Jay and I have a comical history with Christmas trees. Our first tree was about four feet tall and artificial. My boss loaned it to us along with some ornaments. I worked for a gift shop at the time, and the tree and decorations had been part of the previous year’s window display. The decorations were, shall we say, not to our taste, but, hey, it was all free. We were in college and not exactly rolling in the dough. It did make our tiny apartment a bit more festive for our first Christmas as a married couple. That January we started saving for a tree and ornaments of our own for the next Christmas though. Jay vowed to never have an artificial tree or “snooty falooty ornaments” again. And, so, over the years we’ve accumulated quite a hodgepodge collection of ornaments, each with a story or memory tied to it from places we’ve lived or visited, units we’ve served in, and things the kids have made.
Christmas of 2017, the Army saw fit to move us from sunny Georgia to the arctic environs of Kansas. That’s a story for another day, but, as a salve to our wounds, they did give us a beautiful, 5,000 square foot, historic home. It truly is a lovely old house with gorgeous hardwood floors, stately rooms, and high ceilings. So, this Christmas, we decided to get a tree that would do it justice.
A friend told me about a tree farm not too far out of town where you can cut your own tree. We headed out there on a Saturday night with wet, slushy snow falling, and by the time we arrived the already damp ground was downright soggy. The farm is owned and operated by three generations of the same family, and the grandsons very politely suggested that we start our search in the barn where they had a few trees already cut. Anxious to avoid the muddy fields and hoping to find the perfect tree ready and waiting, we went in and inspected the inventory. The trees were nice and full and very fresh and the building smelled heavenly. We had an eight- or nine-foot tree in mind, but we’d come late to the party. They’d had a rush Thanksgiving weekend, and all the eight or nine-foot trees were gone.
We wandered through the aisles inspecting mostly six-foot trees and declaring them all too short. They’d be dwarfed by our soaring ceilings, which we declared “must be 15 feet high, at least!” At the very back of the barn, leaning against the wall we finally found three really tall trees. Two that were 11 feet tall, and one that was 12. Jay’s face lit up with childish delight, and I immediately laughed and tamped down his enthusiasm.
“They’re too tall, honey,” I said, shaking my head. “We don’t have enough decorations for a tree that big. It’ll look silly.”
Jay sighed and acquiesced and out into the muddy field we went. We roamed up and down the rows, slogging through mud and blinking past cotton ball sized snowflakes, but alas, no eight- or nine-foot trees. We headed back to the barn and huddled around a heater while we debated our next move. I’d seen a couple of tree lots in town, and I suggested trying one of those. As we discussed our options, Jay’s eyes strayed back to the Goliaths at the back. I followed his gaze and said, “You really want one of those trees, don’t you?” Jay’s eyes brightened again, and he vigorously nodded with a sheepish grin. I studied the trees.
“Well, we aren’t likely to ever have a house this big again, and one of those would be pretty impressive…”
Jay got a big grin…. “Okay, why not!?” I agreed, catching Jay’s enthusiasm.
We chose one of the 11-foot trees, and the son of the owner came to load it for us. He asked what kind of vehicle we drove. I told him it was a 4Runner. He gaped at me a minute, then recovered himself and said, “Well, um…alright, ma’am, uh…let’s take a look and see if we can get this tree on the roof.” I turned to Jay and said, “I’ll go pay while you and he go try to load this thing.” An image of the Griswold family flitted through my mind.
The girls and I left the tree barn while Jay and his new friend went to inspect the truck. We entered a small trailer and found a charming older man behind the counter and his wife next to him, making wreaths. I handed him the tag from the tree.
“Oh, so, you’re taking one of the bigguns,” he said.
“So, it would seem,” I answered. “If we can get it on top of the truck that is.”
“Whatcha driving?” he asked.
My lips twitched as I tried to contain my mirth, “A 4Runner,” I answered.
His eyes widened, “Uh, you know, we’ll hold it for you if you want to come back with a big truck.”
I grinned. “My husband drives a Tacoma,” I replied.
He looked crestfallen. “Oh, well, that’d probably be worse.” He thought for a minute. “Where do you live? I might could deliver it for you.”
I told him, and he knew the place exactly. Turns out he’d worked on post for years and retired from government service. Just then Jay came in and triumphantly announced that they had successfully tied the tree to the top of the truck. I paid for the tree and a wreath, but as I turned to leave a thought struck me. I very much feared our tree stand would not be up to the challenge of holding up Goliath. I turned back and asked if they had any tree stands made for large trees. Turns out, they did, and after a few minutes of debate and inspection of the device, we made the purchase.
As we finally headed out the door, the old gentleman said, “If it fits, and you decide you want another one that big next year, just give me a call Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll bring it to you on the trailer.”
As we stopped at the gate to post and showed the guard our ID’s, he looked up at our tree and said, “That’s a nice, big tree you have there, sir,” without even the hint of a smirk, but I saw him laughing in the rearview as we drove away.
Once home, the first task was, of course, removing the tree from the top of the vehicle. We decided the best course of action was to cut the twine and roll it off the side. Then, we’d carry it to the house and prop it up on our screened-in porch so it could dry off before we carried it inside. It was pretty wet from the snow. The roll off successful with no damage to tree or vehicle, I bent to pick up my end, after Jay assured me it wasn’t heavy. I tugged, managed to lift it about six inches, and dropped it. I suggested Jay either call a buddy or just drag it to the porch, but not willing to lose anymore needles than necessary and determined that we could get it, Jay persuaded me to try again. It ended up taking Jay, our 13-year-old, and me to maneuver the behemoth onto the porch. When we finally stood it up, it hit the ceiling. This gave me a moment’s pause, but I reassured myself that it was only because the porch ceiling slopes. Happy with our purchase and looking forward to the next day’s decorating, we trotted off to supper.
The next afternoon, we began “operation: decorate for Christmas.” First on the agenda was moving Goliath to its position in the dining room. I had posted pictures on Facebook of the tree on top of my truck and sitting on the porch, and my friends were all atwitter to find out if the tree would actually fit in the house and anxiously anticipated pictures. I suspect they may also have been taking bets on whether it would fit.
On the way home from church that day, I’d had a moment of uncertainty that turned into full blown panic that the tree would be too big and look ridiculous. “What if it’s a Clark Griswold tree?” I fretted. So, to assuage my worry, Jay measured the ceiling height to prove to me that the tree would, in fact, fit. The ceiling measured 10 feet. Jay measured again. 10 feet. Jay dejectedly went outside to cut Goliath down to size, thereby lowering it to the aforementioned desired height of nine feet.
The tree cutting complete, it was time to bring it inside. We began by moving all the furniture along our path so we’d have more room to maneuver. Then, Jay, Breanna, and I once again took up our positions around Goliath and lugged it into the house, through the “reception hall” and into the dining room, where we positioned it a corner in front of two windows. Jay had insisted on “at least trying” our old tree stand and had left the new one in the back of my truck. After a bit of back, forward, left, right, we managed to get the tree seated and tighten the bolts. It appeared that our old stand would, indeed, hold the now shorter Goliath, and I planned to return the new stand the next day. We were pretty tired by then, so we decided to hold off on the decorating till the following evening.
The next morning, as I passed through the dining room on the way to the kitchen, I paused in mid-stride and looked at the tree. I cocked my head. I took two steps back and assessed it from a different angle. It was leaning, but it did not appear on the verge of actually falling, so I proceeded into the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. I took one upstairs to Jay, set it on his nightstand, and said nonchalantly on my way to the bathroom, “The tree is leaning.” Mentally, I decided to hold on to the big tree stand.
Over the course of the week, we began a nightly game of “adjust the tree.” Jay would come home from work, and at some point, I would conversationally let it be known that Goliath was, once again, leaning. By Thursday, Jay had had enough.
“Fine!” he said in exasperation. “We’ll use the new stand!”
I refrained from saying, “I told you so,” and went out to retrieve the contraption from the back of my truck. It became a whole big thing, to use one of my sister’s favorite expressions, to move the tree from one stand to the other, and then to properly tighten the chains meant to hold it secure and upright. By the time it was all said and done, we were sweating and not at all in the mood to start dealing with tangled Christmas lights.
We finally decorated the tree on Friday night, and I dutifully posted pictures on Facebook to end everyone’s suspense. It turned out beautifully, and we got lots of compliments. It was just the right size.