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A Christmas memory to last through the ages

I've been in a cleaning-out mode for a few weeks, and on one recent day, I found myself sitting amidst a heap of photo albums. I don't have to tell you how dangerous that can be. After six hours of sitting on the hard floor, legs out-stretched, back aching, I accomplished nothing, but I sure had a grand time doing it. One of the albums held cherished photos of a memorable Christmas -- and the tree that made it so.

My first husband was truly Mr. Nature. He knew every bird, every call, every wildflower and every insect. Every hike turned into a National Geographic experience. We lived in an old farmhouse surrounded by woods, so I should not have been surprised when he decided to "top off" one of the dying giants for our Christmas tree one year.

For years we trudged through the snow at cut-your-own tree farms, only to find that many others had also trudged, leaving us with several varieties of Charlie Brown trees to choose from. Not that year! Armed with a chain saw and an old pair of gloves, he went off into the great wilderness of our one acre, determined to come back with a trophy tree. I couldn't watch, so I stayed in the kitchen to make cookies.

He spotted the perfect tree amidst the white pines in the woods and proceeded to shimmy up its trunk while still holding fast to the chain saw. It seemed like hours had passed until finally I saw him lumbering through the snow, dragging an enormous tree behind him. Enormous is probably an understatement, as I remember the sight of him trying to get it through the family room door. All I could think of was the warning on my car's side-view mirror: "Objects may be closer than they appear." In this case, "Objects up in the air may be larger than they appear to be when you are looking at them from the ground."

It was obvious from the start that although we had an 18-foot cathedral ceiling in the family room, that tree was not going to fit. The base of the trunk was close to 12 inches in diameter and was certainly not going to fit in the wobbly red and green metal stand. The top was already bending as it leaned against the wall.

The buzzer on the stove went off and the cookies were done, but the ding of the timer was soon drowned out by the roar of the chain saw. Yes, he was doing a little trimming in the family room. Blue, stinky smoke encircled the doorway of the family room, as did the flying chips of pine bark.

As if the whole scene wasn't bad enough -- pencil-point trunk squeezed into a minute stand, pine boughs covering every inch of the room and our two small kids standing mouths agape, at a safe distance -- the blasted tree wouldn't stand up by itself. Surprise, surprise!

At that point it was necessary to call out the big guns -- the industrial gauge wire, the drill and screws big enough to keep Mount Rushmore from toppling to the ground.

Wired to the wall, our tree looked magnificent. We admired it from a distance at first, not knowing if any little critters had hitched a ride from the woods; by morning I figured we were safe. I must say, we had the freshest tree in town, more than enough room for Santa's presents and a Christmas memory to last for ages. And isn't that what holidays are all about -- making memories?

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