I’ve heard somewhere that everyone is allowed at least one Christmas disaster story. We now have ours. Christmas 2015 will now be known in our family as “the year our tree fell down”.

Actually there were several mini-disasters, minor bumps in the road, that led up to the bigger one.

First, in late November, our car started making an ominous knocking sound. We brought it in and were told the oil had run out and the warning light failed to come on. Not what you want to hear from the car guy right at the start of the Christmas shopping season. So we got the necessary repairs which were fortunately covered by our warranty; and we dodged a bullet of major engine damage. Minor bump one.

Then the kitchen sink started leaking water into the cabinet below and we had to hire our trusty handy man to put in a new one. Trusty handy man, in turning off the water in the basement, found a leak in the furnace pipe. He said ” you should call a real plumber to fix it”.  One real plumber later, our modest budget for presents was down to a few farthings. Oh well. The last thing you want at Christmas is a flood in the kitchen. Bump two. Surely it would be smooth sailing from here.

Not a chance.

Normally a very healthy guy, I got a nasty cold right at the start of December that turned into a “mild pneumonia in the right lung”. I hate to think what a bad case might feel like. I never had pneumonia before and this one rendered me pretty much useless for the whole month. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

So my poor wife, the ever-energetic Polly, put up Christmas all by herself this year. Not only did she get all four of her unique artificial trees down from the attic, she also carted all the boxes of vintage ornaments and lights down our skinny attic steps, decorated all the trees and the rest of the house, put her Christmas Village up on top of our grand piano, and then proceeded to clean and cook for not one, but two Christmas gatherings we were hosting.

I meanwhile dutifully obeyed my doctor’s instructions and rested, drank copious amounts of water and generally felt like a useless sloth. Another description of my state that my wife not so cheerfully provided was “sitting there like a prince”.

Guilty as charged. And I remain in awe of her stamina.

Finally, a week before Christmas, I felt good enough to get out of the house to help her accomplish two major tasks. The first was to get the food for the coming celebrations. Over the mountain and through the woods we drove to the giant food warehouse where the entire population of western Connecticut was also shopping that day. After confirming our recently renewed and recently lost membership cards, we were allowed to proceed and wander the giant food warehouse to purchase giant amounts of food.

Our second mission was to get a real live Christmas tree, the first real one of our seven years of marriage. So, filled with nostalgic images of fragrant pine boughs, lights and angels, Polly and I went to the nearby nursery and hunted down the perfect specimen. We chose a big fat eight foot tall balsam fir. We noticed they had a couple of heavy duty metal tree stands with big spikes that cost about $100. They looked capable of securing a redwood. I got the fairly big plastic stand we already had from the car and asked the tree guys if it would be adequate. They assured us it would, nodding vehemently in that way that knowledgeable tree guys use, as if to say “stand aside, sir, we are knowledgeable tree guys, have no fear”.

So the knowledgeable tree guys made a fresh cut and tied it to our car roof. Back through the woods and over the mountain we drove, our hearts brimming with yuletide cheer.

With some authentic huffing and puffing (mostly on my part) and minor scraping of walls (on the tree’s part), we got the beautiful evergreen up to the second floor of our old two family house and into the newly appointed Christmas room. Into the tree stand we guided it, and with some angling and tightening of the screws, the Christmas tree was up. The house already smelled like pine woods of northern Maine! I didn’t even mind the pine sap on my new flannel shirt, it smelled so good. We gave it its first four gallon drink of cold tap water, and Polly began the process of stringing the old-fashioned large size lights and hanging her many ornaments.

We were both excited that Polly’s son Rosario (and my stepson) would soon arrive. He had just completed a grueling first semester of graduate school and we looked forward to having him home again and seeing his reaction to the new Christmas tree.

He loved it, as we all did. It was a very thirsty tree and had to be watered twice a day.  We took turns crawling under the bottom boughs with freshly filled water bottles. Christmas spirit was building! The tree was up and smelling great, glowing with the light of red, green, blue and white bulbs, the long table was set up, and it was a pleasure to wrap presents there in the Christmas room with Aaron Neville, Amy Grant, Vince Gill and Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs on the boombox.

One last mission was announced by Polly: get the Santa with two reindeer up on the outside second story porch. Since the new tree was blocking the door to the outside porch where Santa needed to go, we used the window to the roof next to the porch. In an unusually warm December, it had grown colder and rainy two days before Christmas. But I borrowed our neighbor’s good ladder and Rosario, Polly and I brought Santa up to his porch-top position. Rosario climbed the ladder, being the lightest and nimblest of us. I was ladder-holder. Rosario and his mom made some last minute repairs with some duct tape, hooked up the cables and – Voila! – Santa was ready for his midnight ride!

Christmas Eve dinner – celebration number one – went smoothly. Everybody ate a little too much, exchanged presents, laughed, told stories and had a wonderful time. After everyone left, determined to stay ahead of the game, Polly washed half of the dishes before getting to bed at 1:30 in the morning. We both fell asleep like yuletide logs.

An hour later, with dreams of sugarplums dancing in our heads, we were awakened out of a deep sleep by Rosario with these words: “Uh, guys, there was a huge crash – it was the Christmas tree. It fell over. I think we better deal with this right now.”

Polly later said she could not wake her brain up. We were staring at the fallen Christmas tree and all the smashed ornaments which had landed smack dab in the middle of the decorated Christmas dinner table, and watching a small but lively brook flowing from the tree stand down the hall into the living room. I was blinking but couldn’t take it in. The fallen tree just looked so huge and strange, lying on its side like that.

Then two very clear thoughts appeared in my brain, as we scrambled to find every towel in the house to blot up the river of pine-scented tree water. My first thought was “that’s the last time I trust knowledgeable tree guys” and the other was “at least it wasn’t a fire.”

In seconds we bonded together, like the incredibly strong family we are, and tackled the problem. After we mopped up the water, I held the tree (mmm, still smells good, though – man, my shoulder is burning..); Rosario, engineer that he is, improvised a wire buttress between the trunk and the porch door to see if it could support it better; and Polly rescued the remaining ornaments from the branches and swept up the shards of the broken ones from the floor and rug. It became apparent, after several attempts at securing it with wire, that the tree would just not stay up. Its volume had expanded, after drinking all that water, to the point where the “less heavy-duty” stand could no longer support it.

Not wanting to risk another toppling, and needing to get at least two hours sleep before getting up to prepare for Christmas Day dinner, we decided to cut our losses and put the tree out on the porch. It could keep Santa and the reindeer company, like a small horizontal forest. We’d deal with getting it over the porch railing later.

We got the lights off, Rosario went to bed, and Polly and I stayed up and packed all the ornaments away and brought them back up to the attic. We also hung the wet rug pad out on the clothesline and lifted the new Persian rug up a bit to air it out.

I have to hand it to my wife and Rosario – and to myself, too. It could have become a traumatic, holiday-destroying disaster, but, by keeping a positive attitude and a sense of humor, we solved the problem, got a few hours sleep and were able to enjoy our Christmas Day with our family.

And we got a story out of it.

Christmas 2015. The year our tree fell down.


© 2015 by Grayson Hugh







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