It’s my 21st Christmas, and I want to cut down the tree myself.
“You’ll get dirty,” Dad says.
“And what if it’s too wet to bring into the house?” asks my mother. It rained all day.
“We’ll let it blow-dry all the way home,” Dad says. He means in the back of the little blue truck. He doesn’t know the tree will exceed the little blue truck’s bed. And like always at about this time of year, the actual height of the ceiling adjusts to our wishful thinking.
I drive, and my brother Isaac insults my driving all the way to the appointed yard. He provokes in me musings full of holiday magic such as: How much do I love my brother, on a scale from Cain to Abel? With every aggravation I become more Cain-like.
“Don’t park it on the hill,” he says. “It’ll roll.”
I’m through being insulted. “You park it,” I say.
He parks it.
I stand before the monstrous tree we’ve chosen. “How do you chop this thing?” I ask. “You have to lie down in the mud, right? Like the Civil War?”
“As close to the ground as you can,” Dad says.
Dad takes one half of the blue bow saw, I take the other. We lie down on our faces together, and saw. He, of course, supplies most of the strength, but at least I can say I went prostrate in the Christmas mud.
The tree begins to lean. Isaac tugs at it from the road side. And, pop! It falls. A great green monster, bigger than the whole family and the family dog combined. But it pops as simply as a tooth released from the last string of the gums.
We hoist it into the truck bed and pray it’ll stay.
On the way home my magical Christmas thoughts multiply. To satisfy my already Grinch-like mood I start thinking about lyrical inaccuracies in Christmas songs. Did the angels really sing? What are “cloven skies”? Was the midnight clear? Was it even midnight? Who told the Christmas poets they could extrapolate for the sake of atmosphere?
I think of church last Sunday, that song we sang:
“Then in despair I bowed my head.
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said—”
How did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow get into the Baptist hymnal, anyway?
We hurry home. According to the laws of relativity, objects become shorter the faster they move. Maybe if we go fast, the tree will fit into the house when we get there.
Arrived, we haul the tree into the living room, take stock of its enormity, and wonder what we’ve done. That tree belongs in a rotunda somewhere.
We make quick work. Move the bookcase, the armchair, the nautical décor! Make way for King Tree, four times fat!
We put it up. It falls. It stands again, a little crooked at the neck, then falls 20 minutes later.
I still act like Cain, and the Christmas tree keeps falling over. Those kinds of things would never happen in Eden. I begin to share Longfellow’s concern. Peace hasn’t filled the earth yet, not all the way.