Fa, La, La,
Copyright 2004 by Isabel Bearman Bucher
The worst fight I ever had with my husband was over a Christmas tree. My first husband died, and was Jewish, so, when I married Robert, a Christian, and moved into a new home, the holiday season glittered, resplendent before me. This tree fight was way out there, and came swooping in like some totally unforeseen quintessential humbug crow.
It was an early Albuquerque December day, gray - just perfect for the fa, la, la,la,la. After the house was gleaming, we'd do the lot sojourns, pick the perfect tree, haul it in, put on the music, light the fire, play kissy-face - you know the drill. But, this particular year, the first in our new home, it didn't happen that way. About 11 A.M, I was pushing the vacuum, the wash was on its forth cycle of colors when the doorbell rang. There was ... Robert. He was smiling.
"I bought a tree. Come out and look. It's in a bucket over by the chimney."
"You bought a tree? (I was really thinking, 'and you didn't help do anything around here ... And. You didn't ask me to go!' ) How great," I rejoined.
Out we walked, turning the corner to the chimney, and there ...
"It only cost ten bucks," he declared.
"A bargain?" I hummed, knowing he really loved the hunts, but I was really thinking that he'd tossed a together tradition, and ...
"The trunk is a bit long," he said with a confident smile. "But, the branches will drop."
I looked at the tree, a weather beaten pinon. It had a three foot-plus trunk, and was pretty bald on one side.
"You're not speaking," he said, nerves looming on the frontier.
"Well. (Pause) Well. (Pause. One, two three. Ba da boom!) What the heck were you doing Robert! What is this! Some sort of joke! A TREE. This is a pile of needles ... stuck to, stuck to ... a ... pile of sticks! Where did you get it - off some atomic bomb site!"
"What do you mean?" he countered, backing up for the charge. "Isn't enough, ever enough for you - you with the silk purse mentality!"
"Silk purse mentality! What is THAT supposed to mean - I am a spendthrift? A pig in pine needle clothing! An over the edge killer of bank accounts! Well?"
It went down hill from there. Our neighbors could be seen looking out their kitchen window that faced the chimney, with real panic on their faces. Our girls, attracted by the yelling, were open-mouthed looking down from the upstairs bedroom window. I stomped off with my work sweats on, completely leaving the topsy-turvy Saturday house, and wearing NO MAKEUP, made a screaming wheelie in the street. Up and down street after street I propelled, stalking lots like some unhinged, warped Christmas elf, mumbling oaths and curses, mentally shoving tradition, warm cocoa, fires and Bing Crosby Christmas crooning tapes where the sun would never shine. What I ended up with was a big investment - a huge nine-foot feathery Oregon Noble Fir with a trunk like an elephant's foot. I dragged it off the top of the car, up eleven front steps, and in through the front door. It whapped everything in its path like some piney wake - lamps, the coffee table whatnots, the chairs, pillows and footstools. I stood it up in the corner, over by the piano, and realized that the meager, six buck stand was too small to hold the trunk. FYI, Robert was hole-up in the den with his hands vice- folded over his chest, and his lip stuck out far enough to become a landing field. Later, while picking up objects, I heard him in the garage pounding a 36 x 36 x 8 inch platform together, which he dragged into the living room.
"If you cover it with a red tablecloth, nobody will be able to tell ... What is that in the corner! My God! It's ... How much did THAT cost?" "THAT is the Christmas tree," I relayed defiantly. "We could have spent the wood money on a "good" tree in the first place, and YOU could have asked me to go! Don't ask how much." I paused, took a breath. "Like look here Robert," I said calmly, trying for reason. "It's a matter of generosity."
"Whose generosity?" he countered. "People have been known to be so generous that they end up paupers." "Mr. Generosity," I whispered through clenched teeth. "Miser. Tightwad. Churl."
"I heard that!" he bellowed.
The girls had evacuated. Out the door I raced to the local cheap-o store for the new stand which cost another fortune. Home again, I wrestled the tree into it, lost it over the piano, as it swept photos and the chimer clock onto the keys in a pandemonium of clatter and dinging protest I ended up nailing it to the wall in a half dozen places, securing it with twine. This fa,la,la,la,la was going up if it took every bit of resolve I had, not to mention a possible hernia, which increased because I threw the platform out the front door. It was no small deal to get lights wound round the twine snares and twelve inches had to be cut off the top so the ho,ho,ho papier maché Santa could be jammed into place. Decorations got literally thrown, and finally wrapped presents were frisbeed or kicked under the six ground-level inches. Robert went out for solitary fast food, while I dined at home on peanut butter and jelly.
What saved us that year were friends and family who arrived and deflected the massive, still smoldering fracas. The three foot imposter tree got donated to my school library, held mittens and caps for the needy, then got recycled over to my eldest's first home - a rent, where it became her first tree. The branches never did lower, but all the needles did, wedging into her dirty gold shag carpet.
Twenty-two years passed, and like in any long marriage, one tends to avoid turf where "no entry skull and crossbones signs" have been nailed to memories. Then, we moved. This house had a ten foot ceiling. I had visions of a gigantic fir, generous, laden with grape vines, memorabilia, holly berries, candy canes, Santa cookies for the little ones. Enter my new neighbor Barbara, who has a 16' ceiling.
"I'm going to have a huge tree," I said smiling.
"Really," she countered, with a strange look in her eye. "Well, the worst fight I ever had with Nick was ..."
Same deal, different players. She went on to explain the dragging in of the 12 foot tree, the ladder she fell off of, the ropes tied to the banister, the hired guy, the three days it took to decorate, then undecorate.
"I'd rethink," she added, with an older, wiser head, having garnered a Phd. in high ceiling management, with minors in generous tree research and knock-down-drag-outs. "Think smaller. Trust me. These boys have this poverty gene and deal obsession that go terminal at Christmas."
Tree turf wars remind me of marriage and political elections - victories that become great burdens.
Well, it's time to go get the tree. Robert brings in the platform and we do the fa,la,la,la,la tiptoe tree dance round each other ... carefully.
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