Jenny Gardiner's debut novel Sleeping With Ward Cleaver came out in January, but for whatever reason Jenny and I never could coordinate our schedules so she could visit the Handbasket. I'm thrilled to have her here now to tell us a very timely holiday story. More about Jenny after her post. And be sure to visit her website as well as Channeling Erma, a grog that's near and dear to both our hearts.
by Jenny Gardiner
I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the holiday thrusts upon us, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. I mean, let’s be honest, at any other time of year, who would actually listen wistfully to a yawner like “The Little Drummer Boy”?
Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.
When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.
Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own (plus you get the added benefit of the needles actually staying on the tree all month rather than littering the floor). Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country”--i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers--only added to the allure.
But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…
That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of forced holiday cheer that we craved.
I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. For forty minutes, we foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.
The kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sucking on candy canes, sipping hot cider and petting the farmer’s dog, who’d recently wandered over. I was just about to retrieve the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.
“No!” I shouted in what seemed like a frame-by-frame slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.
For a moment we stood stupefied, not knowing what to do. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to hunt for a replacement one.
Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would suffice.
Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.
The farmer found a makeshift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.
I have admit, I sort of detached emotionally from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.
But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at this time of year, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.
JENNY GARDINER's work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She likes to say she honed her fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a US Senator. Other jobs have included: an orthodontic assistant (learning quite readily that she was not cut out for a career in polyester), a waitress (probably her highest-paying job), a TV reporter, a pre-obituary writer, and a photographer (claim to fame: being hired to shoot Prince Charles--with a camera, silly!). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat and a gregarious parrot. In her free time she studies Italian, dreams of traveling to exotic locales, and feels very guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house.