This year, our annual quest for the perfect Christmas tree took us across the state line to Connecticut. For two Southern California ex-pats who formerly chose our Christmas trees on a typical 72-degree December day from an abandoned car wash on the main boulevard or a grocery store parking lot, this appealed to our sense of adventure.
I recall one Christmastime of old when my siblings and I implored our parents to buy a “flocked” tree. We were enamored with the idea of a pastel colored tree, like Lucy in the “Peanuts” Christmas special, as she gazed at the colorful aluminum trees in the tree lot, much to Charlie Brown’s disdain. The flocked trees were offered in shades of light blue, mint green, soft pink and plain white “snow.” Our dad acquiesced, and reluctantly agreed on the more traditional white. I imagined it was how snow appeared on the boughs of a tree in the Northeast, except that we had to vacuum underneath this snow-covered specimen daily. (One year my dad bought a can of the flocking material that resembled a can of whipped cream, which produced equally impressive results.)
As my husband, Chris, pulled up to a little booth at Hartikka Tree Farms in Voluntown, Connecticut, we put on our facemasks and I unrolled the car window. A masked man handed me a page of instructions.
“Do you need a saw?” he offered. I answered that we did. “What? We need a saw?” my husband asked incredulously. I handed him the sheet of paper. Somehow he had missed this detail when we decided to venture out to a Christmas tree farm.
Just as if he was in the familiarity of the grocery store, abandoning the shopping cart in the middle of an aisle, Chris would soon desert the tree cart and the hand saw several times while he meandered among the rows of balsams, firs and spruce, before backtracking to find them.
With his tape measure he had determined we could get an 8-foot tree, and the options seemed limitless. Trees of every dimension stretched out before us. As we entered the artificial forest, I was struck by the copse of mature pines, which flanked the right side of the road. They appeared like General Sherman, the Giant Sequoia, in contrast to the younger saplings. “How about one of those?” I suggested with a wry smile. Chris chuckled to think of the tree farm owner reacting to a customer attempting to cut down one of the mammoth trees with a handsaw.
As we tiptoed around a Lilliputian forest of young pine trees, careful not to tread on them, our eyes were fixed on the blue sky and the trees which disappeared to the back of beyond. With my eyes skyward, occasionally my boot came in contact with a small tree stump.
Some of the trees had tags of red, yellow, or white.
“This is a nice one,” I would say, to which Chris would respond, “I think the tag means it’s taken.” Pretty soon every tree I admired appeared to have been already adopted by another family.
“I think the tags indicate what type of tree it is,” I suggested. “Where is the sheet of paper I handed you?” I asked. Evidently it was in the car.
“Instead of the tallest tree possible, why not find the widest tree possible?” I decided. We continued our search with renewed vigor. Yet there were moments when I felt like I was lost in a cornfield, or maybe even a grocery store, where husbands are apt to wander off. Eventually I found my husband, and The Tree.
My job was to support the tree trunk. Chris assumed the position of a mechanic under a car, and set to work with the saw. “If it starts to fall, run,” he advised, from somewhere underneath the tree.
Which end was up? Without the page of instructions we eventually determined the correct orientation for both tree and cart, then headed to the station to have our tree baled, Chris proudly hauling his kill after the successful hunt.
On the way he spotted a pink striped mitten in the dirt. A woman and her two small daughters dressed in pink had just passed us. After a quick inventory, the young mother had all mittens accounted for so I gave it to an employee for the lost and found department.
The tree baler reminded me of a tree chipper, except the end product was not sawdust but a perfectly encapsulated Christmas tree, ready for the roof of the car. Chris handed me the ticket as I took off my mittens and my sunglasses to photograph the procedure, while adjusting my hat and my facemask.
As Chris finished meticulously tying the tree to the top of the car, I discovered my sunglasses were missing. Quickly, I retraced my steps to the tree baler. I shouted to be heard from behind my mask and above the roar of the engine.
“I think I saw them!” a young man shouted in return, as he walked over to a pile where I thought I saw a pink striped mitten. He returned with my sunglasses. I told him he was my hero.
On the drive home Chris opened the car window.
“Checking the temperature?” I asked, although the car thermometer clearly read 36 degrees. “Just checking on the tree,” he said as the sub-arctic air swirled inside the car. I reached up and slid open the sunroof. “It’s still there,” I assured him, and closed it.
A few seconds later he slid it open again, just to make sure.