Even before my husband Jim passed away, the Christmas season was always a time of mixed emotion in our household. Memories of a couple of deaths of close family members in December years ago dampened what otherwise should be a time of good cheer, but Jim and I always did our best to make it merry. It was a team effort.
Because of our blended families, the tasks of shopping, wrapping and writing out Christmas cards were enormous. Jim would help me some with wrapping and we would do the Christmas cards together.
And we would pick out our Christmas tree together.
Choosing the annual tree usually wasn’t a smooth process though. I wanted our tree to be tall and shapely with all the dignity Maine evergreens could muster, while Jim preferred trees that were short and robust like a mushroom. We usually compromised in the end, focusing on the most important things — that it not look lost in the 20-by-24-foot room where it would reside, and that it display nicely in the sliding glass doors where it was positioned.
We varied where we would purchase the tree each year. Sometimes a local nursery. Other times a temporary tree lot benefitting a charity or helping a small business person. Or we would purchase it through our church during its annual bazaar. We didn’t do the cut-your-own thing; we didn’t have small children and both of us had had enough of tromping through the Maine woods looking for a Christmas tree as children ourselves.
A couple years before Jim died, we chose a Saturday afternoon about a week and a half before Christmas to get our tree, as was typical. That year, we decided to buy from a temporary lot in Hampden. We poked and prodded, checking needles, trunks, heights and fullness, and finally chose the “perfect” tree. I was so happy with this tree. Jim was happy because I was happy and we could move on in the process. Normally Jim tied the tree to the top of the truck, but on this day, the eager young man working at the tree lot helped us load and tie down the tree.
Jim’s instructions to me as we traveled the five or six miles back home were: use the side mirror to check the roof occasionally and tell me if you don’t see the tree. I diligently watched the tree for the first couple miles, but things seemed to be fine. When we turned off the side road onto our road, I checked on it again. We were a mile from home. All was well.
Piece of cake.
We arrived home. Jim backed the truck across the frozen lawn, parking near the back deck where we would hoist the tree over the rail and take it into the house through the sliding glass doors, thereby avoiding dragging it through the entire house and leaving spills everywhere. Some of this process we had perfected over time.
We both hopped out of the truck simultaneously, and I stepped onto the running board to reach the roof, where we’d have to untie the twine holding the tree. But as Jim and I peered across the top of the roof, we only saw each other.
The tree had vanished.
So, no problem. There was only about a mile we couldn’t account for, so after a few choice words not fit for family consumption, we piled back in the truck to go look for our tree. We traveled up and down the road several times and the tree was nowhere to be found.
We ended up going back to the tree lot, laughing about our situation and feeling kind of sheepish that two adults couldn’t keep track of a 7-foot, full Christmas tree for the short ride home. The tree lot man was very nice. We had planned to purchase the second tree, but he gave it to us since his helper had tied the first tree to our truck. Jim tied the new one.
I couldn’t tell you what we got each other for Christmas that year, but it became the Christmas that our perfect tree got away. All during the season, one of us would remark that the tree we put up was nice, but not as good as the one that had disappeared from our roof.
The only explanation we could come up with for its rapid disappearance was the vehicle right behind us stopped when its occupants saw the tree fly off our truck. Our prayer was that it went to a family who otherwise wouldn’t have had a tree, and that our misfortune was their divine providence.
I still use some of the process we perfected together to obtain and install my annual Christmas tree, which I do alone most years. But I never get out of my vehicle to take the tree off the roof without thinking about that perfect Christmas tree, and how we laughed together over the silliness of losing it so close to home.
Merry Christmas to you all. I wish you peace, joy, hope, and love, and the ability to focus on the treasures in your memories over the holidays.