This year, my husband, Francis, and I went to a local farm to pick out our Christmas tree together. In 25 years of marriage, there was one year — and only one, so help me God — in which Francis bought a tree without me.
It was 2010, and our street on Patch Army Barracks in Germany was covered with fluffy white snow. Our base neighbors merrily buzzed about, bundling kids for sledding and stocking up on holiday provisions.
Francis and our son, Hayden, were at the Boy Scout troop’s annual Christmas tree sales event. While walking our dog, I stopped to check on them.
The scene was sweet: twinkle lights draped, music played, kids savored candy canes, a fire crackled. Dads wished customers “Happy Holidays” while boys loaded trees onto cars.
Whatever “cockles” are, mine were warmed.
“Wanna see the tree I picked for us?” Francis offered, excitedly.
As Francis opened the back of our minivan, the smell of fresh pine tickled my nose. “Looks good, Hon,” I said without much thought.
On the walk home, I reviewed the afternoon plan: put up tree, make hot cocoa, set up train, cook dinner while kids decorate, gaze joyfully at tree while snuggled with family on couch. Perfect!
An hour later, Hayden and Francis lugged the wrapped tree up the stairs to our fourth floor apartment and tried to attach the stand to the trunk. Francis was admittedly not handy, making such moments quite tense.
Sensing he needed assistance, I grabbed the top of the tree. “Ow!” I wailed, looking down at four tiny pin holes in my thumb. “What kind of tree is this, anyway?”
“A fir, a spruce, how the heck do I know,” Francis stammered.
With the aid of gloves, we secured the tree in its stand and began to lift.
“Uh oh,” I said when the tree was at ten o’clock.
“What?” Francis barked, nervously.
“How tall is this thing?”
“I don’t know…but we have high ceilings, right?”
“No, Hon, we have LOW ceilings, remember?” I said, trying to remain calm.
Francis reluctantly retrieved a saw and stood, befuddled, over our tree. I’d seen this look on his face a thousand times — he had no clue what to do.
Quickly measuring the tree and ceiling heights, I declared, “According to my calculations, you need to cut off one foot eight inches, plus four more so the angel will have some headroom.” Francis took a step toward the top of the tree, poking out from the netted wrap.
“No! Not from the top!” I blared.
Wincing, I held the spiky middle while Francis timidly sliced at the trunk. A few painful minutes later, the bottom of the tree surrendered, and we were able to get the remainder upright in the family room.
“It looks so small now,” Hayden observed of the maimed tree before us in a pile of sawdust and needles. “And it’s crooked too.”
We resolved to disguise the tree with as many lights as possible, but it took another hour to untangle the massive snarl of wires we found in the basement.
“Can we put the ornaments on, yet?” our youngest, Lilly, whined for the thousandth time. After working out the knots, I disguised our crooked tree with four strands of mismatched lights, while Francis lay on the floor with the train set, emitting various expletives.
Having found the manual too confusing, Francis randomly stuck pieces of track together and jammed frayed wires into terminals. The train would not budge. I didn’t want to reinforce Francis’ if-I-screw-this-up-she’ll-fix-it-anyway habit, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I read the manual, assembled the track, stripped the wires to expose fresh copper, inserted the wiring into the correct terminals, properly positioned the wheels, turned on the power.
Away she went like the wind. Exhausted, I ordered Chinese take out.
“Great job with the train, Dad,” our middle child, Anna, said crunching into a spring roll.
“The tree looks awesome, too, Dad,” Hayden offered with cheekfuls of chicken.
“Yeah, thanks Dad!” Lilly exclaimed, throwing her arms around Francis’ neck.
“You’re quite welcome, kids,” Francis said with a wink, “that’s what dads are for.”