Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh ... Christmas Tree!

Finding the perfect tree isn't as easy as it looks. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

It’s inevitable, that into every family man’s life, a little Clark Griswold must fall. For me, that time was this past weekend when I loaded my three kids into our minivan (she’s no Wagon Queen Family Truckster, but she’s close) and headed out into the country to bring home the Horwedel family Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, the day we set out to glean our tree, it was only slightly warmer than the Arctic Circle. But that had little chance of slowing my quest. My kids didn’t bother putting up a fight either; they knew that when I set my mind to something, not much could be done to thwart my progress, no matter how painful the outcome. Besides, it now was the middle of December; a good two weeks after we’d normally have our tree up and decorated in the middle of the family room. This couldn’t wait any longer.

But it's not like I'm some monster. I knew searching for a tree in those conditions would be brutal, so to help stall the onset of frostbite, I made sure to crank up the heat full blast on the drive there so we all were good and toasty upon arrival. This seemed to work fairly well when we opened the doors of our Ford-Easy-Bake-Oven and rolled out onto the tree lot like four piping-hot, Pillsbury muffins.

Before cooling off, we set our sights on the barn at the tree farm where we could pick up a wagon and a saw before heading out into the great unknown. I grabbed the wagon, but I made the mistake of giving the tree saw to my 9-year-old son Eamon.

Warning, do not let 9-year-old boys anywhere near here! (photo by Lon Horwedel)

The cool, steel blade shone brightly in the sun, revealing a mad glint in my son's eye I’d never seen. Before I had time to rethink my poor decision, he'd rushed ahead of us like a drunken lumberjack set loose in the forest.

I yelled for him to slow down, but it was useless. He too, was on a mission.

“Dad, you aren’t going to let him cut down a tree are you?” My oldest daughter Olivia asked.

“No, don’t be foolish, of course not!” I replied, secretly hoping he wouldn’t get too far out of sight. 

“Besides, I don’t think he’s strong enough to actually cut one down,” I said, “and even if he was, he’s too lazy to finish the job.”

My daughter relaxed when she realized I was right. Still, there was my son, 50-yards ahead of us, trying to prove me wrong.

“What are you doing? Get away from that tree, you moron!” I yelled at the pint-sized Paul Bunyan who’d already set the saw blade in motion at the base of a tiny spruce.

Soon, his sisters were screaming at him too.

“Eamon, you idiot, give dad the saw!”

Unfortunately, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree and my son was just as eager to fulfill his quest to fell a pine tree, as I was to find the perfect tree to fell.

“Just relax Eamon, you can cut down the tree once we find a good one.” I promised.

In all the excitement of my son nearly leaving us with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we sort of forgot about the sub-zero temperatures. But now, the warm glow from our minivan oven was fading fast, and with each successive blast of arctic air across our faces, we knew we’d better find a tree sooner rather than later.

This proved to be a much more difficult task than I imagined.

“How ‘bout this one?” Eamon asked every 15-seconds, or the next available tree, whichever came first.

But every tree he wanted to topple with his wicked blade was greeted with a stream of negative replies from his dad and two sisters.

“Too scrawny.” I’d say.

“Too short.” They’d say.

“Too tall.” We’d all say.

It seemed the harder we looked, the harder it was to see. Our eyes were watering badly in the cold wind now, making everything seem like a mirage.

Inevitably, one of my kids would squeal, “There it is! The perfect tree!”

And from 50-yards away, it would look perfect. But once we were actually on top of it, it wouldn’t be perfect at all … except to my son.

“Looks good to me dad.” He’d say, champing at the bit to cut down something … anything! “Can I start cutting?”

Eamon cutting anything and everything in his path, including stumps! (photo by Ella Horwedel)

For 30-minutes this went on and now my son was beginning to lose what little patience he had left. Not to mention my 11-year-old daughter Ella was losing all feeling in her feet.

“Dad, can’t we just pick one?” She moaned.

“Ella, I’m not just gonna settle for some crappy, scrawny tree like we had last year.” I said. “I want to get a big, full one so we can hang all of our ornaments.”

“But dad, I can’t feel my toes.” She cried.

“They're in your boot somewhere,” I said, “we’ll dump them out and reattach them when we get back to the barn.”

“Dad, can’t we just bag it?” Olivia begged. “It’s getting dark.”

“Fine!" I snorted. "Man, you guys are wimps. I guess we’ll just head in like a bunch of wusses and pick up a tree off the lot.”

My son’s heart sank.

“You mean I don’t get to cut down a tree?” He asked sadly, dropping the saw to the ground.

“I’m afraid not,” I answered sadly, “but I’ll tell you what, I’ll buy you guys some hot chocolate when we get back, okay?”

“Great” Ella said sarcastically, “I'll pour it on my feet!”

Ten minutes later we were back at the barn watching other happy families loading their perfect Christmas trees atop their minivans and SUV’s. It was a maddening sight - one that left us completely deflated. But then an amazing thing happened.

“Hey dad, check this one out.” My son said excitedly from a short distance away.

And there, on the tree lot by the barn, sat the most beautiful, full-needled, 8-foot tall Fraser fir I’d ever set my watering eyes on. Only this time my tears were real.

“Oh Eamon, she’s a beaut!” I beamed proudly.

“You mean to tell me we spent an entire hour freezing our butts off when the whole time the perfect tree was sitting 50-feet from our van?”  Ella said angrily.

“Well … yeah,” I said, “but just think of the experience.”

“Yeah, great,” she said; rubbing her frozen toes, “next year let’s just skip the experience and go straight to the lot.”

Eamon, Ella, and Olivia warm up with some hot chocolate. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

We bought the tree and headed inside the barn for some from some flesh-searing hot chocolate before loading up our prized conifer. Unfortunately, our minivan doesn’t have a luggage rack, so on the way home I let Ella sit in front seat with her feet by the heater trying to salvage her frostbitten phalanges, while my other two kids sat squashed under the weight of the world’s largest air freshener.

“Dad?” My son asked from somewhere beneath a branch in the backseat, “Do you think this will fit in our house.”

“Sure.” I answered. “Why?”

“It seems kind of big dad,” my daughter Olivia chimed in, “what if we can’t get the star on top.”

“We'll draw it on the ceiling.” I deadpanned.

The kids looked at each other, and then started to laugh at the thought. Seconds later, I joined them. It was pretty funny, and for the first time this winter, I felt the true Christmas spirit starting to work its way into my being … either that, or it was just one of the tree branches poking me in the back of the head!

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. It is years like this that your kids will remember when they are older, and you will get to laugh when they tell your grandchildren :o)