Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Buy a Christmas Tree: Part Two

A Trip to Your Local Christmas Tree Farm

But first a true story of my own "Cut Your Own" Christmas Tree Experience ...

There were a few years at the beginning of our marriage, when we would gather mid-December with my husband’s family and go out into the country to cut down our own Christmas trees.  I can’t even tell you how excited I was the first time.  Months earlier I had been informed by my mother-in-law that the Bishops always went out to cut Christmas trees on the second Saturday in December.  Always.  Mark my calendar.  ALWAYS.  While we were had only been married a few months, I had been with her son for seven years and I didn’t remember even hearing about them EVER chopping down Christmas trees, but a few months into the marriage I had learned to keep my mouth shut over little inconsistencies.

The Bishop family traditions were made up as they went along. They figured that if they said it was “tradition” that that would insure them getting their way for any given holiday whim. Here are a few “traditions” that I’ve heard over the years:
  • "We always have Christmas here, dear. Since you're an orphan, you'll be spending every Christmas -- FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE -- right here.  With us."
  • "We simply DO NOT allow the men in the kitchen messing around with the food. Dear.”
  • "In THIS house, the men do not put away the food OR do the dishes.” (They also don’t do any of the cooking, the wrapping, the shopping or the decorating either. Tradition.)
  • "It is tradition that you sit over in that corner and keep your mouth shut. Dear."
  • "There is no other way to do anything better than the way the Bishops already do it. Dear.”
  • "EVERYBODY loves my fruitcake. Why it’s a Bishop family tradition.”
  • "What you need is a big glass of my special eggnog. You don't like eggnog?  EVERYBODY loves my eggnog. You'll learn to love it, like everybody else.  Dear."
  • "We ALWAYS cut our Christmas tree on the second Saturday in December.” 
We met at the Jack’s childhood home on Lorraine Avenue, in Kalamazoo.  There were my parental in-laws, sister-in-law Sandy who was flying solo and sister-in-law, Judy with her then-husband Larry, besides myself and Jack.   At 10 o’clock sharp, we piled into two cars.  I thought that we would all ride together, but apparently this wasn’t Judy and Larry’s first rodeo and they locked themselves into Larry’s shiny red Thunderbird.  We caravanned out into the country, to a tree farm that Judy knew about, 25 miles away. 
It was a freezing but brilliant morning, and although it sounds trite, the sun really did sparkle across the snow like diamonds.  I stood in the pristine powder up to my shins, a little apart from the Bishop Clan, still unsure of my place in the family. 
By the time I pulled my mittens on, Judy and Larry were already half way to the back 40.  My father-in-law walked up to the closest tree next to the car and said, “This is it.” He ordered my mother-in-law to go get the guy with the chain saw who was located halfway down the hill about a quarter of a mile away while he stood guard over the tree and made sure nobody took it. Oh, and do it with a quickness because he doesn’t have all the damn day.
My husband and I were still holding hands at that stage of our marriage and we wandered off and started perusing different trees.  OUR tree was going to be different from the rest of the Bishops.  At the time, we were rehabbing a classic Victorian home and OUR tree needed to be at least 10 feet tall.  Anything smaller would look positively ridiculous. However, I would soon learn that -- as usual -- my wants far exceeded the cash in my husband’s pocket.  But that didn’t stop me. The manager pointed us toward the taller, more mature trees.   
After about three minutes of trudging up the hill in snow up to my butt, I heard, “Come on.  Hurry up.  I don’t have all day.” I looked around.  Yes, it was my father-in-law’s voice echoing across the blue spruced fields.  In the distance, I could see Judy and Larry, who where at that stage of their marriage where snow frolicking was romantic. The last time I had frolicked in the snow with Jack, he had tried to wash my face with with a snowball, hit me so hard in the chin that I had bitten my tongue in half and had to go to the ER.  Hmmmm.  Maybe we should just stick to the task at hand. 
We stopped to look at a tree.  It was lovely, so blue and majestic, maybe just a smidge taller than we needed.  Jack negated every tree that I liked.  I soon figured out that the reason he didn’t like any of the trees that I loved on sight was because most of them came with a $100 price tag.     
“Come on.  What the heck is taking so long?” reverberated against the hills.  Even though there were no other Christmas tree choppers, my face turned red with embarrassment.  I looked at my father-in-law’s son. 

“Maybe I’m on the wrong track here,” I suggested.  “How much money do we have?”
“Fifty bucks,” said Jack.  I set my jaw.  Fifty bucks would get us just about half the tree that we – that I – needed.   
“Oh, and I still gotta give my dad $5 for gas.”  I could do the math.  I'd gone to college.
“Maybe they have some damaged trees,” I responded. “Or a half dead tree filled with bugs. Or maybe a tree that was struck by lightening.  Or maybe a genetic deformity.  Maybe something off the firewood pile?” 
“I’m leaving in five minutes.  So for the love of God, will you pick a tree?  A tree is a tree.”  That’s right. Big John was still hollering.
I put it into high gear.  Who runs through a Christmas tree farm, up hills and down dales in snow up to one’s waist, tripping over stumps and falling spread eagle?  I did and I did it with a smile.  I was determined that this was going to be fun.  Damn it.  We were establishing holiday traditions, by golly.
Over my shoulder, I could see that Big John was now sitting behind the wheel of his Rambler with the engine running, carbon monoxide drifting across the snow covered fields and overpowering the natural aroma of pine.  He rolled down his window offering suggestions to the farm manager and my mother-in-law on the best way – the Bishop way – to tie a Christmas tree to the roof of a car.  From my ground level advantage, I could see that Judy and Larry had disappeared.


The farm manager was already at his wit's in with Dad Bishop, a terrible way to start the busiest tree cutting day of the year.  He hustled down into the valley and up to us.  “Need any help?” he asked evenly through tight lips. 
I cleared my throat.  “Do you have any cheaper trees?  Like maybe ones that aren’t so pretty and perfect? Like maybe some with a bad side or some bare spots?”
“Okay.  Well.  How much is this tree?” I asked pointing to a beautiful specimen.
“$90.  It’s 10 bucks a foot.” 
“And this tree?”
“And this one here?”
"Seventy bucks.” 
“How about this one?”
“Fifty dollars.  The yellow ribbon means it’s $50.  Like I said, it’s $10 a foot.” 
“Do you have any tree’s for $45?”
“No.  I have some 40 dollar trees.” 
HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK! HOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK! I could hear my father-in-law yelling at my mother-in-law to yell at us to hurry the hell up.
"Where are the $40 trees then?” 
“Over by that fence line.” He waved at a tumbled down, covered by snow fence about 400 yards away.  Jack and I took off.  By the time he caught up with us, we’d studied the three $40 trees and picked the tallest one.  As the man lay on the ground and pulled the cord on the chain saw, I lifted the branches along the bottom up and out of his way.  Over my shoulder I could see that Judy and Larry had chosen and cut their tree, had it shook out and baled up, paid the farmer’s son and were tying it onto their car with a bright yellow nylon rope that they had remembered to bring from home.  How the hell did that happen?  Now it was just Jack and me – well – actually it was only ME that was holding up the entire family. 
Dad Bishop was now half in and half out of the car.  He was blowing the horn AND yelling.  Surprisingly, I could hear him over the chain saw.  Jack lifted tiny tree to his shoulder, looking like Paul Bunyon and strode towards the baling station.  I walked with the manager and tried to make interesting conversation about his farm and trees, but he couldn’t hear me over the horn blowing and hollering. 
It was a pretty tree.  Perfectly shaped and a beautiful silvery blue. And the top of the tree came almost to my shoulder.  After it was shook out and netted, I carried it in my arms like a big prickly baby back to the parking lot where it fit neatly into the trunk of Dad Bishop’s big old man car. The trunk closed without resistance.  I climbed into the backseat and he half turned around to face me, face beet red from the cold … or was it from yelling.  “YOU are NOT coming with us next year.”
We were back on Lorraine by 11:15. Barely 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive 50 miles, chose and cut three Christmas trees.  That’s how they do things Bishop Style.
Postscript:  While a $40 tree ($10 a foot) can look quite tall when one lays on the ground looking up at it, it really is just a 4 foot tree when put in a stand in a room with 10 foot ceilings.  Even with the mammoth Christmas tree stand, 14” topper and set on three packing crates, it was of course, ludicrous.  On the upside, my favorite picture from that particular year, is my three brothers all standing around the tree, pointing and laughing.  That’s how we do things Drake Style. 
Post Postscript: And as far as me not going the following year on the Annual Bishop Tree Cutting Expedition?  Yeah, I solved that problem by having the very first grandchild in October, so I was gold for a few months.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story. 

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