"Did you clear the door yet?” Bob was dragging the trunk of the evergreen into the living room. I was wrestling with the top half of the fifteen-footer and the answer was no, I was not yet inside the door.
We did it again. Cut down another beast of the forest to be the centerpiece of our Christmas celebration. It was our fifth holiday season on the hill, and our confidence was growing that we had developed a nearly infallible system to choose, cut, and stand a majestic evergreen against the wall of glass that encases the front of our home.
We always did our reconnaissance trip in October, when the warmth of the autumn sun made selecting a tree comfortable. Gone were the days of freezing off various body parts until one of us gritted our teeth and said, “Yes, it does look like it’s diseased, but we can cut that part out. Let’s go.”
This year, the crop had been bountiful, so we took our time and got a nearly perfect specimen. Waiting for us in the front room were the bucket, bricks, twine, and sand that were the essential tools for securing the tree. While we had gotten much better at doing this over the years, I still had trepidations as I pulled on my gloves and prepped myself for battle.
The system was deceptively simple: jam the stump of the tree into the bucket, stand the thing upright, use the bricks and sand to steady the tree in the bucket, tie the top portion to the ceiling beams and, when the seismic activity calmed, cut the ropes to unfurl the tree.
My role in this operation was also easy: don’t let the damn thing fall. It was my job to steady the tree by hanging on to the trunk while Bob locked it into place. Often, we resembled first-time Twister players as he crawled around between my feet while I performed an awkward ballet, jumping over him and switching hands on the tree. We would certainly never win any style points, but we got the job done. Conversation during this process is usually frowned upon, as we are both in deep concentration on our respective duties. What is said is not exactly poetic.
“No, your other left. My right!”
“Move your feet, Mags, I can’t get...”
“Sorry! The brick slipped.”
“Are we back, ya know, toward the glass thing?”
“You mean the window?”
“Don’t get snarky with me, pal. I’m being blinded by evergreen spears here.”
“Tis the season to be impaled.”
“Oh, stuff it!”
The words of love.
This year, things were going suspiciously well. It’s like when your toddler has been an angel for the entire church service, but you just know, come the sharing of the peace, he is going to spit up in the rector’s hand.
The tree stood, accompanied by a chorus of our grunting, but the darn thing wouldn’t stop. It went beyond vertical, continuing toward the windows, while Bob fought to control the weighted bucket with his foot. “Too far! Bring it forward!”
I marshaled my meager strength and shoved the tree back. What I didn’t see, through my sweat and needle-filled eyes, was that the tree, while colliding with the windows, had hooked its boughs behind the crucifix that adorned the center beams of the glass.
The cross had been handed to me when I was ten years old, on the day of my godmother’s funeral. It had hung in every home I had lived in since. It was simple by today’s standards—just a brass cross with the figure of Jesus, encased in a wood frame. When we moved into this house, it t perfectly on the wood beams of the front windows, and I felt secure with it watching over us.
The evergreen, clearly an atheist, had latched onto the cross and, when we brought the tree forward again, it ripped the crucifix from the beam and flung it into the air.
Bob and I, both helpless to do more than watch, shared a panicked look as the cross performed a perfect mid-air somersault and crashed to the hardwood floor, skidding a solid eight feet into the foyer.
A voice that vaguely sounded like mine whispered, “Oh, no.” The tree began to shift again and my attention was back on keeping my grip on it. I leaned around the greenness and found Bob looking back at me. “This is probably not good,” he panted. “Now, we’ve angered both Santa Claus and God.”
“I’ve always wanted to spend Christmas in Belize,” I shrugged, doubtful that we could ever outrun this batch of yuletide karma. We tied the tree into submission and went to assess the damage to the cross. The wood was split all the way down the back and the brass section of the cross was bent. But the worst part was the fact that Jesus’ left hand was nowhere to be seen. “Well,” Bob chirped, “at least it’s not his right hand. You know how God is about that.” I elbowed him in the stomach with a glare. “Don’t say things like that! We don’t have insurance against a plague of locusts! You think Allstate covers bleeding walls? Don’t think so! We’re in real trouble here!"
A search commenced for the missing hand, but it only turned up two guilty-looking felines. I shook a finger at them. “Did you eat Jesus’ hand?” Okay, I admit it. I would have lost a lot of money betting against the likelihood of ever saying those words. “I don’t think they ate it, but I suspect they batted it around and dropped it down the floor vent,” Bob said, peering into the dusty abyss of our heating system. Whatever its fate, the left hand of our Lord and Savior was never recovered. Bob straightened up after another search attempt and looked at the tree, boughs gracefully stretching as it settled into form.
“It’s probably cursed now. Bet we come out in the morning and there’s nothing but mounds of needles on the floor. The tree will fling itself off the deck in remorse.”
I do not take heavenly matters lightly, so I was soon in contact with our favorite member of the clergy, Father Hunter, for guidance. “The tree did what?” His deep laughter filled my ear. "The heathen!”
“I know, I should have asked its denomination before bringing it home. They’re natives of Germany, right? Maybe it’s a Lutheran,” I surmised.
Father roared again and then settled into his comforting, pastoral tone. “Maggie, God isn’t nearly as concerned with such things as we are. But, for your own peace of mind, have the crucifix unblessed and then you can dispose of it with a clear conscience. God doesn’t want you losing sleep over this.”
That’s what we did, and this year there is a new cross in the front room. It’s a little more modern than its predecessor, with a low profile design that hugs the beam it is gracing. It does not have hands.
I’ve already got enough to explain when I get to Heaven.