A Short Story by Danielle Verderame
“Bring back the perfect one,” asked my mother, slumped on the couch with my ten-year old brother’s flush face resting on her shoulder. Trapped at home with the flu, they waved to my sister, father and I as we jumped into the van in search of a Christmas tree.
We knew that perfect meant more than a tree. Since I could remember, the harvesting of this holiday centerpiece had followed a flow of tradition. The blonde-haired babes were wrapped in homemade scarfs and tasseled hats and packed into the family vehicle. First, we stopped by a local diner where you could get a platter of eggs, with breakfast meat and toast for three dollars. From there we went to the same Christmas tree farm, usually debating where a stray mitten may have been left behind. A gigantic inflatable snow man, with waving hand and curvy pipe provoked squeals from the back seat, “We’re almost there.”
There meant that we could get out of the car, to pose by the jolly, mammoth snowman for a camera flash. Then, a bow saw was rented with a warning not to touch the gnarly teeth. We would walk past the typical evergreens, with long or short needles for the perfect ones, in the blue spruce section. They were stiff, symmetrical cones, silver in the cloudy light with a sprinkling of snow, dusted over the branches to remind us of how beautiful the tinsel would look.
But that year, we moved four hours from that Christmas tree farm, our friends, our family, and any sense of normalcy. Following a labyrinth of back roads as we chased hand-written, wet, paper signs, we were determined to not only find a beautiful blue spruce but also replicate the journey for the perfect Christmas tree. Holding a video camera to the window, I watched the snow fall faster.
“It’s wicked cold,” my sister said.
A house appeared, on the cold side of a mountain, lights off and doors closed. At the front, there was a can for cash and a grizzled saw. We picked up the saw and began walking to the left as the sky grew darker.
I stepped cautiously behind them, video camera bumping into my eye as I attempted to record the experience for our housebound members. Through the foggy lens, I watched my sister shake her backside, wet with melting snow from an icy slip. Moments later, I was on my back too, camera clutched to my chest. The snow soaked through my jeans immediately, and goose bumps spread up my spine. I began to think of the big-box home improvement store that we had passed on our way over. Their parking lot was filled with spruces, pre-cut with cables for tying to the top of your car.
I held my tongue however, blinking away large flakes from my eyelashes that melted on my cheeks like tears. Trotting past trees that were unkempt, looking angrier than a forbidden wood in a fairy-tale film, I wondered where the cone of Christmas light would be, illuminating that perfect blue spruce. There were evergreens all around us, to be sure, but they were bulging and bulbous, as the owner had never trimmed them to shape.
Suddenly, my father disappeared and all we could see was snow. An angry yelp led us to where he had been standing. He had fallen into a deep trench, where a tree had been dug up from the roots.
“All the good trees have already been sold to that big box store,” I said, counting more trenches.
The video camera rolled, and we all laughed for a moment, after pulling another wet family member out of the snow. With a burst of inspiration, my father arranged me with the camera, at a far distance from a tree, as he knelt down to mime cutting it down. I turned it off as he said, “We’ll say that the battery ran out.”
We returned to car, driving straight for that home improvement store. The clerk strapped the tree to our roof with a hearty, “Merry Christmas.” My father’s eyes looked from my sister to me as he spoke slowly and seriously. He shook his finger and whispered, “Don’t you dare tell your mother.”