Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas tradition

It's the Christmas season.

My youngest son is supposed to be coming back from Tennessee, where he has gone to see a friend, with a Christmas Tree.

I'm not going to ask him where he got it.

Or how.

Getting Christmas trees is a family tradition. We have done it many different ways. Typically, especially when the kids were younger, we all went as a family to one of those Christmas Tree farms where you would drive up, they'd hand you a saw, you could walk around an look at some sad looking animals in pens - a couple cows, maybe a pig or two, and always a sad-looking deer that never had a red nose or answered to the name "Rudolph" despite what the sign might say - and then wander out in a field to find the 'perfect' tree.

Finding the perfect tree was always a challenge. I'm a terrible shopper. No matter what it is, I always feel there is a better option right around the corner. And no matter what I pay, I feel I'm getting ripped off. (Except shopping in Belk, where on certain days they practically give stuff away. You go in when they are having a sale and it's like Mrs. Russell's algebra class all over again - 60 percent off, plus another 10 percent, and if you have a coupon it's 30 more percent, and if you open a credit card you get another 25 percent off. Who can figure that out? And then you walk up to the register and somehow it comes out even cheaper then you figured. But that's another story).

Anyway, at the tree farm, I'd find a tree and everyone would agree it was fine - "fine," not perfect - and I'd say well, remember where this is and let's keep looking. Only how do you remember where a tree is in a field full of trees that are all roughly the same shape and size?

Yet once we got it home, whatever it was, it was always perfect.

Sometimes we'd go to the local tree lots, run by Boy Scouts or whomever. One year, back when the Trophy Wife and I were first married and poor, we got a tree at a local lot. Now understand, the Trophy Wife loves Christmas. Absolutely loves it. I swear there were years where she'd put a tree up on October 1st if I'd agree to it. So this year, we got this tree from a local Boy Scout lot on Thanksgiving weekend. Two weeks later, it was bare - every needle had fallen off. So she took it back and they gave her another one. two weeks later, it was bare. She took it back again. I think we got the last one on Christmas Eve.

And while that is a great story and the guys who ran that lot were extremely nice, you realize this means we had to decorate and undecorated three trees in the span of less than a month. That includes stringing and unstringing lights three times. There was a decided lack of Christmas Cheer in my heart that year - until Christmas morning when, once again, we agreed we had the 'perfect' Christmas tree.

But there are other ways to get Christmas trees.

Sometimes, you just take one. Or two. Or ...

I think the statute of limitations has run out, because I haven't been part of a Christmas tree theft in a long, long time. A long time. I mean it - a really, really long time.

But there was a time ...

Now, we didn't take them from people's homes or houses. And, unlike some other friends of mine, we didn't go out to interstate right-of-ways and cut them down when nobody was looking.

It started when I was a freshman in college. And in a fraternity. The pledge class was told that we had to provide a Christmas tree for the fraternity house. Oh, and we should get enough for a few of the sororities, too.

Now, how were we going to do that? The "brothers" didn't say. They just said we had to come up with Christmas trees.

So some of the other guys - not me, of course, because I'd never do anything illegal like that - would head off in the dead of night to find a grocery store that, during regular business hours, sold Christmas trees. But of course, 1 a.m. was not regular business hours. Only a Kroger or Piggly Wiggly didn't have the space to be taking Christmas trees inside, off the sidewalk every night at closing time. So they'd leave them outside.

Now, there was a time I had this bad habit of hearing everyone talk about what they were going to do, this or that, and I'd finally just say, "let's quit talking and do it,'' and head off. It got me in trouble one time, in a rather big way. But I don't want to talk about that.

But here's the thing. The raid wasn't particularly well thought out. Nobody had a truck, and certainly not a station wagon. This was in the days before SUV's so nobody had a rack on top of their vehicle. So a bunch of the guys - remember, now, this is hearsay, because I'd certainly never take part in something like this - piled into whatever cars they had and headed for the alley that ran alongside this particular grocery store.

Right to the end, they thought that surely the trees would be tied up or chained or something, but when they got there - lo and behold - it was like a Christmas miracle! The trees were just piled up next to the alley, waiting to be put out on display again the next morning.

You ever try to stick a six-foot Christmas tree into the backseat of a car? And do it quickly and quietly, because you were right there on what was a fairly major four lane where, even at 1 in the morning, people were likely to drive by?

Then one guy got a bright idea. He had a convertible. And if you put the top down on the convertible, you could throw four or five Christmas trees into the back seat, stack them up as high as you could, and then get someone to ride on top of them, holding them down.

Did I mention this raid wasn't particularly well thought out?

Absolutely nothing unusual about seeing a caravan of cars skedaddling down a major four land road at 1 a.m., three or four college guys jammed in the front seat, all the windows down, with green tree-tops sticking out of backseat windows. And bringing up the rear, this one convertible with a driver, two guys riding shotgun, and one guy sitting up on top of a stack of Christmas trees in the back seat, hanging on for dear life, like Peter Sellers at the end of Dr. Strangelove straddling the bomb as it falls from the sky.

And then someone realized they were all riding down this major, well-lit, much-travelled four lane, so at the next light - hey, they might have been tree thieves, but they weren't going to run a red light! - somebody yelled, "We need to split up and meet back at the fraternity house,'' so everyone turned a different direction to try to get to the same place that, by this time, wasn't but a few blocks away, on the back side of a college campus.

And we - I mean "they" - made it back.

But that wasn't enough. Full of themselves, they decided to personally deliver trees to each of the sororities. In the middle of the night. The Sisters of Phi Mu and Alpha Delta Pi and Chi Omega were appalled. But they all accepted the trees, and nobody asked where they came from.

Years later, I ran into a family that had a similar tradition. It was a large family, and on Christmas Eve the oldest boys would go out to get a Christmas tree. The mom and dad never asked where they got it from, or how they got it. But I know those boys, and they didn't buy them. I don't know if they came from the right-of-way, or an alley next to a Piggly-Wiggly, or a Home Depot parking lot.

I look back on it kind of like hunting though: We never took more than we needed, and we used every thing that we took.

Now, of course, you have these pop-up tree lots where some poor sap has to live, sleeping in a trailer on site. When my kids were little, my son once asked, "Why do they sleep here, in a trailer?" I tried my best to look all serious and say, "I don't know son. I guess they are afraid people might steal the trees if they don't watch them all night."

To which my son would say, "Who would do a thing like that?"

And I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't know son. But put the top down on your mom's convertible, and how'd you like to ride home, sitting on top of this fine Douglas fir? Just don't tell your momma ..."

Nah. I'm kidding, of course.

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