Peace on Earth, once sawdust has settled

December 13, 1997|By ROB KASPER

SOMETIMES IT takes a while to learn life's big lessons. Take, for instance, the matter of putting up the household's Christmas tree. For years I have been struggling with this task, battling uncooperative tree trunks and opinionated family members.

Then last Saturday, with pine needles in my face, I had a revelation. I realized there were two pieces of equipment that could transform this tree routine from an emotion-draining burden into an afternoon of spirited, manly fun. Those pieces were a chain saw and a tree stand strong enough to hold a redwood.

I came to this knowledge late in life, after experiencing many wobbly trees and tense, pine-scented scenes with my mate. Other guys already know this. This weekend, for instance, the guys with powerful saws and Rock of Gibraltar tree stands will be the ones smiling as they first fell, then erect the family fir.

Until I got my hands on a chain saw last Saturday, it had not been a joy-filled day. Instead I had spent most of the day being the docile dad. I had been the compliant chauffeur, driving the family station wagon to the I. W. Davidson tree farm in Carroll County. I had been One Who Waits, patiently letting family members examine every Douglas fir on the farm, only to see them pick a tree they had spotted in their first five minutes on the premises.

I had been the willing woodsman, using a hand saw to cut down an 11-foot fir. I had shown remarkable restraint during the "key incident." This occurred in the tree-farm parking lot, after the tree had been strapped to the top of the car. The car keys disappeared. We searched for them for five frantic, check-under-every-seat minutes.

The keys showed up in the coat pocket of a family member who was lucky that I didn't have a chain saw with me at that moment.

I didn't get my hands on that pulsating saw until we got home and the tree was splayed on the living-room floor. I was trying to squeeze the tree trunk into my old tree holder, an effort that had about as much chance of success as one of Cinderella's stepsisters had of getting her fat foot to fit into the glass slipper.

This struggle with a tree trunk has been a dark, stormy and recurring drama in our family life. This year, the scene was unfolding pretty much as expected. I was mad at the tree, my wife was mad at me, and the kids were trying to keep their distance both from their feuding parents and from any heavy lifting.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me: "Go borrow Hunter Alfriend's chain saw." Hunter is a neighbor who owns a mild-mannered electric chain saw. I knew there were bigger chain saws out there. But the big boys were gas-powered and made for rural forms of manly fun. Hunter's chain saw was electric, a 16-inch McCulloch, the kind of saw a worldly fellow in a tweed sports coat would like. It was, in other words, the perfect living-room chain saw.

Faster than you could say "chop my wood pile," I was walking back from Hunter's house, toting his chain saw. Right away I realized that when you are walking down the street carrying a chain saw, pedestrians kowtow. The experience gave me a new crime-fighting idea -- neighborhood watch groups could arm their foot patrols with electric chain saws. The patrols couldn't hurt anybody, unless they got near an electric outlet. But they could DTC scare plenty of folks.

Nobody messes with a man toting a chain saw.

As soon as I plugged the saw into a living-room socket, the house lights dimmed. In no time sawdust was flying, the kids were hiding behind the furniture and my wife was afraid to get within 5 feet of me. It was the most attention my family had paid to me in years. I felt like a rowhouse Paul Bunyan. Nobody "dissed" me.

I was the man making the big decisions. Instead of calling a meeting on the tree-trunk crisis, I took action. My plan was to slice the tree trunk down to size, specifically down to a size that would let the trunk fit in my old, rectangular Christmas tree holder.

When the sawdust stopped flying, the tree trunk resembled a woman's high-heeled shoe, very narrow at the bottom, much wider at the top. This "stiletto heel look" was stylish, but made the tree unstable. Even after more thrilling sessions with the chain saw, the tree trunk still refused to slip into the old stand.

Once again, an angel of the Lord appeared to me. This time the angel said, "Ditch the old tree stand." This tree stand had served me for the past 20 Christmas seasons. But after spending three spirited hours struggling with this year's tree, I knew I had a choice. Either abandon the old tree stand or risk being abandoned by my wife and kids.

It hurt me to me cough up $60 for a new tree stand, but the contraption works. It is made of metal, has a very wide base, and has two tree-grabbing devices, a metal shaft that grabs the bottom of the trunk, and an auger that bores into the tree higher up the trunk. These stands come in various sizes, and as far as I can tell, I bought the tame-a-redwood model.

So our tree is up, and my wife and I are still married. The tree leans a little bit to one side, or appears to. If I could get my hands on the chain saw again, I could fix that. I could trim the branches until the tree "appears to be straight."

Members of my family are opposed to my plan, and are relieved that the borrowed chain saw has been returned to its home. But what they don't know is I am planning to buy myself a little surprise for Christmas. It chops Christmas trees, and most other holiday woes, right down to size.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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