Our tree is who is he is

christmas tree, ornaments, christmas-5758765.jpg

He stands tall and proud in the main room of our house.

He’s only 20 years old, but he’s been through so much in his life that his age could be equated to 80. He shows signs of wear and tear.

He’s become so crippled over the years that his ability to stand on his own remains in question and has become more concerning.

Yet, he’s an important part of the family — a family that can’t bear to say good-bye and finally release him into the light. Instead, this family continues to hang lights on him and hope for the best.

Oh, our old relic, the artificial Christmas tree we bought 20 years ago, is back for his annual visit.

When we first met him, he was standing alone in a clearance aisle at Menards. It was the sad month of January and the store was trying to dump its unwanted seasonal goods. He was a good looking tree — really quite large and impressively handsome for an artificial type.

We’d had issues with real trees in the past — those cumbersome needles in the carpet, the threat of fire as the darn things dried up and the subsequent symptoms of allergies seen in several family members.

My husband and I were newlyweds — but with three kids. My sisters were in junior high and we’d just moved to our new location in Elgin. We’d gone with a real tree our first year, but were considering the unthinkable . . . transferring to synthetic.

The tree did have something special — he looked completely authentic. I — the main opponent to the artificial theory — admitted I couldn’t tell the difference between him and trees I’d met on our farm.

But the price tag, I reasoned, would have to be outrageous and out of our budget because of his supreme professionalism and stature. Surely we couldn’t afford to bring him home.

That’s when my husband turned over the clearance tag and formally announced this magnificent characterization of an evergreen was within our financial means — but only because it was two weeks after Christmas and high time for him to go, as he was being evicted from his space, squeezed out by the urgency of spring yard planting.

Heck, bags of potting soil were already invading his territory.

So we made the investment, which again was the bargain of the century, and took him home. He went into storage — I actually forgot about him, as he waited in the little room under the basement stairs.

That first Christmas he was pulled up into the living room, I marveled at the skill my husband demonstrated as he quickly put the big guy together.

I, personally, had never been around an artificial Christmas tree, so I had no idea how on earth he should be erected. But seeing my husband’s amazing talent, I decided this was one of those tasks I just didn’t need to learn.

The tree looked stoic and impressive as he stood in our big picture window at the front of the house. We strung lights, hung the controversial tinsel (half the family loves it, half the family hates it) and stuck the old family star on top.

Christmas arrived and on the big day we went to dinner at my husband’s Grandma’s house. After a few hours of holiday fun, the five of us returned home. Someone noted, however, that the tree was unplugged, when we pulled into the driveway.

We entered the living room to find that yes, the tree was plugged in, but it wasn’t visible because he was lying on the floor surrounded by broken glass. Next to him stood a very nervous, very guilty dog.

“Bono, what happened here?” we asked the big, furry family member that had been left alone for the afternoon.

His answer was going behind a rocking chair and staring at the wall, as if to make himself invisible.

About then, the phone rang. It was my brother, Steve, who said he had stopped by earlier to pick up a coat he’d left the night before.

When he tried to open the door, our over-zealous canine decided he was going to launch into extreme protection mode — lunging at my brother, through the tree and nearly through the window.

“That dog, my gosh, he broke the tree in half trying to get at me!” my brother exclaimed. “I tried to calm him down and I was going to try to put the tree back together, but he wouldn’t let me in.”

Sure enough, Bono had literally snapped the “trunk” of the tree in half — stripping joints and bending connectors.

We forgave Bono — after all, he was just protecting our house from intruders as we’d already realized he’d been prone to doing — and we found a way to fix the mess.

A bungee cord, jump rope and duct tape came into play as we rigged a way to put the superstar tree back into the limelight.

He remained tied to other furniture and anchored against window levers to fulfill his Christmas commitment that year, the next and the next.

Year after year, the wounded Christmas tree has been mended and remedied as best as possible — he is like an old used car that only the owner knows how to operate.

By leaning him a certain way, tying him tight from a certain angle, leveraging the right feet higher than the left, duct tape here, bungee cord there . . . he finds his destiny.

Decades have passed since the tree became part of the family. The kids grew up, Bono went to the light and now the tree is alone with me and the husband.

I’m still not good about putting him up. I tried two years ago to do it on my own, to surprise my other half. He was surprised alright! Even if the tree was completely up to par and without flaws — it still would have been a mess.

I had branches upside down and bigger ones on top of smaller ones. And then as I finished what looked like a green ball of smashed chaos — the whole thing toppled to the ground, leaving me with devastated bulbs and broken ornaments, without Bono to blame.

That year, the tree was anchored to a humidifier and still fell several times after my botched attempt. I promised to never set it up again.

This year, I was pleased and surprised to find that my husband had put up the old family member and prepped him for adornment. As I thanked my husband for doing so, telling him I would finish it off with ornaments, he smiled.

“You might want to wait,” he said, laughing. “He seems to want to fall over and I think even the slightest movement will bring it down. Probably shouldn’t touch him. I’ve got a new idea about how I can fix it.”

So, for now, the tree stands precariously yet proudly in our front window, sparkling with red lights and gold garland. Maybe that’s how he will stay. He doesn’t need ornaments or bulbs or a star on top.

He is who he is . . . our 20-year-old member of the family that I doubt we’ll ever part with, no matter his shortcomings.


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