O’ Tannenbaum

It’s going to have to come down at some point. It just has to.

The Christmas Tree is still sitting prominently in our living room, still covered in ornaments passed down to me from my child hood, garland and white lights that I must confess, I have switched on as I write this. I love the idea of a Christmas Tree and think that they are easily the very best part of the European Christmas tradition.. with some very serious caveats.

In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about “The Tree”. Though it’s undoubtedly the centerpiece of most of my Christmas memories, I always felt a bit uneasy around that bit of forest we had dragged into our home and festooned with lights and baubles.

I have early memories of crunching through thin snow in a vast field of nearly identical little evergreen trees. My parents would walk along looking from left to the right and then to the left again, looking for just the right tree to come home with us and get us in the holiday mood. The big, red bow saw that my father carried both intrigued and spooked me with it’s elongated, almost grotesque teeth. As far as I can recall, this was the only time this particular tool had work to do each year. The curved fangs of the blade would bite into the trunk of the selected conifer, bringing it down with a few good pulls and minimal grunting from under the skirt of low bows as my father lay on the frozen ground, trying to get Mom and me to push the tree one way or another in an effort to keep it from pinching the blade.

Hauled by its trunk, we’d pull it to the car and lash it to the roof, leaving a little stump behind us and a patch of snowless ground. It made me uneasy. It’s not that I didn’t understand that these trees were planted here for the express purpose of cutting for Christmas. It just always struck me as a bit sad to see the hole it left in the otherwise neat rows of green, prickly soldiers who remained.

tree-farm

Then, it was time to head home. This brought on the next problem. When I was little, my job mostly consisted of staying out from underfoot, or at the most, closing the front door after Dad, swearing lightly… or perhaps not so lightly, wrestled the reluctant tree through the entryway. As I got older, my new job was to HELP Dad wrestle the tree in. This sounds like a good idea until you watch the chaos unfold. One of us would get the drippy, pinesap covered end and would be walking backwards. The other would have the highly fragile, infinitely pincushingly, pointy end and would be able to see nothing as they stumbled up the stairs, often times, accidentally causing the trunk end holder to stumble backwards and loose his balance.

Now there were two of us swearing.

Once inside, we needed to get it up and secured. We had one of those ancient pressed metal stands with the four long screws and somehow it was always me who got the under the tree duty. I’d lay on my stomach or side, trying not to notice how heavy my head was getting and how crampy my neck was tighten as many of the bolts as fast as I could while loose needles trickled down my neck. More swearing was often needed at this point.

“A little more to the left”
“No. That’s too much now”
“Come forward now”
“TOO MUCH! Back it up a bit”
“I think it’s still leaning to the left. Don’t you?”

That taken care of, the decorating would begin. This, I enjoyed! Getting out the ornaments was like opening up a treasure chest. I had made some, some came from friends and relatives and others were from my parent’s days predating me. I loved seeing them after a long year in the basement and other than the expected pickings from the tree, I enjoyed putting them up.

The needles were my bane. I lived in a shoe-free house. All footwear came off at the door and I spent most of my time at home in socks. The room our tree was always set up in had a deep pile carpet and the needles just seemed to lie in wait for me to go padding by and yelp as a sap tipped assassin jumped at its chance to strike at its captor. It seemed like no matter how much vacuuming was done, some of these little buggers would make it through and lie low, patiently biding their time. Months later, they still would get me and send me hobbling to the sofa to extract them from the bottom of winter softened souls.

The final piece that didn’t sit well was when we tossed it. You’d think that after all the struggling to get it in and set up and then the indignities of having to pluck it’s quills from the bottom of my feet, that I’d be happy to see it go, but mostly, it made me kind of sad. I’d look out of the window and see it flung on the snow back by the road, waiting for the city to take it away. It was obviously too small to be milled into anything and too green to burn so it was destined to be mulch. It was just going to go to waste.

I hate waste.

One time in particular, I recall looking at an abandoned tree and seeing something glint from within its branched. When I went out to inspect, I found a missed ornament. It was a little golden pear that a friend had given my parents. After that, I was far more vigilant when it came to stripping the tree of its medals prior to being drummed out of the house. I still have the little pear ornament and can see it now glinting in the small white lights on my own tree.

Tonight I’ll take it down and strip my tree of its glory, but I’m not worried about forgetting something buried deep in its braches. I may miss one, naturally, but it will be safe until next year. My tree will fold up like a green, furry umbrella and fit neatly back in its box. It’s a fake. A good fake, to be sure, but fake nonetheless. My Mother still thinks that it’s awful to skip having the real deal, but I’m happy with it. I can leave those little trees out in the field for someone else to pick and since my tree comes apart, I don’t need to stuff it through the door jam as I turn the air blue. The best part is the needles are soft and permanently attached. Little feet in footy pajamas are safe, as are my own.

Interestingly enough, the old, red bowsaw that felled so many Christmas trees hangs in my own basement now. I have to admit. I have no idea the last time I used that thing. If the trees attack though, I’m ready.

The Dump

When I was kid, we didn’t have curbside garbage pick up. At least, I don’t think it was an option. What that meant was that every weekend, my father would load the trunk of his otherwise pristinely clean car with bag after bag of household refuse and drive them to the land fill himself. This, on the surface, doesn’t sound so bad, but you have to know my Father to understand the ramifications. Though my dear and understand Dad is normally a very level headed and flexible individual, when it comes to caring for his cars, he’s obsessive, verging on the pathologic. His vehicles are always cleaner than clean and could double as an operating theater for brain surgery if it weren’t for the facts that first, it would be too cramped, and second, he would chase everyone out with a window scraper before they could leak brain juice on the upholstery.

His rabid defense of his cars from all things messy has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For the most part, he couldn’t care less about vehicles in general. He doesn’t lust after a Mustang or drool over Mercedes. The various makes and models just don’t turn his head much. He would (and has) however, defended the unblemished interior of both a brand new Chevrolet behemoth-mobile or a company owned AMC Eagle with equal gusto. The bottom line is, if it’s his car, it matters and it will, oh-yes-it-will, be perfect. If you ever are in the market for a used car, you want his.

This makes the dump trips all the more amazing. It must have been a teeth clenching experience for him to drive his car, with a trunk full of trash, down the muddy road and into a giant valley of garbage. These trips took place on Saturday mornings and more often than not, they happened with a little boy in the back seat. I was always game for going to the dump! I thought it was awesome!

The long, dirt road snaked down into the craterous pit and moving along the periphery, yellow monsters with massive steel wheels groaned, shifted and feasted on the stinking piles. All around us were the leftovers of thousands of homes, cast off and destined to be pawed through by some alien archeologist of the future. What ever will they think we were like?

trash

Naturally, getting out of the car was the very first thing that I wanted to do. What kid wouldn’t? Everything was fascinating to look at and most of all, I wanted to “help”. Children of a certain age are almost always up for “helping” and it is a trial for just about every parent out there. The efforts of the son or daughter are earnest and heart felt and will inevitably make the job at hand go six to eight times slower than if you could just handle it yourself. The Saturday morning dump trip had the added bonus for my Father of having his son track dump juice back into the car when it was time to go. I can only imagine what this did to his blood pressure. Being a kid and thus possessing the attention span of a squirrel on amphetamines, I would naturally forget myself and put my feet up on the seat back or pull my legs up next to me, smearing someone’s old lettuce and fish sticks on the upholstery. My dad, doing the best to be his best would remind me a gently as possible about keeping the car clean. This would happen roughly every sixteen seconds for the rest of the way back to town.

As we headed back, dutifully cleaning hands with moist towelettes that appeared magically from the glove box, we’d chat about this and that and more often than not, make a detour to a local doughnut shop and pick up provisions for a successful Saturday morning back at home.

These days, we don’t call them “dumps” any more. They are “transfer stations” and the massive land crawlers that buried our troubles in leaky pits have been reassigned to move bins of segregated household items so that they may be recycled at the proper facility. Or, perhaps buried in segregated pits far far away. Our own transfer station is a lot cleaner than the one I remember from my youth. Though we do have city pick up, this requires us to remember to get the cans out the night before; a seemingly simple task that we somehow forget astonishingly often. I pack up my less than pristine car with the cast-offs from our home and drive the short distance to the facility, my own son chattering away to the back of my head. We pull in and naturally, he wants to help. Mercifully, the various bins are far too high for his little arms to swing bags into, so I get that envious job all to my self.

Though missing the massive pit of refuse, what our dump does have are all the sleeping metallic dinosaurs that had entranced me so long ago. Short Stack likes to review them as they sit, lined up for inspection. All he needs is an officer’s hat and riding crop and it would be the perfect image of a general reviewing the troops.

“That’s a front loader. That one’s a backhoe. This one is a grader.”

It’s an instructional way to spend a morning.

Once the trash has been deposited and the battalion reviewed, we head back to the car and buckle in. His boots will inevitably wind up on the seat back and I’ll wince as I feel my seat get kicked and think of the mud. This is nothing to what my Father had to endure, however. Our dump isn’t a dump at all. Just a collection of skids and dumpsters full of neatly separated debris. There are no elderly fish sticks to trod on and bring inadvertently back home on our shoes. The seagulls don’t even seem to visit there, looking for an easy, if not rancid, meal.

There’s no doughnut shop nearby for us to stop at, but that’s okay. Action Girl might be making waffles or pancakes back in the kitchen. Into the garbage will go the eggshells and the empty bag of flour, priming the trash can for next week’s trip so we can see what’s going on at the dump.

Flame On!

As we stood at the base of the tree, I was taken by three facts. First, that it was a very, very tall, and old white pine. Second, that it stood at the edge of a forest that pretty much turned into most of western New Hampshire. Third, that branch that the lit sparkler that had been accidentally thrown into was starting to smolder.

My friends offered verbal assistance.

“Um… Crap!”

One of them in particular, my friend Ioseph, did a helpless little dance under his tree bound, burning magnesium stick and attempted to complete an intelligible sentence in an effort to coax it down.

Oddly enough, none of this required the application of alcohol or other foreign substances. Heck no. This was par for the course. After all, Ioseph Fork Beard was there!

I have a group of friends who have been part of my life for very much of it. We all live in various places now and though none of us are more than a state or so apart, adult life has made visits infrequent. I miss them terribly some times, but for the safety of our various families and others who might be passing by at the time, it’s probably a good thing.

The Doctor was the first of my life long pals. He and I grew up at each other’s houses and I consider him my brother. On at least one occasion, I can recall giving both my and his Mom a Mother’s Day card. We both had keys to both houses and used them often. We’re that close.

The second member of the group was met for the first time when The Doctor and I attended a summer computer camp. It was some time in the 80’s and we, as aspiring nerds, decided to spend part of our vacation in a college basement staring at black and green monitors, coding in BASIC. It was there that we met another aspiring geek, the very young, Mountain Man. Well, to be fair, we were all young.

Mountain Man attended a different school than we did and so, after camp was over, we lost touch with him for a while. We would meet again, later in high school, but when we did, it was with the adoption of the fourth member of our circle. Enter, Ioseph, Fork Beard.

In high school, he had no beard to fork, but he didn’t need one to stand out, either. Ioseph does not blend into a crowd well. Perhaps he would have a shot at it if the people in the crowd were all tall, flaming red heads and bear like. Otherwise, you’re going to see him first.

Ioseph Fork Beard was an large, awkward transplant to the region and seemed to be a bit lost in the massive high school-factory that we all attended. One of us introduced him to the group and pretty much immediately, he was in. Ioseph had a few big things going for him. Firstly, he was immediately likable. You couldn’t possibly help liking him. It’s a super power of his. Secondly, he was the first of us to have his own wheels. While some of us had access to a family car, Ioseph had his very own. It was a white, Ford Escort and he could take it out when ever he wanted. That was some serious freedom. Thirdly, and most importantly, he was up for it, whatever “it” happened to be. If you came up with a crazy, half baked plan and brought it before the group, he would bake the other half and was on for the ride. Some might think that this was his way to gain popularity and access with a tight knit bunch of friends, but you would be utterly wrong. He just wants to try anything that sounds like fun. I’m fairly certain that if a government agent came to his door and told him that they wanted Ioseph to travel to the rebel infested mountains of Wehateyoustan and make a drop to the spy hiding there, his bags would be packed before the pitch was finished. Personal safety is not so important to him if it sounds like the peril will lead to a once in a lifetime experience. He’s always up for peril!

The other thing about Ioseph that you need to know is his head stone. He has one. We got it for him as a gift. Actually, it was The Doctor who got it for him since he had a gift certificate from the local monument company (don’t ask). It’s not very big and fits better on the edge of a desk than it would in the grass of a quiet cemetery, but it’s the thought that counts. The inscription reads:

Ioseph, Fork Beard
Consumed by a fire
“Oops”

This might seem a tad… harsh, but it was actually well received with a lot of vigorous head nodding from all those present. Ioseph has a well known and amazing ability to get in unusual, and often flammable, predicaments. To make matters even more interesting, he hasn’t limited himself to just one of the four basic elements when it come to destruction, but for this chapter, lets just focus on fire.

There was a story about an errantly aimed roman candle and a cut and dried out corn field. There was the time he decided to sterilize the lab desk in high school with alcohol from the Bunsen burner… and light it. (Please picture here, liquid fire dripping off the desk edges and onto the floor before the pie sized eyes of the science teacher.) Then, there was the sparkler, thirty feet up in a bone dry tree on the edge of the forest.

That, in a FEMA report, is Iopseph. I’m pretty sure that the only thing that keeps him out of federal prison is his super power of likability. He honestly does none of this stuff with the slightest bit of malice. It’s always with the most wide eyed innocence that he gets in these predicaments and at this point in our friendship, the utterance of the word “oops” from his lips will send us all leaping for the nearest window. With Ioseph around, life is ANYTHING but boring.

The four of us stood there in my back yard, all focusing our minds on putting out the tiny fire that we could see flickering amongst the needles on the branch tip. Ioseph continued his dance. “I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry!” It was a catchy little tune, really. I was seriously regretting pulling out the long forgotten box of sparklers that I had found in the closet. I was regretting even more the idea of tossing them, lit, into the air. To be fair, it was I who had done it first. Its long, shooting star-like contrail arching through the darkness and into the yard. Arching, I should add, into the MIDDLE of the back yard. You know… AWAY from the trees. Someone else tried it and then Ioseph did. His first toss put it directly onto the ancient pine tree at the edge of the property.

We were way too far away to get the hose to it, but that didn’t stop me from trying once the flames became visible. I hauled it’s reluctant coils through the flower beds, flattening the ones unfortunate enough to be in the way. With the water on full blast and my thumb held like a vice over the opening, the spray of water was short easily by twenty feet. We watched. The tiny flames got smaller, smaller and mercifully, went out. None of us took our eyes off the spot until every last red ember cooled and disappeared. I’m pretty sure you could hear our collective sigh of relief in Vermont.

Sparkler time was over for the night.

Oddly enough, Ioseph doesn’t work with fire for a living. You can tell, because the greater Boston area where he lives hasn’t been consumed in a mushroom cloud. We don’t see him often enough these days and I miss his dangerous company. I’ll see if I can get him to come up for a visit before the summer is over.

I might, however, wait until we’ve had a good soaking rain before I make the offer, though.

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