Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches….maybe? I can’t say for sure, because we can’t get our Christmas tree to stand upright in the tree stands. I’m not a big fan of the tree stand anyway. It’s one of those metal contraptions that requires an engineering degree to assemble each year, but it does hold plenty of water, and most years, it holds up the tree. This year, that’s a maybe. We purchased our tree last night and brought it home. We tried to place it in its tree stand in the garage last night, but it kept tipping over. We finally resorted to learning it against the garage door until we could figure out why it’s so tipsy. It’s like it’s already had too much egg nog…
One of the joys of buying a live Christmas tree each year is their uniqueness. Some years, you have the perfect tree. Other years….the drunk tree (2013) or the tree requiring a prosethesis (circa 1970s).
The tree that acquired a prosthetic branch or two was purchased sometime in the 1970s. Like all of my childhood Christmas trees, it was a balsam fir. Each year, we would head out to Garden World to find the perfect tree. The tree lot was crammed with Christmas trees stacked and shoved against the chain link fence surrounding the garden center. Christmas bulbs and spotlights glared from an angry wire overhead, bathing the tree lot in the glare of a thousand watts. Blaring Christmas carols piped through tiny speakers would distort the Vienna Boys Choice into caroling screeches, but we would all pretend it was a jolly good time. After visiting the display of plastic, light-up snowmen, nativities, giant candles and choristers arranged to tempt the suburban homeowner inside the garden center, we’d head outside to the tree lot for the arduous task of choosing a Christmas tree.
The secret to choosing a tree in a busy urban tree lot is to have many children, and to use the children strategically to hold the potential trees while Mom and Dad keep hunting. You place child one standing with tree one, then bring child two to the spot where tree#2 waits. Then each child holds onto the tree so other shoppers can’t grab “your” tree. When you finally choose your tree, let the others crash majestically back to the pile. Then wait in line for half an hour while teenage boys with cigarettes dangling from their lips (this was the 70s, remember) nonchalantly squash the tree through the netting machine, thus removing as many needles as possible before tying it with too much rope to the roof of the car.
Once the tree was untied at home, we stored it in the seasonal porch at the back of the house until the magical, wonderful evening when my parents would finally agree (or cave into our pestering) to put up the tree. My mother had a horror of putting up the tree “too early” but it had to be taken down precisely at noon on New Year’s Day, which I always thought was the saddest day of the year, next to the first day of school in the fall, because 1) the tree and ALL the Christmas decorations came down that day and 2) you had to go back to school the next day. I mean, can it get any worse than that when you are a kid???
Our childhood Christmas trees were placed on not one but two stands. The first stand was an enormous wooden box. It had iron hinges and iron straps on it and was probably close to 100 years old. Inside the box, we kept the tree stand. It was one of the first electrified Christmas tree stands ever made, and there’s a good reason why they don’t make them anymore. Not only did the cast iron tree stand weigh about 40 pounds, but over the decades, water in the tree stand rusted the inside, causing it to give anyone nearby electrical shocks when they went to change the bulbs. My sister is now the proud owner of the tree stand but she’s too afraid to plug it in. Besides, they don’t make the size lightbulbs needed for it anymore, either.
A ray of lightbulbs, like a crown, extended from the white metal base, emerging from the center of faux poinsettias painted around the bottom. It was a childhood delight but to my adult eyes is about as tacky as it comes. My parents would wrap the wooden box with Christmas wrapping paper, then put the tree stand on top of that, then the tree into the stand. This way, you could take a 5′ tree and it would look about 7 feet tall in the living room…it was actually on a stand, box plus stand, of about 2 to 3 feet.
The year of the tree that needed the prosthesis, we had somehow waited too long to pick out our Christmas tree. It was very close to Christmas, and there weren’t many trees within our price range left at the lot. In fact, the trees were downright terrible. My dad grabbed the first one that looked good and we took it home. But when he placed it in the tree stand inside the living room and the branches relaxed, we realized to our horror why the tree had been left behind. It was bare. I mean…bare on one side, a huge gaping hole where branches should be, nothing. Smooth trunk. A big, circular spot you couldn’t miss no matter how you turned the tree. Even trying to hide it by facing the bare spot to the living room wall didn’t work.
As we stood contemplating the ugliest tree we’d ever seen, my dad disappeared. We could hear him rummaging about in the basement workshop in his tools. We heard the back door slam. We waited, wondering what was going on.
A few minutes later, my dad returned to the living room. He carried several branches in his hands, a hacksaw, and the old-fashioned hand drill from my grandfather.
“I know the solution!” he said. With a flourish, he placed the evergreen branches on the living room carpet. They were branches from the huge hemlock shrub that hid the garage on my neighbor’s side. My dad proceeded to drill holes into the trunk of the tree. He carefully affixed each hemlock branch to the balsam fir. Voila. Prosthetic Christmas tree branches. Or maybe a toupee would be a better word for it?
No matter what you call it, the extra branches held the lights and the ornaments, and it was a tree to remember.
Perfect Christmas trees are lovely, and ones we cherish. But it’s the goofy ones, the Charlie Brown trees, the trees that need a little help, that we remember for a lifetime.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.