To misquote Joyce Kilmer's poem Trees, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree – unless it's artificial!"
Now don't get me wrong, I love real trees, especially evergreens. We've moved many times, but we always make sure there's an evergreen planted at our new home – outside! Because the next verse of Kilmer's poem reads: "A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth's sweet flowing breast." Again, real trees don't belong in the house, even if it is the Christmas season!
We've managed to compensate for S-shaped trunks, broken limbs and bare spots with some cosmetic patchwork and decoration, even to the extent of suspending a real tree with wire from the ceiling or windowsill when it refused to stand up straight in its holder. But we weren't prepared for what seemed like a great idea at the time:
Maybe we read it somewhere or someone told us to put sugar in the water in the holder to keep the tree fresher and prevent so many needles from falling off. Well, we reasoned, if sugar is good, syrup would be better mixed into the water.
What we forgot was we had a hot-water heating system with pipes in the floor.
It's great during the winter when your cold tootsies hit a nice, warm floor first thing in the morning. But it's not so good for the contents in the tree holder because it warmed the syrupy mix as well turning it into a sticky, stagnant goo even though we added water – and Aunt Jemima – occasionally. When relatives and friends entered our home during the holidays the first question they often asked was, "Did you just have pancakes?"
We thought that was humorous until we took down the Christmas tree. The holder base broke causing the caustic contents and countless needles to spill onto our new carpeting. We had a real mess to clean up and vowed never to have a real tree in the house again!
Our first artificial tree was so realistic looking the cat climbed it and the dog lifted his leg at its base. How much more convincing is that? About the only mishap with an artificial tree again involved the cat and dog, and a new pet introduced into the household: a guinea pig named Nibbles. It probably wasn't a good idea to have the children open his wrapped cage under the Christmas tree with the cat and dog witnessing Nibbles' first appearance. Picture all three animals running in, around and up the tree with two adults – who should have known better – and four children in hot pursuit.
At least the tree didn't fall over and there were no needles to pick up; just a lot of broken ornaments, tangled light strands and tinsel spaghetti.
We moved again earlier this year and a beautiful blue spruce is planted in the front yard. We've chosen where the artificial tree will be erected and, believe it or not, we've selected a spot for a real Christmas tree – outside on the screened-in porch in full view from the adjoining family room, but with a heavy glass door between us and the real tree. We'll let you know how it all works out.
To misquote Kilmer again, "Poems – and Christmas tree stories -- are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree, and plant it where it should be."
Vince LaBarbera is a freelance writer living in Fort Wayne. He is twice retired from careers in corporate and diocesan communications.