Sunday, December 7, 2008

It Takes A Village

As much as it pains me to quote Hilary Clinton, I think she may have been onto something when she said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I’m learning that it takes a village to do a couple of other things too; namely, set up a Christmas tree. Now, I’ve always considered myself very capable and resourceful and I like to believe that a woman can do anything a man can do. Let’s just say after this weekend-- I’m kind of over all that.

Once in a while I dream up an innocuous-sounding little scheme (see, for example, the October blog about my Sunday morning ritual . . .). It seems easy enough. No big deal. I thought getting a Christmas tree would be such an event. I thought wrong.

The good news is that I didn’t suffer alone—I had coerced other unsuspecting do-gooders into my web of disaster, and they endured their own not-so-vicarious humiliation and defeat. So, I will dedicate this blog to my weekend folly: getting a Christmas tree.

I suspected I had some limitations in carrying out my plan: limited experience, limited interest, and severely limited physical strength (you will recall that my physique has been favorably compared to that of Olive Oil or an orphan from Mogadishu). Knowing that I would need reinforcements for the job, I called in my most trusted tree-getter, Tony. Tony can do anything. Really. He once traveled all the way from one shore of Ireland to the other to visit a friend without knowing so much as the friend’s last name or address—and was able to find him. This is just one example of Tony’s mojo. Getting a tree should be like taking candy from a baby. (Editor’s note: Taking candy from a baby is a lot harder than it looks. Finn and his Kit Kat do not part easily . . .).

Tony very generously agreed to help me even though he had a very small window of opportunity between major trips. (He had arrived from New York only moments before helping me and would be leaving for Madison only moments after). So, bear in mind this was no small inconvenience on his part. We went to Home Depot to collect the tree and after making him model ten or twelve of them for my discriminating eye—“Tony, turn the flat side out,” “shake the snow off of this one,” etc.—I finally selected a Scotch Pine. In the check-out line, the Home Depot staff offered to saw off part of the stump and place the tree in some netting. I accepted their offer. This was my first mis-step. Tony wisely asked me “how big is your tree stand” and, pointing to the tree trunk said “will it fit that trunk.” I eyeballed it and confidently said, “Oh yeahhh. Our stand is big. It will totally fit.” It was upon this confident declaration that we did not have the Home Depot lady saw off an ominous knot on the side of the trunk.

We wrestled the tree on to the top of my minivan and headed home. Once there, it occurred to me that I should actually find the tree stand. So, again, citing my inexperience, disinterest, and any other excuse I could think of – I sent Aubrey into the attic (hey, she’s smaller and shorter than me and can fit up there better than I can). She dutifully retrieved not only the tree stand, but also a half-dozen boxes and Rubbermaid tubs full of Christmas decorations. This was shaping up to be good. So, I set up the tree stand, Tony popped in the tree and the trunk was just a sliver too big to fit into it. Ugh! Tony started trying to twist the tree into it like a pencil sharpener, but that stupid big ugly knot was not having any of it.

Tony suggested I get a saw. I went to the basement and inspected every one of a dozen drawers full of electrical tape, sand paper, and nails before finally finding a dainty little princess saw that would probably only cut through marshmallows and rainbows. I brought it to Tony anyway. We both tried to use the saw until I remembered that we had some plastic knives from Noodles and Company that were a lot more menacing. I also then remembered that we had a “real” saw in the shed. So, I bravely went out into the ankle deep snow and 20-degree chill (anyone who knows me, knows that is VERY brave of me) and unsuccessfully tried to jab every key on three different key rings into the Masterlock on the flimsy metal doors. Frustrated, I retreated to the house and did what I usually do when I can’t figure something out—ask Aubrey. “Aubrey, where is the key to the shed.” She, of course, knew exactly which key it was even though I outwardly doubted her (“I’ve already tried that one”) and, of course she was right. But, the lock was frozen, so I again came into the house and had to report to Tony (who had been holding the tree up the entire time) that I couldn’t access the lifesaving “good saw” because of my character flaws and tender little digits (my fingers were freezing!). He valiantly recommended that he would give it a try.

A few minutes later he emerged with the saw and struggled with the safety cover on the blade only long enough to ponder whether he might not saw a finger off trying to pry off the safety cover. (Oh, the irony!) He then sawed and sawed and sawed (this part goes on for quite a while because the “good saw” was only a marginal upgrade over the flimsy girly saw we used earlier). I “helped” by holding the tree down with my foot and complaining incessantly about (a) the cold, (b) the low-performance saw, and (c) the stupid tree (which was clearly to blame for all of my problems). Tony, as patient and good-natured as ever, finally relieved the tree of the offending knot and we triumphantly headed into the house to show that tree who was boss. As Tony tried to fit it into the tree stand, I was maneuvering around the tree to access a better vantage point by which I could guide him, because he was blinded by the girth of the tree and by the swell of happiness he was feeling at being able to help me. As I was coming around the side of the tree I ran HARD into the corner of our window sill (which protrudes about six inches from the wall) and fell to my knees in pain all while prognosticating the horrible bruise I would have later in very unladylike vocabulary. (Editor’s note: it was worse than a bruise. The window sill took a chunk of skin out of my hip that was a red, bloody mess when I finally looked at it. The lump in its wake is now turning all purply and green. Sexy!).

To add insult to injury—the tree still refused to sit in the stand. The tree was, even yet, too wide and knotted (though ever so slightly) that it would not go into the stand despite Tony’s twisting and sawing. At this point, I conceded defeat and released Tony from his sentence. He headed off to Madison and we parked the tree in the front yard until I could find another unsuspecting victim to help me. I didn’t have to wait long. Another friend, Dale, always chivalrous and kind, stumbled upon my dilemma when he was picking up Regan for a basketball game. He offered to come back and “zip that knot right off of there—no problem.” And so he did. He sawed the bottom off, hauled it in the house, set it up in the tree stand, and even spun it around to reveal its “good” side.

At the end of the day, I reflected on all the times throughout the process that I would have given up. I wondered how women who don’t have help ever do something like that themselves. And although it is an unromantic sentiment, I missed having Jeff here to do it as he always did and so I wouldn’t have to. There are so many things now that I have to do myself and, worse yet, that I can’t do myself. It can be a sad and defeating realization. Yes, cancer took my husband. It took my tree-getter, my tree-sawer, my lock-picker, and my attic-crawler. It, of course, took much much more than that. But, it gave me a lot too. It has given me friends who will do what I cannot and if that’s all I get for Christmas, it’s enough.


Mary M Clay said...

Hey Kelly! I'm extremely impressed that you took on the challenge of a real Christmas tree! I am only daring enough to pull out the three piece fake tree...Bravo to you and I'm not surprised that Dale and Tony were able to save the day! :)
Thanks for the's another great one!

mka said...

Here's how Terri and I did our Christmas tree one year. We had a coat tree sitting by the door. We hung coats on it. Strung some lights on it, and put a star on top of it. We hung a few ornaments on the pockets and folds of the coats. We put presents under it, and we had an instant Christmas tree that was really easy to make.And by the way, we had an artificial tree that we were too lazy to carry upstairs, so we decided since the coat tree was just as artificial we might as well go all the way. Jim still likes that tree. I'm supposed to make another one like it this year and send him a picture. Love, Mom

lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

Kelly - I just love your stories! I check every day because whenever life seems a bit overwhelming, your blogs always come through as funny, interesting to read and often inspirational. Your attitude (and writing) is amazing. By the way, if you ever need your locks picked, rapped, bumped, etc. just give me a call. I hang out with the engineers at work a lot and have learned a thing or two about locks...I work at Master Lock :)

Lisa Brzycki

PJ said...

Thanks for the notes Kelly. We were laughing out loud. Did some of Jeff's writing talent rub off on you or did you always have it in you? Please keep sharing your stories. We feel connected to you through this. God bless you and your friends. Aubrey reminds me so much of our oldest (Riley). God bless good children. I love to figure out a way for your kids to spend some time learning handyman things. Wish I were closer. Thanks for continuing to share.
PJ and Julie Whalen

Katrina said...

Kelly -

My roommate and I had similar toils on Sunday afternoon. We too bought a Scotch Pine from our dependable Home Depot, though we also bought a tree stand there as well.

We even recruited our trusty man friend, Brandon, to tie the tree atop his car and bring it home for us. But we failed to provide a decent saw. Ours barely had any teeth left by the time we were done!

Thank god for men who know how to use power tools and tie boy scout knots!


Laura Gilbert said...

Kelly -- as a 36 year-old single woman, I feel your pain. I, too, required outside help for the last real Christmas tree I purchased, and I too overestimated my own ability -- in this case, to straighten the tree (which was already set up and watered) after my friend had left. It was thus that I found myself lying on my back, amidst a spreading pool of water, pinned underneath the tree (which I'd tipped, and which was still plugged in). It was at that moment that I completely shed my distain for artificial trees. They make pretty good ones nowadays, and they do go on sale after's just something to think about :) Best, Laura

Terri said...

Three words: Artificial Christmas Tree!!! Seriously think about it for next year. It's easy, convenient, not poky like a real one gets after it becomes dry, no watering, easy installation and even you can do it. Sometimes it's ok to make things easy on yourself. :)


Katie Clancy said...