QEII hated 1992. Her annus horribilis.
Mine was 2014.
My sister-in-law died after a two year fight with cancer.
Another friend, who is no longer with us, told us cancer staked a claim on a sensitive body part.
A beloved cousin’s doctors discovered an inoperable brain tumor.
A business associate disappointed.
My law practice suffered a setback.
And, the Christmas tree fell.
Annus horribilis indeed.
Growing up, we had a couple of “Man down” moments at our house. My father, being our favorite of the Wise Men, always secured/tied our tree to the window latches in the corner after one or two falling firs.
Prior to that stroke of engineering genius, we always thought our parents were going to get a divorce over the trimming of the tree.
We all knew the story of the dad in Beaufort who tossed an entire decorated tree down his front steps after it fell twice. As his weeping wife and children cried in horror, the dad cussed the evergreen and the holiday necessitating its placement under his roof.
My family never went quite that far.
In November of 2014, we went to the mountains of North Carolina for Thanksgiving. It snowed and snowed and snowed. Complete whiteout. I loved it. My family went a little stir crazy when we could not come down the mountain as planned that Friday. On Saturday, there was enough of a thaw to allow us to leave. We went straight from the High Country into Marion, North Carolina, where our acquaintance George Bishop sold trees from his house. Twenty dollars. Flat rate. No matter the size. We slapped two nine footers on top of the car. Thank you Ellen and Donovan Smith for introducing us to George several years ago.
George was a true Western North Carolina mountain man. He called our friend Donovan’s father “Dawk” because Dr. Smith is, well, obviously, a doctor. He referred to my wife as “Murry Purrin”. He called me “Hamblin”. He’s beautiful and his trees were the best. He no longer sells them. Accordingly, there’s no reason for us to go back to the mountains for Thanksgiving. Ever.
In 2014, we made the trek from the mountains back to the Lowcountry. We cut both trees from the internecine twine trap atop my car. I placed our tree into a bucket of water in the side garden. We gave the other tree to our down the street neighbors and great pals, Libba and Chris Osborne and their boys. The Osbornes rejoiced.
The next day, that Sunday, the tree was up, decorated, and shining forth in its sacred corner in the front room.
It took me hours to put the lights on the tree. Not kidding. Hours. I poked and proded and placed. Some 900+ little white lights glow from every branch. My children rolled their eyes and asked, “When can we put the ornaments on, Dad?”
“When I’m finished with the lights,” I replied.
I finally emerged covered in sap, dirty from the branches, with sweat covering my brow.
We then decorated with the ornaments. All the ornaments. It was the prettiest tree we ever had.
As soon as the tree was finished back in 2014, I heard the German words:
O Tannenbaum! O Tannenbaum!
Wie treu sind deine Blaetter
Du gruenst nich nur in Sommerziet
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit!
O Tannenbaum! O Tannenbaum!
Wie treu sind deine Blaetter
We are bonkers about Christmas.
In addition to putting up the tree as fast as we can after Thanksgiving, we love to put stuff all over the house.
We place the forty plus Wendt und Kuhn angels on the mantel. We think we’re in the Erzgebirge.
We love to put out pictures of Christmas past. We love it all.
Someone light that Thymes Frasier [sic] Fir candle.
As we put the tree in the stand in 2014, I did notice that two of the screws in the bottom of the stand (there were eight total) seemed a little threaded. There were six others.
As we gazed upon our finished product and listened to the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s version of Oh! Christmas Tree from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, our eldest said, “Dad, I think it’s leaning a little.”
“No, it’s not, Margaret,” I replied.
Deep within my immortal soul, I knew I was lying.
Blessedly, the One whose birth we celebrate had already forgiven me for this sin.
“Uh, it really is,” said our other child.
“Hush, Perrin,” I replied. “It’s fine.”
For unto us a child is born!
While the girls weren’t watching, I pulled out some high test fishing line and redneck engineered. I tied the tree around the trunk and secured the lines to two cup hooks I had installed in a window sill in years past for just such an emergency.
As we went to work and school the next morning, the tree stood.
When we came home, the tree listed more than we liked.
I called my down the street neighbor, the aforementioned Chris Osborne, to come and help me lift the tree out of the stand and screw it back into place. I offered Mr. Osborne my thanks and a glass of brown water.
“I don’t think we need to tie it this time,” I said. “She’s in there good.” Mr. Osborne concurred after our second glass of brown water.
Pride goeth before a fall.
As we slept the sleep of the just that night, my bride and I heard a soft “swoosh” sound somewhere around three a.m. We both knew exactly what it was.
At 5:45 a.m., I could no longer take it. Full recon of the damage. Besides water on the floor, there was only one broken ornament.
From 5:45 until time for work and school, we scrambled to reset the tree as we propped it up in a corner.
I went to work.
I went to Lowe’s.
The man there assured me that the stand he was selling me was the ULTIMATE in stands. He was right. We still use it today.
The stand that we had in 2014 had become completely threaded. The screws slowly failed that Monday night and into that early Tuesday morning.
On that first Tuesday in Advent, there were tears, sweat, cussing.
“Come, Thou, long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, and please help our Christmas tree”. (Actually, I don’t think those are the words as approved in the hymnal)
As I re-positioned he tree, I actually attended a deposition by telephone as I replaced the stand and secured the tree with high-test fishing line. I’ll never not use the fishing line. It disappears at night.
There are myths about superhuman strength under times of stress. These tales are no myths. I lifted the entire tree, fully lit, fully ornamented, into the new stand. Advent adrenaline.
As we put the tree up this year, I thought I saw it listing just to mock me.
That night I had a nightmare that the tree fell. Like Scrooge, I attributed the dream to a bit of indigestion. The tree stands as I write, still all aglow with all 900 plus small white lights.
The Gullah angel spreads her arms to shout the Good News for all to hear. She’s gone to tell it on the mountain, over the hills, and everywhere.
To borrow from the Reverend Clement Clarke Moore and his timeless “A Visit from St. Nicholas:
Now you’ll hear me exclaim ere I go from your sight,
“Merry Christmas to all; may your tree stay upright.”