapen tree with no ornaments was a direct threat to his masculinity and his ability to provide for his woman (who was, at the time, making $30 more per paycheck).
Then one year, he didn’t balk and sigh at the prospect of getting a tree. This was after his first promotion. But, unknowingly, I prolonged his inadequate tree shame; we picked out a perfectly normal sized tree, not a Charlie Brown tree, and two very nice gentleman hauled it to the cashier stand. Then it was maneuvered into the Christmas tree wrapping machine where it was twisted and spiraled until it was secured in a tight mess of twine. I took out my check book and asked “How much?”
Hearing the answer, I put my checkbook back in my purse, narrowed my eyes at them and said “PUT IT BACK. Don’t insult me with your un-Christmasy prices.” And we went home with another Charlie Brown tree.
But with each promotion, the balking and the sighing decreased and the enthusiasm peeked through a little bit more. Until one year he declared “That one’s not big enough!” and kept stomping his Sorel boots down the row of trees. It took me by surprise, this sudden “I actually do care about the Christmas tree” bravado. And I mustered a confused “Oh….ok…..” and simply followed until he found a tree that imbued him with a commensurate amount of virility. I wasn’t going to rock this new boat lest it sail away into the sunset.
Fast forward to the present……….to the most important promotion yet. A promotion that involved moving our family cross country to what is essentially a different planet in hopes that it will somehow be worth it in the end. We arrive at the Christmas tree farm in Vermont and Mike asks the owner where the 9 foot trees are.
The owner is a Brian Doyle Murray look-alike from the movie Vacation (“that includes wildlife fun”) and he smirks a little bit as if to say “Calm down, Sparky.” He questions him: “How tall are your ceilings?” And Mike says “9 feet.”
I exchange a look with Brian Doyle Murray so he knows that I am the sane one.
“Well, now don’t forget you have the Christmas tree stand which adds several inches. And you need room for the star.” He’s done this before; talking sense into overexcited city-dwellers who can’t do math.
Mike dismisses him handily and starts clomping away toward the tallest trees, sending a clear message that he needs no help finding the trees for successful people. My son and I clamber helplessly behind him. I’ve decided I’m not going to fight him on this. I will refrain from being the voice of reason. I’ve already won the short-needle vs. long-needle battle; as long as I get a short-needle balsam or frasier, and not a fat tree with long needles, I’m pretty happy. Plus, I kind of want to see how this turns out.
He chooses a tall tree. I ask if he wants to measure it to make sure it fits – but he ignores me. I’m looking at that tree and thinking someone is delusional. But I keep my mouth shut.
We arrive home 3 hours later and haul the tree into the garage where Mike, wisely but tardily, asks our son to get a tape measure. Perhaps 3 hours and 189 miles ago would have been a better time to measure, I think to myself.
He measures the ceiling: 94 inches.
He measures the tree: 117 inches.
We need to lop off almost 2 feet just to get it into the house. And that’s not making allowances for the stand or the star. I’m working really hard to suppress a smile but I’m still not saying anything. In a very Clark Griswold fashion he mumbles “Oops. Well…..that’s ok. I have to trim it up a little anyway.”
A little? He is clearly not doing the math on purpose. He really NEEDS this tree to be nine feet tall. If it’s a lesser tree than last year’s tree, this cross-country move could all be in vain.
I watch where he places the saw on the trunk……..and give him a gentle reminder. “Don’t forget about the tree stand.”
“That’s only an inch.”
“And the star. Don’t forget about the star.”
“That’s only a few inches.”
“It’s more like 12 inches.” My rational side is fighting its way out.
“Don’t worry about it! I’ll figure it out!” he says, frustrated.
Really, the only way I can see this working is if he cuts the tree off in the middle so the tree ends in a plateau rather a point. Maybe we could put our presents on top of the tree instead of under it. But he trims it, puts it in the stand, and we carry it inside. Never have we had a tree so big that it required two people to carry it.
Mike sets the stand on the ground and we slowly raise it, raise it, raise it………until it stops……… at a 60 degree angle to the ground.
Still keeping my mouth shut.
“Ok,” he says, “let’s get it back outside. Can you lower it back down? (pause) Kristin……let go. Let it down. (pause) What are you doing?”
I wave my hands at him jazz-hands style to show him that I’ve already let go. In other words, I’m not holding the tree up. In more other words, the tree is STUCK at a 60 degree angle in our family room, wedged between the floor and the ceiling; the pointy tree top gouged into our crisp, white ceiling.
I see his proverbial balloon slowly deflating……like he’s starting to see the light just a little bit. And I see him cringe at the sight of an imperfection in our freshly painted family room. He carefully dislodges the tree and we carry it back outside.
He starts trimming again but I can see it’s still not adequate. Why is he fighting this so hard?
“Don’t forget the star.”
“Kristin, I’ll take care of it!”
But he’s clearly not. Watching him continually prune more and more off that tree is like watching him prune his very manhood. So I try not to be the snarky wife. But I’m curious to see what happens when he “takes care of ” the star.
This time the tree fits without destroying anything, the top of the tree reaching toward the ceiling with just a fraction of an inch to spare. I hand him the star, the 12 inch star, and he takes it confidently like “watch me, woman.”
And he gets in there and starts wrestling branches until the star sits cradled not so much on top of the tree but more in FRONT of the top of the tree.
And it looks just fine.
I laugh…….happy that he was able to pull this off with his manhood mostly intact. Because if there was ever a year that he needed a visual reminder of his success, it would be at this very moment…….far flung as we are from the people and places we normally hold dear at Christmas time. All in the name of his career.
He’s keenly aware of the price our son and I have paid for this move. And he really needs his career to pay off for us.
And by the looks of this tree, I think we’re going to be just fine.
For more from Kristin, read her blog,Clam Chowder for Lunch .