Let Inga Tell You: The ghosts of Christmas trees past

A few days ago I went to buy my Christmas tree and couldn’t help but reflect on the ghosts of Christmas trees past.

My first husband always insisted we get a small live tree, which we would then plant in the yard in what he considered a charming post-Christmas tradition. Folks: do NOT try this at home! Little did we realize how much those suckers would grow — one to 40 feet!

By the time my husband and I divorced 10 years (and Christmas trees) later, anyone driving by would think our place was a tree farm with a driveway.

Meanwhile, the interior of the house descended into a barn-esque gloom since the tree tops had created a rain forest canopy effect. The tree roots made for constant plumbing problems and grass wouldn’t grow under pine needles. Ultimately, it cost me $4,000 to have 10 originally $20 trees removed from the property. (I knew I should have had a Christmas tree removal reimbursement clause in the divorce decree!)

Now single with two little kids, I went for the 6-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while 6-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight. I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.

It was several more years at least until we had a Christmas tree that wasn’t leaning precariously. In a brilliant Single Mom Home Repair School solution, I tied a rope midway up the trunk and tethered the other end to a ceiling plant hook. Miraculously (since I guarantee that butterfly bolts are not rated for Christmas tree stabilization), it stayed vertical.

Some years later, Henry, who was about 11 at the time, and I brought home a bargain supermarket tree. After nearly amputating digits using a rusty Pinewood Derby-era jigsaw trying to cut off bottom tree branches so the tree would go into the stand, I made a mental note for the next year: better saw, or a tree from a Christmas tree lot.

Since I wasn’t all that interested in replicating the experience even with appropriate tools, the next year I did indeed go to a tree lot and got full service branch trimming. The tree lot guys mentioned that they could probably get the tree on top of my little Toyota if I wanted to save the delivery fee. (I think they sensed a cheap tipper.)

I was dubious but they did indeed get the tree tied securely on top of the car by having me open the two front windows and running the rope through the car and around the tree, knotting it on top.

IQ test: What’s wrong with this picture?

Off I went in the early evening darkness driving as slowly as possible through back streets. I was terrified that a sudden stop would put this tree on the hood of my car, or worse, through the windshield of the car behind me. With enormous relief, I pulled up in front of my darkened house. It was the kids’ night at their dad’s, and Olof was not yet living in San Diego. My plan was to untie the tree, drag it onto the front porch and have the kids help me set it up the following night.

Obviously over-focused on saving the delivery fee and failing to engage even a single synapse, I had not stopped to realize that with the rope threaded through the car windows, the doors couldn’t open. I was trapped in my car. It was well before cell phones.

I sat in my car thinking, “Geesh, Inga, it’s amazing you’re allowed to leave the house without a conservator.” (And also: Would it have killed those tree guys to ask if there would be anybody at home?)

I sat there shivering in my open-windowed car and pondering my options. I didn’t really want to have to go all the way back to the tree lot. But it would probably take all evening to cut through the rope with my car keys. (Note to self: Keep 9-inch bowie knife in the glove compartment!)

As luck would have it, a neighbor arrived home from work shortly after, and, graciously avoiding voicing what must surely have been his assessment of the situation, extricated me from the car. Why all of my neighbors were not hiding from me after the first year I was single is still a mystery.

But ultimately, I married Olof and we could afford to have not only the Noble fir I had always coveted, but have the nice Christmas tree lot people deliver it and set it up to my satisfaction. Personally, I think I’ve earned it.

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