40: Saved by the Tag

40: Saved by the Tag

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Saved by the Tag

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs — jolted by every pebble in the road.

~Henry Ward Beecher

“Hurry up Dad!” called Dana from the bed of our pickup truck. “I don’t want to get left out of the tag making.”

“Are the saw and rope on board?”

“Yes,” replied her brother Rob. “I put them in myself.”

I pointed to the cooler containing our contribution to the refreshments. “Add this to the load, Rob, and then climb in with it.”

“Dana, get in up front with your mum.”

Some of our family’s fondest Yuletide memories involve acquiring our Christmas trees. This year in particular, getting our seasonal spruce would present us with an unexpected challenge and remarkable experience.

We were heading a bit north to see our friends, the Morleys, for their annual Christmas tree-cutting party. Once there, Carol and I would join the other adults and fortify ourselves with food and drink before venturing out. Meanwhile, the children would play outside in the snow or inside creating colourful, personalized “tree tags” to identify their family’s selection. Eventually everyone would bundle up, grab saws and carpool to a nearby Christmas tree farm. Our host Larry would follow in a large cube van that would be used to transport the trees.

When we arrived, Carol, Rob, Dana, and I boarded the straw-covered cutter and enjoyed the thrill of having a team of high-stepping Clydesdales carry us to the trees. After the usual debate over which tree was best and responding to frequent calls of “look at this one!” and “there’s a better one over here!” we cut a beautiful Fraser fir. Back in the parking lot Dana carefully affixed our tag, and our tree joined the others in the cube van for transport to the Morleys.

Back at the Morleys the older kids unloaded, placed the trees in, or on, the correct family’s vehicle, and the party then moved into full swing. The eating, drinking, storytelling and seasonal singing lasted well into the evening.

Eventually it was time to leave, but we discovered our kids had opted to “crash” at the Morleys. So, looking very much forward to an unexpected “date night,” Carol and I said our goodbyes. Before leaving I glanced into the open bed of our pickup to be sure our tree had been properly stowed and, opting to avoid the city streets, chose Highway 11 and headed south for home.

Upon arrival, the first order of business was to unload the tree and put it in the garage where it would defrost, ready to be erected and decorated on the morrow. I exited the truck and turned to remove the tree. That’s when I discovered it was gone!

“Carol! Our Christmas tree is missing!” We looked at each other in dismay.

“Look.” Carol pointed. “The rope’s not tied off.” While traveling home at highway speed, our unsecured tree must have flown out, and must now be lying somewhere back on Highway 11. We would have to retrace our route to find it.

Highway 11 has a centre divider so we had to travel north to an overpass before heading south again. Our fervent hope was that our tree had not ended up trunk first through some unsuspecting traveler’s windshield or, failing that, been run over and ground into kindling by one of the numerous transport trucks that plied the busy highway.

We traveled slowly down the southbound lanes straining our vision, peering across into the northbound lanes, but did not spot our quarry. We reached our entry point and began to retrace our tracks northward. There were no streetlights, and a seasonal snow squall was now severely limiting our visibility.

Compounding our problem was the fact that this section of the highway had been planted with a significant number of evergreen trees as windbreaks. Also, we had no idea of the flight characteristics of a Fraser fir moving at 100 kilometres per hour. Ours could be lying in the ditch, or perhaps it had plunged trunk first into the snow and was standing straight and tall like one of the planted pines along the route. We spotted several possibilities and stopped to investigate but, alas, upon closer inspection, all were live. We were drawing nearer to home and hopes were dimming, when Carol finally spotted it off to the side and yelled, “There it is!”

Pulling onto the shoulder, I slid down the slope of a snow-filled ditch to the tree, where I confirmed its identity. Elated, I grabbed the trunk and began to drag it uphill to the truck. Carol came partway down to lend a hand, and between us we got it safely to the tailgate. While we were loading it a vehicle suddenly pulled in behind us, lighting the scene with its headlights.

A siren whooped, red, white and blue lights began flashing and a disembodied voice commanded, “Step away from the tree…!”

An Ontario Provincial Police officer exited the cruiser and approached, directing the beam of her flashlight into our startled faces. I had the urge to raise my hands in surrender.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Good evening Officer,” Carol and I replied, almost in unison.

“We’re just getting our Christmas tree,” I added.

The officer shone her light into the bed of our truck, noting the saw and rope and turned her gaze back to us.

“Yes, I can see that. But stealing one of Her Majesty’s pines is definitely not in the spirit of Christmas.”

“Oh no, Officer,” said Carol. “You’ve got it all wrong!”

“That’s what they usually say. License and registration please.”

I presented the requested documents.

“Officer, it really is our tree.” I began to explain. “We cut it earlier today and we were driving home and…”

“Mr. Forrest, please. You’ve been caught in the act. I will be issuing a summons and of course confiscating the tree as evidence.”

“Please no, Officer, I can prove it is our tree,” replied Carol. “Please bring your flashlight over here.”

The policewoman followed and shone her light on our fir. Carol rolled it slightly to expose a piece of cardboard tied securely to one of the branches. It colourfully and clearly displayed our name: Forrest.

The officer nodded. “Okay, that’s proof enough for me,” she conceded. “Carry on, but please secure that tree properly this time. And Merry Christmas!”

Chastened, we headed for home with yet another Christmas adventure to add to the Forrest family archives. This time we had been… “saved by the tag”!

~John Forrest

Orillia, Ontario

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