The Christmas tree is intact and so is the family. Both were pretty shaky a few days ago when I led our household on its annual tree-fetching adventure. Since this is sup posed to be a happy time of year, I will start by reporting some good news. Now that the national economy is, as the president says, "sluggish at best," Christmas trees are cheap. I got a 9-foot tall -- OK, maybe 8-foot-7-inch -- Douglass fir for $30. This is about half of what I paid for a similar indoor shrubbery back when it was "morning in America."
This downturn in tree prices is no guarantee that our household will decrease its total Christmas tree outlay. My spouse, who when it comes to Christmas tree matters is known as "my worthy opponent," has already taken the position that "the tree needs more lights."
In my view, purchasing such excess illumination would transform a tasteful yuletide symbol into a "used car dealer's showroom."
My worthy opponent and I were not in a foul mood at the start of the family outing. Our children were. The 11-year-old, now a mere two years short of becoming an official teen-ager, was trying to behave like one. He was "bored," getting the Christmas tree was "boring," and riding in the car with his family was, you guessed it, "boring." He and his 6-year-old brother sat in the back seat and tormented one another.
We stopped at a traffic light, at Gwynns Falls Parkway and Reisterstown Road and I was in the process of "urging" the kids to behave, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy with a rifle standing on the sidewalk. The gun appeared to be a .22. It could have been an air rifle. This street-corner rifleman seemed to be pursuing some sea gulls who had flown over from nearby Druid Hill Park.
I didn't wait around to sort out the details, I high-tailed it out of there. The kids didn't know looking at scenery could be so interesting.
Our first stop was not the Christmas tree farm but a comic book store. This was a deal cut with the 11-year-old. While he and his mom were buying reading material, his younger brother and I sat in the parking lot and tried to fix one of the car's jammed power windows. The 6-year-old loves it when we pop the hood. Together we tested the car's fuses. By the time we finished we had determined that all the car fuses worked, but the window didn't.
The whole family was in a good mood when we arrived at the Christmas tree cuttery. Armed with a saw and my tree-measuring device, I led the family as we trooped across
muddy fields to the spot where the pine trees grow. I was proud of my tree-measuring device. I made it by fastening a stick to a measuring tape.
I had used the device in my house to measure the ceiling height of the spot the tree would sit. Out in cutting fields, I held the stick to the top of a Christmas tree and let the attached tape fall to the ground and determined the height of a tree.
Clever though it was, the device was less than a total success. It did an OK job measuring the trees. But the tape wouldn't go back into its spool. It would only pull out. The tape, once used to measure farm buildings in Kansas, was 100 feet long.
So as I trekked from Christmas tree to Christmas tree, I ended up dragging a long tail of tape behind me. Moreover, the tree that measured 10 feet tall in the field ended up being about a foot and a half short of the 10-foot-tall ceiling it was supposed to touch.
After felling the tree, I did get it home without having an automobile accident. And shortly after I got the tree up in the Christmas tree stand, my worthy opponent and I had our
annual debate about whether or not the tree was "leaning."
I contended that Christmas trees, like tides, were influenced by the pull of the moon. Therefore any effort to make the tree "straight" would be undone when the moon changed. My worthy opponent contended that the tree was leaning to the left.
By then it was late in the tree-fetching day and the kids had long since abandoned the tree. One had left to play at a friend's house. Another was upstairs watching television.
In a move to make peace, my worthy opponent and I agreed to postpone the stringing of the lights and the applying of the ornaments to later dates. Provided I straightened the tree.
And so Monday night when I arrived home from work, tired and hungry, the 6-year-old came running to greet me.
"Dad!" he said. "Let's you and me put the lights on the Christmas tree. It is our job."
"OK," I said, dropping my briefcase and peeling off my coat. "But remember Dad's first rule: No decorating without a beverage."