Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flying Christmas trees

By the time I turned ten, I no longer believed in Santa Claus or red-nosed reindeer--but I did believe in holiday magic because I knew that Christmas trees could fly.

Christmas came early for our family in 1985. In the holiday rush, my mom decided to forego our family tradition of taking whole family to retrieve the perfect tree in favor of dad taking the two youngest girls, my sister and me, to find whatever was left over. No measuring to ensure the ideal height or endlessly circling the tree to find one without any unsightly gaps. That year we walked with dad right to the section with the red tags marked “6-foot trees, strong, short needles.” We didn’t care if it was Evergreen or Douglas Fir, just that it didn’t shed too much on the carpet when we forgot to water it.

It took two minutes for dad to decide on a tree, my sister and I complaining the whole time that we were freezing. It was two weeks into December and we were both in our preteens, which meant buying a Christmas tree had long ago lost its appeal.

We went to the same tree lot every year. The lot would appear a few days after Thanksgiving with little white lights all round it. The staff was always eager to sell the tree, but customer service stopped there. They didn’t even attempt to help you put it on your car—or secure it. Dad wouldn’t have accepted help anyway. “Let me just get this on top,” dad said, struggling through grunts, cracking tree branches and scratching paint as he hoisted, or rather dragged the tree onto the top of the car. For dad there was no need to put tarp on the top of the car to put the tree on, just like there was no need to put gloves on your hands—“It’s not snowing.”

With the tree on top, my dad got in the car. I lost the race to say, “Shotgun” first, so I had to sit in the back of the car. Dad rolled down my sister’s window and mine. “Kayla, you grab the front part, Kris, you’ve got the back,” dad said as he turned the key and started the engine.

“You’re not going to put ropes on?” my sister asked in disbelief. She already had been dragged into Christmas tree buying duty and now she was going to have to embarrass herself further by hanging out the car holding the tree. Me, I’d gotten used to dad’s logic. It seemed like a waste of time to rope the tree down to the car, I mean wouldn’t gravity kick in and hold it down? I was no physics brainchild.

I hung dutifully out the back window not giving a second thought to our ridiculous scene. One twelve-year-old hanging out the front window, gloveless, clinging to the top branches of an evergreen and an ten-year-old on the other side stretching out the back window holding the fuller parts of the tree. Come to think out it, I’m glad I lost the Shotgun race—it was much easier to hold the back of the tree instead of the front.

We’d made it less than a mile before our tree blew off the side of the car. Dad wasn’t angry—not even irritated. He stopped the car just past the median in the middle of the road, put the hazard lights on and headed across two lanes of traffic holding out one hand. The cars stopped for him as he dragged the tree back to our station wagon and hoisted it on yet again, scuffing up more paint as it went and leaving a path of broken branches.

Our house lay a few miles away in quiet neighborhood, but dad didn’t bother with the route with the small hill—it took longer. Instead, we headed right up the big hill, past the middle school, while our tree headed down. This time dad pulled into one of the hill’s side streets and headed back into the street, hand outstretched. No anger or irritation. By this time, my sister was refusing to hold the tree so dad stepped in and drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other out the window of the car. I switched sides to balance our tree on top of the car. It was getting harder to find a decent-sized branch to hold onto on the bottom of the tree but I wrapped my fingers around a few needles and hoped we’d make it home soon. Dad must have had a better grip on it than my sister and we made it home without anymore flights by our well-traveled tree. (I think it also had to do with dad driving slower once one hand was stuck out the window.)

When we got home my sister rolled her eyes as she stepped out of the car, “Dad, we should have used ropes. I’m not doing that again.” My dad said nothing. He carried the tree into the house like a fisherman carries in a prized trout. At this point, I was coming to understand that the pride in his smile came not from the tree, which was now missing branches and shedding to the point of balding. Dad was proud that he was right—he didn’t need ropes, just faith that the laws of nature didn’t apply to him. And that he could run fast enough to catch a flying Christmas tree.


  1. That is quite a story!

  2. Lovely post. I was riding right along with you, holding on, feeling desperate, and smelling pine needles. Thanks!