Just in time for the holidays here is a reprint of a 2006 column. For obvious reasons this is a family favorite. It was also the easiest column I ever wrote. All I did was come home from the evening in question and write down what had just happened. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.
“Could you come over and give us a hand?”
My mom sounded calm enough on the other end of the phone, so I said I would later, as I was in the middle of a project.
“No, right now,” she insisted. “The Christmas tree is falling over, and I don’t know how much longer your father can hold it!”
There are definite benefits to living across the street from your parents. I get lots of leftovers and invitations to dinner. They get rapid response Christmas tree righting.
This is no minor service. You should understand that my parents live in an old house with ten foot high ceilings. Family tradition dictates that the Christmas tree must touch the ceiling. It also must be wide and dense, so they always have a huge, beautiful tree.
Except one unfortunate year, when I was six years old. My mother was ill, so for the first and only time, she let my father and I go and pick out the tree. The result was a scraggly, scrawny Charlie Brown type tree. You can tell when someone perusing our family album reaches the photos of that Christmas by the howls of laughter. Hey, it looked fine to me and my dad…
Anyway, I rushed over to relieve my father, who was standing half submerged in the branches of the fully decorated Christmas tree. Well, not fully, as more than a few bulbs had departed in the initial tipping.
As I took my post, my mom filled me in.
“It was perfect. But no, your father had to monkey with it.”
“It was leaning,” he said.
“It was not.”
“Yes, it was.”
“It was perfect. But he had to fiddle with the base, and luckily I was in here, because it started to fall over. I caught it, but I couldn’t hold it. So he grabbed it, and that’s when I called you.”
“It wasn’t straight. Move it a little to the left, Tom.”
My father circled the tree, checking the angle.
“Rudy, watch for the (crunch)… ornament.”
“Earlier he had me crazy about that star,” she said, pointing to the ornament topping the tree. “He climbed the ladder to put it on, but then he couldn’t find it. He was sure he’d dropped it into the tree, so I searched and searched the tree, getting all pricked and scratched, but no star.” She started laughing. “Tell him where it was.”
“On the blade,” he mumbled.
This made no sense to me. “Where?” I asked.
My father looked sheepish, and pointed to the ceiling fan, a few feet from the tree. “I forgot I’d set it on top of one the fan blades when I was up on the ladder.”
“Well,” I said, “at least you found it before you turned the fan on. Could have impaled someone.” Visions of the shooting star got us all giggling.
My father was now under the tree, trying to adjust the base. “Wait,” I said, I can’t tell if I’m holding it straight.”
“Cookie, stand back and see if it’s straight,” my dad said.
“A little to the left” she replied, “now a little bit toward you. There.”
“Are you sure?” my dad asked.
With much mumbling and grumbling he tightened the base, and crawled out.
“Perfect,” my mom said.
My father circled the tree. “It’s not straight.”
“It is too!” my mom replied.
“No, look here from the side. See? It’s leaning backwards.”
“Well how could I tell that from the front?”
“&%^*!” my dad said. “Tom, lean it forward.”
“I can’t,” I said. “You tightened the base down, remember?”
My father went back under the tree and loosened the base again. We tilted the tree back and forth, consulted with my mother, and finally he tightened everything down. I released my grip and stood back.
“Well, that looks great,” I said.
“Yes, perfect,” my mom said.
My father circled the tree. “It’s leaning,” he said.
“NO!” my mom and I shouted.
“Dad, it’s really okay,” I said. “The tree is just a bit fuller on one side, so it might look a little bit uneven. But it is straight. Really.”
“It’s leaning,” he said. “If I just…”
“DON’T TOUCH IT!” my mom and I yelled.
Out-voted, but unconvinced, he reluctantly gave up. For the moment anyway.
He chuckled, “You know, you might get a call at three in the morning…”
“I won’t answer,” I replied.
As I left their house, carrying a jar of my mom’s soup, she said, “Don’t forget it’s your father’s 75th birthday this Friday.” She eyed him. “If he makes it till then.”
He made it. Happy Birthday, Dad. And Merry Christmas to my most wonderful parents, who’ve been knocking over and setting right Christmas trees together for more than 50 years.
(2013 update – Dad now has made it to 82, and they’ve now been knocking over Christmas trees for more than 57 years!)