41: Artificial Happiness

41: Artificial Happiness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Artificial Happiness

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!

~Charles N. Barnard

We had moved into our new home in the spring of 1994. Living on acreage just north of Cochrane, Alberta, we had spent the summer months enjoying our view of the Rockies and watching our two young children playing in the yard. We all seemed well suited to the country lifestyle. With the snow falling and blanketing our yard in early December, we were excited about spending a good old-fashioned country Christmas together. We decided that rather than put up an artificial tree we would go on an outing to find a grand tree to celebrate our first Christmas in our new home.

We signed up with our church to go on their annual trek to find Christmas trees in the designated areas just northwest of where we lived. When the day came for the great family outing, the temperature had plummeted to -30 degrees C with the wind chill, so I stayed home with the children while my husband braved the elements to find our “perfect” tree on his own.

Being one of only a handful of men who actually showed up for the event, my husband promised to load his pickup with extra trees for other families who weren’t prepared to face the sub-Arctic temperatures. At home I prepared the front room for the arrival of what I knew would be the grandest tree we ever had!

It was mid-afternoon when my husband finally arrived home. By then I’d spent a frustrating day with two cranky children. I wasn’t feeling well, my mood was poor and my morning excitement about putting up a grand tree was gone.

My husband stumbled in and, with much waving of arms and gnashing of teeth, told me of his “adventure” finding us our “perfect” tree. First, after driving for hours into the tree-harvesting area he became stuck several times and more than once had to resort to four-wheel-drive off-roading. Then he had to trek about a kilometre on foot in knee-deep snow into the wilderness to cut down not only our tree, but three more for church friends. He found the biggest tree that would fit into the box of his truck for us, and proceeded to topple it with his chain saw.

Unfortunately when he was only half done his chain saw locked up and died. He then trekked all the way back to his truck to collect his hand saw, then back again to fell the massive tree. Did I mention it was -30 degrees C with the wind chill? Did I mention it was a kilometre back and forth from truck to trees?

After felling the great tree he dragged it back to the truck. Then he went back and collected the other trees, dragging two behind him before going back for the third and final tree. Loading them up, he was finally on his way back, but only a couple of kilometres from Cochrane one of the trees shifted and toppled out onto the road. Undaunted, he stopped, collected the road-mangled tree and flipped it back into the truck before delivering the trees to the other families. He did apologize for the mangled state of the one tree, but made it clear that if they didn’t like it, they’d have to live with it, or go next week to collect one for themselves.

Having relayed to me his adventure he then off-loaded the gigantic tree into our yard and assessed how to best manoeuvre it inside. Realizing it would not fit through the front door he began trimming away branches, and then discovered the trunk would never fit in the puny tree stand we had. So he headed into town to buy the biggest tree stand he could find.

I waited for my gallant knight to return, all the while feeling more and more queasy and moody, and more than a little impatient to start the decorating. I really wanted to call it a day. After visiting four different stores he finally found a stand large enough to accommodate our tree. When he returned an hour later, working on our back deck he battled the tree into the largest tree stand I had ever seen. The sun was beginning to set as my husband hoisted the massive tree… up, up, up… and stood proudly beside it — dwarfed in its mighty shadow.

Satisfied by his day’s herculean efforts, he pounded on the back window for me to see it. His cheeks glowed red with pride and accomplishment, while icicles of spittle and snot stuck to his mouth and nose. He probably thought himself the conquering hero, but looking out the window I saw something totally different. Then, in what I can only be described as a fit of insanity on my part, said, “I hate it!”

“What?” he yelled through the glass at me.

“I hate it!” I yelled back.

The tree was tall, certainly, but after my husband’s feverish “trimming” the big Albertan Jack Pine had perhaps four or five branches left, and very little foliage. It looked like a Charlie Brown tree, but ten times as big. I thought about the hundreds of ornaments I had collected over the years and realized I’d be lucky to put twenty of them on that tree.

“I hate it! Take it back!” I cried.

I have never experienced a mad grizzly bear charge, but I had a good idea what it might be like when my husband barrelled into the house and stood before me snarling, “What’s wrong with it?”

I tried to explain, but a grizzly bear is hard to reason with… so I made no attempt to stop him from bringing the tree into the house, all the while snorting and huffing at how insanely insensitive I was.

When he was finally done, it stood like a huge pine stick in the middle of the living room. We both decided to leave it until the next morning to decorate.

To say the atmosphere between us that evening was a little tense would be a drastic understatement. It got even worse when during the night I awoke struggling to breathe! The pine scent had wafted throughout the house and I discovered, quite by accident, I was allergic to pine!

The next morning, with my eyes swollen nearly shut, I stumbled downstairs to find the tree dripping white sap all over my hardwood floor.

When my husband emerged he took one look at my face and then at the tree and, without a word, pulled his boots on over his PJs, dragged the giant pine out of the house and heaved it into the yard.

A week later, our new nine-foot artificial Blue Spruce tree stood majestically in our living room. The giant Charlie Brown tree was donated to the seminary’s children’s Christmas party. They were very grateful and the children loved it… well… like Charlie Brown would have.

As we snuggled together and watched the twinkling lights on the fake tree, my husband winked at me. He had forgiven my fit of “insanity” and chalked it up to hormones. Patting my tummy, he grinned. A wonderful miracle was growing inside of me. My sudden allergic reaction to pine had prompted a visit to the doctor, and we learned I was expecting. We joked together that despite how our first Christmas in our new home had started out a little shaky, it was going to be one of the most memorable for us. There was no need to put any presents under our new tree… God was giving us the best Christmas present we could ever have hoped for!

~Lynn Dove

Cochrane, Alberta

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