We are not the Charlie Brown type
The Dream Crusher and I have been married for close to 25 years and in that time we have had our fair share of disagreements. I hesitate to call them arguments because we’ve never really had a true “argument.” Oh sure I’ve made her cry a few times, but it’s nothing to the overwhelming number of times she has made me cry. If she weren’t so darn stoic I’m confident my antics would bring her to tears more often. But as it is, she usually laughs in the face of my “fury” and ends up spooning cold water onto my petty grievances and because of that (and because I’m really, really afraid of her), we get along as well as a Rabbit and an Eeyore can be expected to get along… except at Christmas
As I’ve gotten older this season of good cheer, Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Black Fridays and Kings named Wenceslas just seem to irritate me more and more. When I was little Christmas was a magical time of throwing up on Christmas eve, sleepless nights, mounds of presents and heaps of food (including one shriveled orange and six hazelnuts in the toe of my stocking so that mom could feel good about the rest of the stocking being filled with candy). I relished calling my friends to gloat over the new Fat Track I got and to make fun of the new underwear they got. There was always deep snow and a roaring fire and the afterglow of a binge belly filled to make up for the emptiness of the night before.
Then came adulthood and responsibility and the never ending tundra of whiteness that the singer is always dreaming about on Christmas, but doesn’t have to shovel. It isn’t always a powdery snow that sheds so easily off the backs of excited travelers as they enter the house in their Norwegian sweaters and balaclavas. Sometimes, most times, it’s slush and it always melts to dull brownness. Too much money is spent on too few kids, but everyone seems so happy because of it. But then the GI Joe action figures are inadvertently called “dolls” by my wife and the boys refuse to play with them and the dream of my sons having the exact same magical “Kung Fu, action- gripped” childhood that I had also melts into dull browness.
It is the season where someone is always getting their wings or telling George Bailey that she’ll love him ‘til the day she dies or wondering why they have to have so many kids (in that moment I am on George’s side). There is the ever present BB gun with a compass in the stock and the Bumpasses’ dogs and shooting your eye out and someone is always getting their tongue stuck to a flag poles and no one ever knows where Flick is.
Cindy Lou Who is always cute (though she now plays in a punk rock band) and the Grinch’s heart is in a perpetual state of growth because Christmas isn’t about the presents, it’s about friends. There is always a kid in the street ready to get the biggest goose in the world from the butcher shop down the street and Tiny Tim is always tiny and he always lives, but there is no mention of that other thing, the X of the season.
Washed up and drug addicted singers are constantly singing of the baby Jesus or new shoes or wanting Santa Baby to give them something expensive and Michael Jackson is always freaked out because his mom is making out with Santa next to the Christmas tree (wrap your head around that one and see if it doesn’t explain a lot of things).
The avalanche of Christmastide is continual and relentless from the day the month chimes November and doesn’t stop until I get to the point where I wish Jesus had never been born and then I realize that this season has nothing to do with Jesus and I swear that next year I will donate all the money I would have spent on Christmas to an orphanage in Bangladesh and then I have a hot buttered rum and things somehow get better.
And there is always the ever present Christmas tree. Some of our biggest disagreements have had to do with the Christmas tree. The “issue” rears its ugly head the moment we all pile into the car and head out to wrangle us a Christmas tree. For some reason, every year, Dream Crusher has this idea that our Christmas tree needs to be the size of a small topiary – just tall enough so that we can smile for the camera as we put the angel on top without standing on a chair.
Her husband and children, who are thankfully made of sterner, Irish stock, have dreams of vast vistas of Christmas trees that need extension ladders in order to put the angel on the peak. Since we are legion we get our way. In Dream Crusher’s mind she’s trying to keep the leg lamp out of the window, except that our lamp is a Christmas tree with a trunk the size of an East German woman’s thigh – a thigh so massive that it needs to be tied to the beams in the living room to keep it upright.
Last year’s Christmas tree was a definite low water mark in our marriage and almost caused the cancellation of Christmas in the O’Bryan household. Weeks before we were to get our evergreen object of worship, Dream Crusher began her annual campaign for a slightly smaller tree. But all I heard when she brought up the Christmas tree was something on the order of blah, blah, blah tiny tree, blah, blah, blah microscopic tree. I’m sure she had her reasons for not wanting a big tree, but I had a hard time hearing myself think with all that yakking going on.
When the time came to finally get the tree and we were pounding holes in the snow with our feet out on the tree ranch, I realized that this was one dream that wasn’t going to be crushed for we had inadvertently stumbled onto the secret steroid tree farm where all the trees were the size of Redwoods. Kelly begged us to turn around and allow her to buy one from the tree lot. I was having none of it. We were on an adventure. We were making memories. You don’t get memories from a stinking tree lot! Besides, for some strange reason, in that expanse of sky, all of the trees looked amazingly reasonably sized.
The kids and I picked out a remarkable tree that like King Saul, stood head and shoulders above all the others. I plopped onto my back and shimmied under the tree to get at the trunk with the saw.
“John?” D.C. asked in a quavering voice. “Are you sure this is the tree we want? I can’t see your feet.”
It was too late. The proverbial axe was already laid against the trunk and i was already on my back sawing like a madman. There was a loud crack like a howitzer had gone off next to my head and the tree started to tilt.
I yelled “Timber!” but I was so muffled by the branches that I knew no one could hear me and I prayed they would run in the right direction. When the tree crashed to the ground I felt like I had received an answer to the age old question of whether a tree makes a sound in the forest if no one is there to hear it.
It took a good thirty minutes to drag the beast to our Subaru and then another ten to wrestle it onto the roof. The entire body of the car sagged and moaned as the tree engulfed our tiny red Forester. I climbed through the back and rolled down all the windows so I could lace the rope through the interior because roof rack was completely hidden and useless. There was a small group of children that I heard ask their parents why they weren’t getting a man-sized tree like our family had. I felt an immense sense of pride when I eased the car slowly out of the ranch, like I had just killed and skinned a moose and was bringing it home for the family to feed on all winter. Subaru even used the picture of our tree topped Forester to demonstrate how awesome Subaru owners are (true story).
When we got home I had everyone stand back while I cut the cords holding the tree to the car. They loosed with a twang like a baby grand piano wire snapping. The tree leapt from the roof like a freed criminal and took out a rose bush and a gutter downspout before it rolled to a stop next to the front porch.
Undaunted, I trimmed the excess branches off the trunk so I could attach the plastic tree stand. It should have concerned me when I counted the tree rings and it turned out to be older than I was, but manliness is blind, and with the help of my chainsaw and some judicious trimming I was able to finally sledgehammer the stand to the end of the trunk. The kids quickly tightened the “thumb screws” as I leaned against it.
Everyone helped push and pull the baby Sequoia through the front door. Everyone, that is, but Kelly. She was still lobbying (translated as beseeching ) me to take the vile creature away from her house and return it for a full refund, minus shipping and handling of course. On we went (ignoring her pleas), sounding like a rowing crew manning the oars, chanting “pull, pull, pull.” With each chant the tree inched closer to its final resting place, taking molding and paint along with it until with a loud whoosh the branches, trunk and all were lying on its side in the living room.
We don’t have a huge living room; it’s good sized and has vaulted ceilings, but when we wrestled the tree into a vertical position and I had tied her off on one of the overhead beams it filled the entire room – and I mean completely filled. It was so big around that we literally could not see each other if we were standing on opposite ends of the room. It was like a bottle brush and our living room was the bottle.
“There,” I said, as nonchalantly as possible as I stood wedged between the branches and the wall. “Fit’s perfectly.”
Dream Crusher fought her way out of the living room like a small jungle explorer, turned and said, “Yep. Fits just like a glove.” and then she was gone.
The look in the kids’ eyes was one of awe, sheer awe, like the entire real forest had come to our house for a sleepover.
I climbed under the tree to see if could maybe push it closer to the window in order to give us more room. It didn’t budge, but the blind did fall off the casing. Ignoring the house as if fell around my ears I pulled with the strength of Samson after his hair was cut, but my hands gave way and slipped off the trunk. Blood flowed freely, but I couldn’t feel it because my hands were frozen. Even though the house was set to a balmy 68 degrees, the inside of the tree it was freezing. The stupid thing had its own micro-climate and fog was washing over me from above as the tree warmed from the outside in.
I called for my loppers and when they were firmly duct taped to my frozen hands I began working my way up the back of the tree, cutting every branch as close as I could to bare wood without losing all of the green. With one half of the tree gone it snuggled up nicely against the window. From the living room side it was beautiful. However, from the window side it looked like it had been dragged behind the car all the way from the tree farm.
I sat in the couch and marveled at this beauty that God had created. Pitch and needles and discarded branches were everywhere and the living room looked like a Picasso painting, but we had our tree – the state record for that year I think.