Once, a friend from church invited us out to eat.
It was a midlevel restaurant, mostly for lower middle class folk like us.
Ok. Financially challenged.
When we sat down, we noticed a large video screen playing while we ate. The video showed a large and beautiful Christmas tree sitting all alone in a house.
Suddenly, a spark from somewhere.
Then, in less than 30 seconds, the tree lit up like a, well, you know. It lit up and burned to a crisp.
We were relieved to learn it was a controlled burn. Someone somewhere needed to know just how fast a tree could burn in a house.
But then came the videos of real Christmas trees, and real houses, and real people.
And the real fires.
I thought that at that point we really should have declined the offer for free food.
Free almost always means strings attached.
Our friend had invited my bride and me along with several couples.
The plan: buy our supper and then guilt us into buying a rather expensive fire alarm system.
Apparently most alarm systems do not wake the sleeping occupants. That is, they’re not loud enough.
But his system was loud enough to wake my wife’s cousins – in Russia.
I got the message.
Avoiding unwanted flames from a dry and dead Christmas tree was my goal from that point on. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the small fortune he wanted for the system, so the solution was to buy an artificial tree – green, a nice facsimile of a tree, and (bonus) NONFLAMABLE.
And 75% off AFTER Christmas! Yes.
But that would be too sensible. What I heard from our girls was “Daddy, we want a real tree.”
Lowes. Freezing. Pick out a tree. Douglas fir, about 8 feet tall. Sort-of greenish. And girth worthy of a real tree!
The trip home. I wrestled him into tree stand and plunked him in the authorized Christmas tree spot in the living room.
After a few minutes I hear:
“It’s raining – did you roll up the windows to your truck,” asked my thoughtful bride.
“No it isn’t darling, we just left Lowes and it was a crystal clear night. Remember that shooting star? The wish?”
“Then what’s that sound, Smart American?”
From underneath the “newly” cut tree the reddish tail of our half-dog, “Coco,” pointed heavenward as the tree coated his body in Christmas tree needles.
Imagine Lowes selling a tree that had been cut – not the previous week in North Carolina and shipped gingerly to Mississippi with care – but two months ago in the Mountains of Peru and smuggled in by dubious means.
The trip to southeast Mississippi had been hard on the old boy.
This time to Home Depot. We found a less-dead tree who was willing to stay clothed at least until January 7; after that, it would be more likely to invite flames and destruction.
The old tree left the building and is awaiting a proper burial/burning in the backyard.
But before you go, let me tell you about our first Christmas tree.
All 18 inches of its Southern Pine body had been growing – not bothering anyone mind you – in a lovely red-clay ditch on the north side of Highway 84 in Coffeeville, Alabama.
My new bride and I had been searching for days, I mean hours, OK, minutes for a suitable tree. But, what was “suitable” was determined by our newlywed and impoverished financial condition.
I suggested that we harvest our own tree. This was before she learned that the cute Douglas or Frasier firs are not native to our rain jungles of South Alabama (or Mississippi).
This unsuspecting baby Southern Pine would have to do.
Using veteran Boy Scout skills, I took a large kitchen knife and proceeded to remove the tree from its home on the roadside. Of course I also destroyed the knife too.
My new bride, who was accustomed to eight to ten-foot northern fir trees in Russia, placed the new Southern Pine roadside tree in an empty Maxwell House coffee can, filled it with water, and leaned it in a corner.
It fell over.
We straightened it, threw on a few bulbs and icicles, and proclaimed it our first Christmas tree.
It was ugly. But, it was ours.
At least it didn’t shed needles, as did his distant cousin a few years later, who is still face down in the backyard, absent needles; a ghost of its former self – waiting to “cross over” back to the mountains of Peru.