It's funny--when I tell the story of how our Christmas Tree came to be, I almost always forget to mention the part about how I was involved in a minor auto collision en route to the tree lot. I'm not trying to cover it up, there were just so many other things that went wrong post-accident that make what happened seem irrelevant. Either that, or the PTSD I encountered as a result of getting my tree caused me to block out entire chunks of my Before-Tree existence And I'll never get those hours back, will I? Except, why would I want to when they included both a rear-ending and a really bad sandwich?
Because I was right beside a Lowe's when the incident occurred, and since the entire situation had really ended up in a way that can only be described as a Christmas Miracle, I felt it only fitting to march right in that big old home improvement mega-store and get my yule on. And so that's what I did, my beeline interrupted with just one detour to the Indoor Decor department, where I preceded to push the "Try Me" button on every piece of animated holiday trim and then laugh maniacally. Which was not at all creepy.
Outside, though, where the trees were, was a little strange. There were plenty of them, all lined up in rows, and all I had to do was choose--but where was the help? Where were the piped-in carols, the twinkly lights and free hot chocolate? It was a ghost-town. It was also the middle of a weekday, a time when most normal people were doing laundry or crunching numbers or watching All My Children, not trying to resuscitate their Christmas spirit. I decided to go inside and fetch myself a helper, someone to help me choose and drag and bag the beast--and eventually, tie it on my car.
I could tell Employee Number One was a little miffed about having to remove himself out from under the Customer Service heatlamp, but I made nice by selecting the first tree he laid his hands on, which I know he appreciated--in the same way my mother appreciated when I, after trying on just one wedding dress, looked at myself in the mirror and said "You know, I think I like it." He perked up slightly, wrapped it in plastic webbing, and deposited it up front for checkout.
This is where the story starts to get a little complicated. It seems there are some people out there who just don't like their jobs! Or Christmas! Or being cold! Imagine!
Okay, listen, I totally get being in a bad mood. But I am also a super-stickler when it comes to service, and cannot fathom being rude to a customer, no matter how Cold/Hung-over/Tired/Emo I was. I also know more than a handful of people who are without jobs; people who would be delighted to work, in sub-freezing temperatures, hitching a tree atop some stranger's minivan while she asked them why they hated Christmas so much.
They were the ones who brought it up--Christmas. Although, I admit, my timing isn't always the best. But it's not often I experience retaliation for getting up on my ethical high horse; I can usually escape unscathed.
This time was different.
I drove out of the parking lot, picked up my little girl at preschool, who thought that having a tree on our car was beyond wonderful-and it was. For the first few minutes of our drive home, the two of us were giddy with talk of ornaments, lights, and maybe, would it snow on Christmas? We'd passed the church, the market, out of the school zone and onto the highway...when suddenly:
Why are all these people flashing their lights and honking at me? Why is that woman pointing frantically at the heavens? Why is that man motioning for me to pull over? And Dear God, why does it feel like there's a sail attached to my luggage rack?
I pulled off the road, thinking it best to gather my thoughts before proceeding. Winnie, I said, the number one thing is that we are not going to panic. We have a bit of a situation on our hands, but Mommy is ON TOP OF IT! I then called my sister, in a complete panic, to let her know that my tree was literally dangling off the side of my car and what exactly did she think I was supposed to do about it?
I pulled back into the stream of 55-MPH traffic, doing maybe 25, hoping to make it to the next exit without further incident-which, thankfully, I did. I parked outside a gas station and walked inside, the damsel in distress, and asked if anyone could help. The station was TEEMING with able-bodied individuals, some of them wearing tool belts, even, but when the universe wants to have a chuckle, there's just nothing a girl can do about it, is there? Out of all these rugged Old Spicers, the only guy that even halfway raised his hands was wearing Jams. Literally. And boy, was he a complainer. First it was the cold, then he wasn't sure if he had time to help because he really did have to make it to his doctor's appointment about four towns over, until suddenly I'm convincing him why he shouldn't help me. No, really, don't worry about it, I said. You go on.
Well, I guess I've got some bungee cords in my truck you can have, he said, with which he hitched the wannabe kite, with my help, back in position, with only a few more exclamations of how late he was going to be. And how cold he was. And how he didn't have a coat on. Note to mankind: It's DECEMBER/NOT the year 1986. Jams are no longer in session.
All complaints aside (his and mine), I was very grateful for the help and thanked him from the bottom of my heart about 57 times. He said you're welcome and that he hoped he wasn't going to be late (!), and we were all on our way.
We drove home like this: with our Christmas spirit on sideways. As we barreled down the road that cut through the cornfields, there wasn't a moment when I didn't think the thing was going to fly off altogether. There are places where the wind can be so strong and sudden that the farmers had already put their snow-fences up, just in case. If it blew away, would I go after it? I imagined the tree rolling through the dirt like a tumbleweed, me chasing it like a lover. Don't leave me. I may have said this out loud.
When we crossed the bridge into town, I let out my breath. I'd made it. I guess the tree could still fall into the creek, but it didn't seem likely. I slowed down, nearing home, and could see my dad, in plaid, putting up wreaths on his windows. I parked and got out.
Dad, I called out. You'll never believe what just happened to me.
I got my Christmas spirit back.