This is a story that my family has heard many times, and my brother has encouraged me to write down. So I did. I also will attest here and now that I am not making a word of this up. This really, really happened.
The year was 1983. I was living in upstate New York, completely against my will as a California native. After a long, dragged-out divorce, my ex finally moved into his own apartment which I had to rent for him (so now you know at least one of the reasons for the divorce). I was alone – at last – with my 3 ½ year old daughter, Jenn.
Our family tradition every year was to go out to a Christmas tree farm in the country, find the perfect tree, and haul it home. It was a beautiful tradition, one that I was bound and determined to continue in my newly single state.
Two weeks before Christmas, it was a cold but clear morning as I bundled Jenn into her snowsuit. Now, for you west-coasters, a snowsuit is de rigueur for the northeast. It is a one-piece snow-proof thing inflated to bursting with insulation and hopefully a young child somewhere in its depths. When donned and zipped up, the child’s cherubic face is all you can see as he or, in this case, she stands looking for all the world like a giant gingerbread cookie – legs apart, arms sticking straight out, unable to bend. Add some boots and a scarf, and she is ready to go.
Go we did in my little Subaru sedan. Over the hill, through the woods, to a Christmas tree farm not far from our house. We were the only car there on this weekday morning, so the farmer gave us a tree saw and pointed across the field to where the trees were. This also was a “low key” (read “cheap”) Christmas tree farm — no Santa’s helpers in cute hats, no sled to bring the tree back, no plastic netting to wrap it in and help put on top of your car. Nope. “The trees are over there,” and back in the house he went.
The field road was frozen, so the ride was slow and bumpy but the little Subaru made it.
As soon as we alighted from the car, Jenn announced she had to pee. Jenn “announcing” things would shake the earth to its depths – “I HAVE TO GO POTTY!!!” she screamed, her words piercing the frozen air like icicles.
Okay, among the many drawbacks to snowsuits is they are impossible to get off once on. I unwrapped the scarf, pulled off the hood, unzipped the front, pulled down the suit, pulled down her pants, and proceeded to instruct my little girl in the fine art of peeing in the woods.
Which she managed just fine. All down the front of her snowsuit. She was soaked, and it was just below freezing out. So, back to the car we went. I told her to wait in the car while I went to get our tree, put the saw on my shoulder, and headed down the hill to the trees.
I wasn’t alone. Jenn’s screams had brought the farm dog around, who was jumping and barking alongside me as I looked for my tree. (Forget the “perfect” tree – at this point, any tree remotely round and green would do.) I could hear Jenn too. She had rolled down the window in the car and was “announcing” that she was cold and wet and wanted to “go home NOW!”
I found an acceptable tree and started to saw it down. This was not as easy as it had looked when my husband had done it in years past. I sawed and sawed and sawed, finally realizing the farmer hadn’t sharpened the saw in years.
But, with a sharp kick, the tree came down. I put the saw on my shoulder, grabbed the trunk of the tree, and started for the car. I got about 5 feet and realized the tree was a whole lot heavier than it looked. And bigger. I couldn’t lift it, so had to drag it with two hands back up the hill to the car.
Sweating, struggling, swatting at the barking dog, serenaded by Jenn’s continuing wailing, I finally got back to the car. There was Jenn, standing on the front seat, totally naked, with the window wide open, yelling at the top of her lungs. I tried to put the tree on the roof of the Subaru, but it was too heavy to lift. So I stuffed it into the backseat. It wouldn’t fit, of course, so I had to leave the back window open with the trunk of the tree between the front seats.
I put my sweater on Jenn, started the car, put the heater on super high, threw the car into reverse, and ran over the farmer’s dog. Actually, just its leg. I jumped out, put the bleeding, yelping dog on the floor of the car next to the naked, screaming three-year-old, and gunned it back to the farmhouse.
Except the field had thawed. I left the wailing dog/screaming kid-filled car in the mud and ran to the farmhouse to get help.
The farmer was not surprised to hear I ran over his dog – “that dog is always getting underfoot” – but he was surprised to see the naked kid standing in the open window of the car. “She always like that?” he asked politely. While I tried to explain the snowsuit thing, he got behind the car and pushed it out of the mud.
Back at the farmhouse, we transferred the dog to his car to get it to the vet, I gave him money for the tree and my phone number for the vet bill, and Jenn and I headed home with our fresh-cut, farm-raised Christmas tree.
Back home, I gave Jenn a warm bath, put milk on for hot chocolate, took the fresh-baked cookies out of the jar, and went to get the tree out of the car.
Except (and I know you KNEW this) I had put it in backwards. You NEVER put a Christmas tree in trunk-first, silly, no matter how much easier it is that way. I pulled, I pushed, I got the saw out and cut off lower limbs, I pulled some more, cut some more, and finally just pulled as hard as I could through the open side window it was sticking out of. Limbs broke, needles went flying, bark shredded – by the time I got it out of the car, it was the ugliest tree I had ever seen.
I put it up, put the lights on, hung the ornaments, poured a very big brandy, and the following year went to a tree yard and had a good-looking guy put a perfect tree on top of my car for me.
Merry Christmas from our house to yours.