Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tree hunting

Last weekend we brought back our tree. Like last year, we rented a car and headed out to New Jersey, mainly to spend more time with our good friends (and, as a bonus, thereby avoiding the outrageous gouging provided by the tree hawkers on Greenwich Ave). These are the friends who provided Q and The Boy with their first sleepover when we had to go to California last month. They've grown up with their kids and always look up and forward to them.

Accordingly, trips to our friends' house reveal the future. We've known them for a long time, and they have one boy and two girls and a comfortable home. Once inside, Q and The Boy disabuse themselves of us as quickly as their coats, and my wife and I are fine with that since we're left to be adults with adults. Since those that we've known in our building have all but left, we don't have much chance to act our age (by which I mean both younger and older than Parent Mode usually allows).

After the kids hatch and execute several schemes in the basement, we go out for lunch. Again, my wife and I get treated to a strange sensation — Q and The Boy want to ride with their friends, and left with nothing in the car but me and the quiet, my wife almost falls asleep. I do not take it personally. Then burgers and sandwiches and scoops of ice cream.* Then we go in search of a Christmas tree.

When I was young but old enough to remember, we would earn our trees from the field of a friend of my parents. If there was snow — which there often was in those Kansas Decembers — my brother and I would zip on our coveralls and pull on ski masks. Dad would be waiting for us in the red Jeep CJ7 that never quite got warm, and we'd throw snow at each other on the way out to it.

Drifts over the tilled-under dirt always made the field a fallen swatch of moon. Dad always drove right out on it in the Jeep, and if we looked closely, we could see coyote and maybe deer tracks. Otherwise, the white was immaculate.

The cedars we thinned each year stood in a little crowd surrounded by open land. I still don't know why they were kept that way (or if I'm even remembering correctly), but I don't want to know now. Some small mysteries are worth preserving.

I said a few paragraphs back that we earned our trees, and I meant it. My father would pick one and sweep away its skirt of snow, and we'd all then take turns slowly felling it with the old orange bow saw. Dad taught us to start the cut on the pull (push first and the long teeth bounce and gouge). It was always hard going, even for the small trunks. With the saw on its side, it's hard to keep the blade flat, especially when your off arm starts to give out, and the saw easily chokes on its own cut. But between the three of us, our hands creased from cold and work, we could get the tree down.

Our hunt is decidedly different now. We follow our friends (and therefore our kids) to a large garden center selling trees from Oregon. They have an enormous number of trees, and they've arranged them into a good-sized forest to make the picking easier. But unlike any other place I've been, they've suspended the trees from ropes on beams, which means they fill out full, and, more importantly, they spin. All five kids realize right away that they're surrounded by a bunch of 8-foot tops, and they run through the rows, grabbing branches, whirling the trees and themselves. They don't even feel the cold, and they warm me, too.

My wife and I settle on one more or less arbitrarily (there were so many good ones), and a smallish, solid man loosens the tree's knot, helps it down and then up onto our rented roof. It's the tallest we've ever had. Though Q and The Boy are anxious to decorate at home, they are not at all ready to leave their friends. Eventually we manage to get the kids in our car and head back to New York.

The tree is glorious and big in our apartment — so big that our old tree stand (bought 10 years ago on a Greenwich Village street) couldn't hold it. Q and The Boy went to bed that night with only a promise to decorate the tree the next day. After they had gone quiet in their room, I went out to the tree hawkers on Greenwich Ave. On my way home from paying them only a little too much for a new stand, it began to snow. The flakes were small and hard, like memories.

I hoped that some of them would stick.

*I just want to note here how nice it is to go out to eat with well-behaved/-mannered kids. We ate, told jokes, had fun. Highly recommended.


Nadine said...

That's a gorgeous tree and beautiful post! I love that you as young boy sawed your own trees with your dad!

teahouse said...

Lovely post!! We just got our tree last week; I love Christmas trees. Love the photo of your kids with the tree.