The Extra Special Tree

Dec 17, 2013


  If the holidays have you stressed out, take a minute to relax and enjoy this next essay from Charlottesville author Jenny Gardiner -- a remembrance of Christmas and a very special tree. 


I’m a sucker for all things Christmas. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the season presents, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.

When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.

Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own. Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country” — i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers — only added to the allure.

But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…

That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of pre-fabricated holiday cheer that we craved.

I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. We foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.

The older two kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sipping hot cider, and petting the farmer’s dog, which had recently wandered over. I was just about to pull up the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.

“No!” I shouted in what seemed like slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.

For a moment we stood, stupefied. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to select a new one.  Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would count.

Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.

The farmer found a make-shift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.

I'm afraid I detached emotionally a bit from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.

But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at holiday time, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.