Saturday, December 5, 2009
The Old Fashioned Christmas Spirit
No adult should ever have to spend more than an hour of his life in a Chuckie Cheese Pizza Parlor. Our kids were all born in the second week of December, which meant three birthday parties two weeks before Christmas. When I was growing up, our family birthday tradition had been you got one birthday party with maybe six kids coming over to the house when you turned ten, if you insisted. After that you were on your own. My wife’s family had fancy invite-everyone go-someplace parties every year for ever. So when it was our turn to establish a birthday party tradition we compromised and did it her way.
I didn’t really like these birthday parties when we started having them, but by the time our youngest was five, I hated them. I refused to buy the Christmas tree until we had survived all three birthday celebrations. That was my tradition. On the Sunday morning after we celebrated my son’s twelfth birthday with six hours at Laser Zone, which had taken place right after the four hour party for our seven year old daughter at my favorite pizza parlor, which had followed our nine year old daughter’s Friday night bowling party, I headed out by myself to visit Bob the Tree Merchant.
It was peaceful in Bob’s Christmas tree forest. And quiet. I walked through the rows. Bob had a good selection of blue spruce, but the Douglas fir looked good too, and the needles didn’t make such a mess. Spruce or fir? I walked back and forth between the neighborhoods. I took my time. Breathing in the cold, fresh, pine-scented air and savoring the absence of screaming kids, Disney songs, dinging arcade games, and the cloying stink of sweaty kids, hot buttered popcorn, cotton candy, and fries drowned in ketchup. When my toes started to numb in the near-zero temperatures I knew it was time to return home and start the Christmas season.
I let Bob know I had decided on one of the blue spruce. He complimented me on my tree-buying perspicacity. The finest tree on the lot he said in a whisper so as not to offend his fir-buying customers. I accepted Bob’s offer to give the tree a “fresh cut”, which required him to saw an inch off the bottom of the tree. I’ve never figured out what that does, but I knew Bob would be disappointed if I said no. After I paid him, he summoned his assistant to take the tree to my car.
His helper was about twenty, not tall, but solid, with broad shoulders and chest that made his red-black flannel shirt about a size too small. He had on a Bears baseball cap and insulated boots, and I pictured him up in the Wisconsin woods, like a miniature Paul Bunyan, tending to his crop of firs and spruces.
When Bob was running the lot by himself I would assist him with tree-carrying, but with this kid, I was just in the way. He grabbed the six foot tree, and swung it on to the car roof, like it was balsa wood. Feeling useless, I asked him how business had been, that being my usual conversation starter when the weather has not been exceptional.
Business had been pretty good, he said. Then he asked me how I was doing. He seemed interested. I shook my head like guys do when they have something really important to say, and I was about to tell him about my birthday weekend, but before I could actually open my mouth he said, “Well that’s to be expected. Fucking people! Everybody wants everything right away. Nobody’s willing to wait for a goddamn thing! What ever happened to the Old Fashioned Christmas Spirit?” He finished tying down his side of the tree and snapped off the twine with his bare hands. Try that someday.
I decided he probably wasn’t interested in hearing about my kids’ birthday parties. I busied myself with getting the front end of the tree tied down. He came around to my side of the car and stared at me while I fumbled with the cord. “Woman problem, am I right?”
I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. I doubted that the weekly fight with my daughter over Sunday School could really be considered a Woman Problem. As I opened the car door to drive off, the young man draped his arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry buddy, everything will work itself out. Try to have a good Christmas.”
With those words of inspiration I headed for home with my tree, determined to preserve that old fashioned Christmas spirit.