If you are one of my neighbors and you saw me blow-drying the limbs of our Christmas tree the other night, do not panic.
You see, we have lived in Maine for nearly three years, and we still can’t get this whole cutting-down-your-own-tree thing right. Which isn’t to say we would be Christmas tree experts otherwise. We would not. Dustin, in particular, has a history with Christmas trees.
For instance, there was that time in Florida when he took our tree out of the house top first. Do you know what happens when you shove a large, pyramid-shaped tree through a small doorway, and you lead with the smallest part?
Each limb of the tree scraped across our red door as if it was clawing to pull itself back inside the house. One by one, the limbs bent backward like a slingshot, and then they snapped forward, taking most of the door’s red paint with them.
And there were still some ornaments on the tree, too. Once the trunk had (un)successfully cleared the doorway and Dustin was plodding down the sidewalk with the tree slung over his shoulder, what was left in the front hallway looked like the scene of an accident. Even our old border collie — the one who eventually would chew a hole through our back porch — was stunned by the damage.
As soon as it was quiet again (which is to say, once there were no more tree branches digging tracks on our painted metal door, and the last fallen ornament had rolled across the tile floor and hit a stop at the wall), my dad, who was visiting at the time, said, “Well, that’s one way to get a tree out of the house.”
Here in Maine, it’s getting the tree into the house that is a problem. It’s further complicated by the fact that no one can ever hope to be a Mainer if they buy a tree that they haven’t chopped down themselves, often in the middle of nowhere, when the temperature is colder than the inside of your freezer.
Speaking of freezing …
This year we brought home our tree, bound tight with string and netting, the night before one of the season’s first snowstorms. It also was the night before I had a 20-page paper due at school. We would not be able to decorate the tree until the next day.
“So, I’ll just set it outside in the snow,” Dustin said. “It will get plenty of water.”
I was too busy to think about what that might mean.
The next day, after the kids got home from school, we baked and frosted cookies, made spaghetti and listened to Christmas music in preparation for our tree decorating night. All the while, and unbeknownst to us, our tree was frozen solid in the backyard.
The children wrestled and fought, the way they always do when they are excited and tired of waiting, while Dustin and I got the supplies together: ornaments, lights, tree stand. We moved furniture to make room for the tree.
Then the moment that everyone had been waiting for arrived. It was time to bring in our Christmas tree. The children clapped.
Dustin came through the living room with what looked like a large missile covered in snow. We fought trying to get the trunk situated in the tree stand, and then we fought again about how close the tree could be to the wall before we snipped the string and let the limbs (theoretically) fall into place.
“It’s going to scratch the wall,” Dustin said.
Apparently he thought our tree was a jack-in-the-box just waiting to pounce. Then again, he saw what that tree did to our door in Florida.
“It’s not going to scratch the wall,” I said. “Just cut the string.”
“I’m telling you, it’s going to hit the wall.”
“Just do it.”
The kids were chanting now, too. “Cut it! Cut it!”
As Dustin slipped the scissors underneath the string, I started to have second thoughts. What if the limbs did spring forth and hit the television and lamp?
Dustin asked again. “Are you sure?”
“Just cut it!”
The final string was cut. Dustin crouched down and turned away, as if the tree would explode. I held my breath.
And here’s what the tree did: nothing. It still looked like a gigantic missile covered in snow, only now it was standing vertically in a pot. The limbs were frozen solid against the trunk.
This is where the hair dryer came in. As the limbs thawed, droplets of water rained down on our hardwood floor. You could even hear the pitter-patter, just like a real storm. It would have been neat, if it weren’t my house.
Eventually the tree took its ordinary shape, and the children began hanging ornaments. Dustin put his arm around me, and I smiled up at him.
“Really feels like Christmas now, doesn’t it?” I asked.
And he said, “Nah, it’s not Christmas until someone breaks a priceless heirloom ornament.”
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.