by Carole Lee
In a season filled with magnificent trees with branches bowed from decorations, I have Fred. Fred the Christmas Tree. Fred was not always my tree of choice, but I learned to appreciate him the way I learn everything else: The hard way.
My house was once a rest home for old, broken, discarded trees. My mother began the practice of handing down unwanted trees to me the year she began the questionable tradition of hanging ornaments on her Ficus tree. Family members followed her lead (not with the Ficus, mind you), and it seemed I was never without a tree in need of a hug. I took my job as caregiver seriously. As long as I had enough tinsel, electrical tape and a decent corner to hide missing branches, I could make almost any discarded tree look respectable for a while. However, I grew tired of patching pieces together and attaching splints to broken poles. I recalled the scent of pine. I wanted a fresh tree.
Epiphany was my first real tree. She was so-named because it took a great deal of imagination and inspiration to haul her well-developed self up three flights of steps to our apartment. At least the nice, young, college-age guys stepped aside to allow me to drag and huff and puff and gasp and drag and wheeze past on the stairwell. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to appreciate Epiphany. I spent that Christmas in bed recovering from two sprained ankles and a broken spirit. I hear she was lovely.
The next year brought us Belle. Belle was even prettier than Epiphany, at least before I wrestled her, step by determined step, up the stairs. She had a thing about heights. After I broke free of her prickly headlock, I considered greasing her branches but decided against it. Tree trimmings wouldn’t be nearly as festive once they slid off into a heap on the floor. Fun fact #1: Turpentine removes pine sap from hair. Fun fact #2: Turpentine is flammable. Fun fact #3: So is hair.
The following year, Ingénue caught my eye. She was coy yet perky, and brimming with personality. The nice man at the store assured me that binding her limbs with twine would facilitate pulling her up the stairs at home. He was right, too. Only a few little needles were left on the steps. I only realized the danger once she was upright in the living room. The second I cut one section of twine, the rest followed suit--ping! ping! ping!--without my assistance. Her branches popped out with a force that discharged a barrage of pine needles throughout the house like a volley of ninja darts. She was a fresh-cut booby trap worthy of an action movie, or at least a B-grade martial arts film. Each of her offended appendages bounced wildly and then settled into an aggressive stance. If a tree had hips, her fists would have been planted on them. I hid all the cutlery before going to bed. Christmas had an entirely different tone that year.
Last year, after the attack of the Ingénue, I passed by many fresh trees while doing my Christmas shopping. Some called to me, but I fixed my gaze on Christmas cacti and Santa ornaments, pretending not to notice.
“Take me home! I will be a lovely addition!”
“Don’t take her; take me! She’s old and worn out. I’m fresh. See?” She lifted a flexible branch high to demonstrate her youth.
“Not on your life,” I thought. “I barely survived the last episode of battery by flexible branches.”
“Psst. Come here, lady,” one misshapen tree whispered. “I’ve got something to show ya.”
I scurried past. I think her name was Anita Fixx, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out for sure.
And then I spotted it. Only 4’ tall among giants, this artificial tree stood with a confidence that said, “I am fine with my stature. If I don’t suit your needs, I will suit someone else’s. Have a nice holiday, ma’am.” I think he even tipped his hat. Something about this tree was oddly attractive.
On the drive home, I learned that his name is Fred. From his perch on a table, Fred stood watch over our holiday festivities with a butler’s non-intrusive, quiet self-assurance, unlike those prissy, and sometimes scary, trees of years past. I had found my Prince Charming.
So you can have your Epiphanys, Belles and Ingénues, and dress them to impress. I’ll take good old artificial Fred. He is sturdy and dependable, requires no water and assembles in a snap. More important, he’s never hurled a needle in my direction.