Thursday, December 1, 2011


What would Christmas be without a tree? Although some of the modern artificial types come pretty close, there is just no substitute for the traditional evergreen. Along with the aroma of roasting turkey and the scent of cinnamon sticks, there is no fragrance that better defines the holiday season.

As I grew up we always had a real Christmas tree in our house, so for my first Christmas away from home I decided that I needed to continue the tradition. Although I had a good-sized apartment in Montreal with adequate space for a tree, my building did not allow real ones as they were considered a potential fire hazard.

This trifling matter presented no obstacle. I was certain the superintendent would appreciate my need for a real tree to properly celebrate the holidays; but just in case he didn’t I planned to sneak it into the building under cover of darkness.

I had no car so I recruited my brother to go to the tree lot with me and make my purchase. Now if Charlie Brown reruns have taught me anything, it’s that Christmas tree lots often contain many oddball evergreens that can only be called “trees” under the broadest of definitions. Part of the tradition of finding the perfect tree is the willingness to dig through some of these more dubious examples until you find the right pine needle in this haystack.

Much laughter and many scrawny trees later, we finally found the ideal one. Seven feet tall, full, round and aromatic, it radiated the spirit of the season. Carrying the tree horizontally between the two of us we struggled down the street, every step either sending the trunk into my backside or the top of the tree into my brother’s face.

Like incompetent cat burglars we scoured the hallways of the building to make sure no one was around then made a hurried, if hilariously awkward, run for the apartment. If ever they make a Winter Olympic event out of clumsily running through hallways while carrying a 7-foot evergreen, I’m prepared.

I was so excited about this tree that I failed to notice, at least for the first few days, that it was expanding. Now all trees open up a bit once they’re indoors and in a container of water, so I didn’t pay much attention to this. However by Day 3 the branches were beginning to spread wide enough that they hit the sofa.

A day later the television was obstructed. Pretty soon we had to climb around the tree to get through the kitchen door; it was threatening to dominate the entire living room.

We nicknamed the tree “Audrey,” in honor of the evil plant in the musical Little Shop of Horrors that keeps getting bigger until it finally takes over the world.

Each morning I dutifully watered the ever-expanding Audrey, and gazed lovingly at her twinkling lights and tinsel. I’ve always believed that the tree should remain standing for the entire 12 Days of Christmas; I mean, we sing the song every year so why not respect the tradition?

However nature never intended trees to be cut off at the trunk, stuck in a pail of water and left inside a warm house for several weeks, so naturally the tree soon began to drop a rather large amount of needles on the floor. Suddenly the exhilaration we had felt while sneaking it into the building met with the realization that taking it OUT was going to be an entirely different, and potentially untidy, affair.

I knew that if we dragged this enormous tree through the hallway, down the stairs and out the lobby, we’d leave an obvious trail of dead needles throughout the building; it wouldn’t take Hansel and Gretel to find the path back to my door.

So when the day finally came to return Audrey to the outdoors, I came up with a brilliant solution. I figured if we simply pounded the tree up and down on the floor awhile, we could cause all the needles to shed right there in my living room, then we could simply take the bare tree out and no one would be any the wiser.

Half an hour later, as the mountain of needles grew to ankle-height, I began to suspect that I had not really thought this plan through completely. Clearly I was not going to be able to vacuum up this mess; we were heading into shovel territory here.

And before anyone decides to replicate this strategy, let me assure you that no matter how barren a tree appears, there are always 1,000 more needles just waiting to drop.

The near-naked tree was a truly pathetic sight to behold, yet there was still no way of getting it out of the building without drawing attention to its existence. So I did the only logical thing one could do in this situation – I threw the tree out the window.

Several stories down it fell, into the backyard. I assumed that it would eventually disintegrate and go back into the earth, and prided myself on being eco-friendly.

However two years later as I left that apartment for the final time, I looked out the window to see that stark tree, still covered with a small amount of needles, standing in the backyard like a lonely sentinel. I like to think that it stands there still, dreaming of its glory days as a Christmas tree.

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