Ah, a time to cast my rusty dusty brain cells back yonder to recall past yuletimes. Oh, the joy! So many memories, and all so hazy…
The first Christmas memory that comes to mind involves a tree. I forget if it was the first Christmas Dagmar and I celebrated together, but it was certainly in the first few years… “Ve need a tree,” said my beloved Austrian bride. “I vant a tree dis year.” With a new house and a new wife, I sort of wanted a tree too. We’d be starting our own traditions! For years hereafter, I thought, we’d follow in the very footsteps we were creating on this hallowed day. “A tree sounds good!” I said. “I think I have a Christmas tree in the basement somewhere…” I could picture the box in my mind.
“No, I think ve should get a real live Christmas tree,” my wife said to me. “My mama gets a live tree every year, and it alvays smells so good.” I had visions of a lush, deep green tree snoozing gently in the corner of our living room. “Every year she chooses her own tree,” Dagmar continued. “Then she trims it and puts it up in her living room. The needles smell so good, and the branches are always so full…” I’ve never had a real live Christmas tree. Sounds fun to me!
A few days later we met with Dagmar’s mother (also known as Mama K) to go tree hunting. “Do we need to bring an ax?” I asked, “Or do they provide one for us to use?” The only Christmas tree farm I know of is forty miles away from town. I heard they make wreaths, too. Dagmar and her mother were too busy chatting to answer me, though. Within minutes we were all in our cars, Mama K in the lead in her little blue car, Dagmar and I trailing behind in our little red car.
“Where’s your mama going?” I asked, peering through my grimy windshield at the gloom outside. “I think the Christmas Tree Farm is the other direction.”
“Oh, no,” Dagmar answered. “We buy them at the grocery store.”
“You buy them at the grocery… Christmas trees at a grocery store?”
Sure enough, we pulled into a Fareway parking lot. Mama K led us up to the side of the building, where about a hundred Christmas trees were lined up against the wall, trying to find a warm nook out of the wind, branches all tied up with string. “I guess we don’t need an ax,” I said. By the time I finished the sentence, Dagmar and Mama K were out of the cars running with gleeful abandon back and forth amongst the trees. I parked the car and slowly wandered over to the spectacle.
“Ooh, Mama, come see this one,” Dagmar cried. “I think this would be perfect in your living room!” Mama K materialized at her side, chin in hand, pondering the situation intently. “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s a little too brown. What do you think, Chris?” she asked me. I just shrugged. I’m color-blind. On the best of days I can guess colors pretty good, but not in the dark when it’s snowing and my feet are cold. “I thought it looked okay,” I said. “But there are plenty of others.”
Back and forth Dagmar and Mama K flitted, chattering back and forth in German. They’d pause by a tree, shake it a little, consider, then jump to another tree, having a ball. It was fun to watch! Eventually they decided on a tree for Mama K. “Not too big, not to small, not too brown, not too green, not too big around, not too skinny. Just right!” They drug said tree to Mama K’s little blue car and came back. “Now, which one do you vant for our haus?” Dagmar asked. I reached in the pile, more or less at random and grabbed a tree. I’d been wandering slowly past the line of trees for twenty minutes already, hoping for some psychic signal, some feeling that this was the perfect tree for me, but I hadn’t heard any cosmic voices. Never having had a live tree before, I wasn’t real sure what to look for… I mean, when you cut those strings off, how big will the tree expand? Really, now, who knows these things? So I just kind of grabbed a tree that looked more or less symmetrical and short enough to sit in our corner.
“That’s the PERFECT tree,” said Mama K. “Just perfect for you two.” Dagmar beamed a smile my direction, her face aglow. “It is perfect,” she said. “I like it.” It made me kind of wish I’d actually taken more time in my selection…
We dragged our tree over to our little red car and went to pay for our trees. Being the gallant guy I am, I gave Dagmar my billfold and said, “You go on in and pay and warm up a little. I’ll get the trees into our cars.” She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m never gonna get you into a store with me, am I,” and scampered off after her mother.
Alone, more or less, in the parking lot, I eyed my little red car. I looked at the behemoth tree I’d chosen. I looked at the car again. Hmmm… I opened a back door and started shoving tree. It didn’t work. I opened the other back door and tried tugging and pulling on the tree. No dice. This tree is NOT going to fit in this car. I went back to the other side and tried pushing again. The tree fell limply into the mud, not at all interested in getting in the car. I stamped around and blew on my hands in the age-old tradition for a few minutes, contemplating the reality of converting my car into a, well, convertible.
“Hi, Honey. Vy isn’t de tree in de car yet?” asked my wife behind me. “By the way, Mama paid for our tree. She’s nice to us!” I turned my back to the car to face her. “I’m sorry, Snickerdoodle, but the tree just isn’t going to fit in the car. I’ve tried five ways – it just won’t fit.” I turned to gesture at the car. “As you can see, there’s just no way… Now how did she DO that?” Mama K had, in one fell swoop, flipped the tree into the eighteenth dimension and got it into our car in about four seconds. I watched her as she did the same with her tree – I have no idea how she did it, and I was looking right at her. Not being one to argue with facts, I simply accepted that the trees were indeed in the cars and got in to drive.
“We need to go to Mama’s first,” Dagmar said as she got in the car. “She’ll show us how to trim it and everything, and then we can use her saw.” With that, we were off to Mama K’s. “I’m curious how she’s going to get that tree out of her car,” I said. “It’s wedged in there pretty tight.”
Eventually we arrived at Chez Mama K. Her little blue car stopped in the driveway, we stopped right behind. Mama K opened the back door of her car and stood back as her Christmas tree sort of oozed and floated it’s gracious, sinuous way out of her car. Mama K then delicately grabbed it by the top and dragged it into her garage. “We need to cut some of de bottom branches off,” she told me. “Und we need to cut the bottom off at a little bit of an angle so it can drink.” Shouldn’t be a problem – I’m an Eagle Scout, after all. I grabbed the saw and started trimming. And trimming. And trimming some more. After what seemed like an hour of wrestling with that wretched tree I was ready to cut the bottom off and move it into the house. Another hour later, sweat puddled at my feet, I was done. As I stood straight, pausing to admire the cracking noises my back was making, the door opened. “Oh, there you are,” said Mama K, Dagmar peeking over her shoulder. “How is the tree?”
“I just finished now,” I said proudly, kicking the tree. “Oh, vunderful!” said Mama K. In a twinkling, I was standing in an empty garage holding a Coke (in a glass bottle, no less). Shrugging to myself, I followed inside. The women-folk had the tree stand and skirt all ready to go, and boxes of ornaments waiting. In less than thirty seconds the tree was up, standing straight and tall in Mama K’s living room. “You two munchkins go home now,” said Mama K. “You have to put up your own very perfect tree now!” With that we tottled to the door and said our good-byes. Within minutes we pulled up in our own very perfect driveway.
“You go on inside,” I said to my beloved. “I’ll get the tree out of the car and trim the branches off in the porch. Then we’ll have a Christmas tree!” She beamed at me and went inside to do Christmasy things. I turned to the car, complete with tree. I opened the back door and stood gracefully aside as I’d seen Mama K do and waited for the tree to gently waft to the ground. Nothing. It just sat there in the back seat, staring at me. I grabbed a branch and tugged a little. Nothing. Eventually I opened all the car doors and tried heaving it out the other way. That just got me a needle up my nose. Finally, about twenty minutes later, I turned into a mighty jerk and managed to get the tree out of the car and into the porch.
“Honey,” I hollered, poking my head in the house, “I’m freezing. Can we do the rest tomorrow? My fingers are going to fall off…”
“But I really vant to put it up tonight,” she said. “Come warm up a bit, then we’ll do the tree.”
Minutes later, saw in hand, I approached the tree. “It’s just me and you, now, tree.” I said. “Just you and me. And I have the saw… Let me just see you give me some of those shenanigans now – we’ll see who the boss is now, huh!” With that I slipped on a pile of needles and fell, banging my keester something fierce on the floor. I slowly set the saw down and proceeded to rip the lower branches off the tree by hand. It took a bit longer, but it made me feel MUCH better. Muttering obscenities under my breath I drug the tree into the house. The only thing left to do was to put it on the stand and get it straight. Mama K did it in three seconds.
An hour later, hunched over, nose to toes, with a tree on my back, I moaned, “Can’t we just finish this tomorrow? My back hurts…”
“But we’re almost done,” my beloved said, not for the first time. “Now a little to the left… No, your other left…”
Eventually, we got the tree more or less vertical. With glee I tightened it into the base and stepped back. Yick. Some of the branches flopped almost to the floor, other branches were pointed up, almost like the tree was trying to itch it’s nose. And there was a rather bare spot. I turned it ninety degrees. Not much better.
“It’s perfect!” Dagmar’s eyes were agleam, her face joyous. My eyes were bloodshot, my face furious. “It’ll do,” I said. I went off to the basement in search of that dusty bottle of brandy I’d bought the year before, intent on soothing my problems at least a bit. My fingers were throbbing, half in reaction to the cold, half due to the myriad tiny cuts and scratches that my poor delicate digits aren’t used to dealing with. But I was done! The rest is up to Dagmar…
Twenty minutes later I reappeared in the living room, being entirely unsuccessful in my search for the mythical brandy. The tree had been transformed. Dagmar, with loving care, was about halfway done decorating the tree. I sat on the couch and watched her, and she explained the history of each and every ornament she hung. It was a good way to end the day, lost in reminiscence, exploring our new future together, starting new traditions… The tree was indeed perfect. Dagmar had truly worked wonders.
The next day we arrived home from work at the same time. We smooched in the driveway and made our way to the front door, delicate snowflakes wafting in the gale. Dagmar dug her keys out…
“MY TREE,” she wailed. “What happened to my beautiful tree? Oh, my tree!” I peeked over her shoulder. The tree was laying in the middle of the floor. Ornaments were strewn about. There was a smallish, rather smug-looking orange kitten sitting on the tree, looking at us, just as proud as the dickens. “STUPID CAT!” bellowed Dagmar matter-of-factly. “Hold still while I chase you!” The next few minutes were, yes indeed, spent thusly:
From the kitten’s perspective, two large monkey-folk opened the door, woke him up, and played a merry game of “Let’s Chase the Pretty Kitty.”
From my perspective, my wife disappeared and a crazy lady took her place as she chased the kitten around the house, beating at it with her purse.
From my wife’s perspective, the kitty ruined the tree, ruined her ornaments, ruined all the hard work we’d done, and had, in fact, ruined Christmas as we know it.
Little did we know that this scene was to repeat itself in various incarnations over the next few days…
In any case, we whomped the tree back up on it’s stand and put the ornaments on again, with slightly less care than we’d shown the previous night. The kitten (Fruitloop) was banished to the basement for the night.
“Do you think he’ll do it again,” Dagmar asked me. “Vy did he tear our tree down?”
“He was just playing,” I replied. “He was probably just climbing in the tree and it fell over. I’ve got it braced up pretty good now. He shouldn’t be able to knock it down again. I bet it scared the bejeezus out of the little fella…”
The next night we came home to find the tree still standing, but each and every single little red silk Christmas ball was laying on the floor, shredded. “CAT,” said Dagmar through clenched teeth, “come here and get yelled at.” Again, the two of them played a merry game of “Chase The Pretty Kitty.” Winded, Dagmar sat on the couch. “What are we going to do?” she said, and proceeded to start crying. “All I vant is a nice tree for Christmas, and that CAT of yours destroys everything I do!” She cried for a long time.
The next night Dagmar met me at the door. “Look vhat I bought,” she said, waving a spray can around in front of me. “I found it at dat Petco store across the street. Look here, it says to spray this on things you don’t vant your kitty to play with… I’m gonna spray it on the tree so der Fruitloop won’t make me crazy mit der ornament playing all the time.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” I said, shrugging out of my coat. “Go ahead and give it a shot!”
With that, Dagmar took aim and pushed the button, unleashing the most foul-smelling, odiferous cloud of smog I’d ever beheld. In mere seconds, the tree was lost in a fog of dead-skunk smell, as was the couch, the chair… “Well,” I gasped, “that ought to keep the kitty away. It’s sure gonna keep ME away!”
Dagmar wiped a tear from her eye. “Wow,” she coughed. “Dat stinks!”
About that time Fruitloop made his appearance. Without a second thought he jumped into the tree and started climbing. Dagmar and I looked at each other. We looked at the kitten, happily making his way upwards through the branches. We looked at each other again. “I’ll go open a window,” I said.
Fast forward a few months to the middle of February. “Okay,” my wife said. “Ve can have a birthday party for you, and you can invite all your little friends and have cake, but what are ve gonna do with that Christmas tree on the porch? You can’t have people over to our house with a Christmas tree on the porch…” So, I put a sign on the tree. “Free to good home,” it read, “one slightly-used Christmas tree.” No one took it.
A few months later, as Dagmar and I were getting home one evening, we noticed fireworks on the horizon, just over the trees. If we stood in the street we had a perfect vantage point to see the Fourth of July fireworks! So, we stood in the street and gawked at the fireworks and oohed and aahed. Eventually I realized that Dagmar wasn’t standing next to me any more. I glanced around the street and didn’t see her anywhere – the street was deserted. I mentally shrugged to myself and continued gaping slack-jawed at the light show in the sky. By the time the last “BOOM” had echoed off the cityscape my wife was again by my side.
“Where did you go?” I asked. “And when did you change your clothes?” She was wearing black from head to toe – black shoes, black pants, black T-shirt, even a black stocking cap.
“You just never mind where I was,” she said. “Let’s go inside…”
The next day I got up and headed out the door to work as per standard routine. I noticed, however, that the Christmas tree was absent from it’s appointed post, leaning in the corner. I looked out the window. Sure enough, there was a trail of pine needles leading from our door to the street, down the street, and around the corner, disappearing underneath the bridge. I went back inside. “Wife,” I said. “What happened to the Christmas tree?”
“I took care of it last night,” she said. “Everyone was so busy looking at the fireworks. It was the perfect time.”
“Where did you take it?” I asked.
“Just you never mind,” she said.
“Did you toss it under the bridge where the homeless guys live?” I asked.
“How did you know?”
“Just you never mind,” I said.
And you know, the wind picked up that morning and blew all traces of Dagmar’s Christmas Tree Excursion away…