We have a real Christmas tree set up in the sanctuary. A guy who attends here has a tree farm and asked if the church might like a live one this year. It's big, about ten feet tall and a good seven or eight feet across. And it's nice, real nice, evoking quite a few oohs and aahs over the past few weeks. There's only one problem. It stopped drinking water a few days after it went up, and I'm afraid it might start dropping too many of its needles.
I like live trees, that's what Larry and I had always had in our families. I still remember sitting on the couch in my piano teacher's living room waiting for my lesson, watching the colors change on her aluminum tree. Even as a child I didn't quite understand the appeal of that. But she lived in a neat little house without imperfect children or bothersome pets. Looking back now, I suspect that she simply didn't want to deal with a dirty tree and those pesky pine needles.
That's the chance you take with the lives ones. There's almost always a big sign on the lot advertising the trees as being fresh. Hmmm. I've learned you need to size em up, shake them around a bit and then watch the eyes of the sales person as you ask when they were brought in. And if they don't meet your gaze while talking, you take your business somewhere else. But no matter how hard you try, sometimes you get a bad one.
Six or seven years ago while still living in Alabama, I noticed the water wasn't going down in the tree stand. We were barely into December and our lowly fir was already beginning to drop needles. I went back to Lowes and approached a girl working in the garden center. "We bought a tree here a week or so ago and already it's dropping needles," I explained. She looked at me rather suspiciously. "Do you still have the receipt? she asked. "Bring me the receipt along with the tree and we'll give you another one." I suspect she didn't believe me, that I wouldn't really come back with a tree. But a couple of hours later we pulled the poor half-naked tree out of our van and dragged it into the store, leaving a thick path of needles behind us. She took one look. "Oh, I guess it is dropping needles, isn't it. Go head, get yourself another tree." And she pointed in the direction from whence we had originally picked out our pathetic little pine. "Could we get something a little pricier?" I asked. It was worth a try. After all, we had gone to a lot of trouble to strip it of its lights and ornaments, load it back into the van and drive it across town. Plus I'd be vacuuming needles out of the car for weeks. No sympathy from this lady however. "Sure, you can get whatever you like as long as you pay the difference." So much for Christmas spirit.
Finding a live tree was never a concern until we moved to Costa Rica for language school. It was 1985, our first time so far from home. It was going to be hard enough as it was, and not having a proper tree would make it all the more difficult. Therefore, when Larry said that he had seen some being sold on the street six or seven blocks from the house, I was ecstatic. We rallied the kids and headed out in the direction where he had seen them. Not only was it a longer walk than what we had anticipated, we discovered that the trees were actually set up in the center of three major boulevards on a small medium. We managed to cross with all three kids in tow, ignoring the best we could the traffic whizzing all around us, and picked out a good- sized pine, remarkably similar to what we might have found in the States. Somehow we managed to get it back across the street to the sidewalk and started the long trek home, five gringos and a very cumbersome, heavier than anticipated pine tree. There were a few times during that year we could have really used a vehicle, this was one of them.
|Angela, Joel and Fawn on Christmas morning in Costa Rica|
It wasn't too many days later that we discovered our treasure already dropping piles of needles. On Christmas morning it looked so sad that I didn't even take a close-up shot of the tree with all three children sitting in front of it. Instead we took a shot of them sitting on the steps leading down to the living room, the tree well out of view. The best picture I have is one of our little chihuahua sitting underneath the lowest branches. Even in that, it's pretty obvious that the arbol has nothing left of its former glory. A few hours later we removed all the decorations and dragged it outside, the remaining needles trailing behind.
|Chiqui under our very dry Christmas tree|
We had another reason for removing the remaining vestiges of Christmas that afternoon. My sister Dawn had come to spend Christmas with us, and the next morning we were going to load up on a bus and head to the beach for a few days. The tree might have been a disappointment, but the adventure of spending that memorable Christmas in Costa Rica was not. In fact, it turned out to be one of our absolute favorites ever.
|Larry, Marcy , Fawn, Joel and Angela at Caihuita in Costa Rica two days after Christmas|
This will be our third year in this parsonage and three years with an artificial tree in the corner of our living room. Fifty-seven live trees, fifty-eight if you want to count the lemon from Lowe's, and after all these years I buckle and resort to a fake. But someone offered it, we're not putting money out for a new one every year and our kids aren't around to fuss and complain. Besides, most people can't even tell it's not the real thing anyways. But the best part of all, it manages to drop a few needles, just enough to remind me of those past places and times that have been such an important part of my life. And in that remembering, I joy and I laugh.