I know that Christmas has passed, but I'm not done posting about it, so oh well.
In my family of origin, here is the way we get our Christmas trees. My dad pays $10 for a permit that allows us to cut down one (1) tree in the Boise National Forest. We drive up to Idaho City in the truck with a hacksaw. We climb a mountain covered in snow, seeing virtually no trees that are small enough to even consider cutting. All the while, we are thinking of our mother back at the ranch, praying that we will bring her a tree that will not be a total embarrassment. We cut the prettiest small tree we can find, carry it back down the mountain, and load it into the truck. When we arrive back at home and proudly show mom our tree, she proclaims it (accurately) to be just as un-Christmas-tree-like as last year's, and asks (again) why we can't just get a pretty, normal tree like everyone else. Then we decorate it as best we can, and endure several weeks worth of neighbors and friends coming to the house and making comments on how they've never seen a tree quite like ours.
This year, Esther and I got to spend a weekend in Boise and accompany my dad in the truck up to the Boise National Forest to get the tree. Here I experienced another of my family traditions. That is the tradition in which we go hiking with my dad, he gets tired of how slow we are going, or of how many of us there are, and he tells us to wait for him for just a minute while he goes off to scout something or other. So here I am stranded on a steep snowy mountain with a heavy, writhing toddler (and no stroller or backpack to put her in), waiting for my dad to return. Finally I hear his voice from a distance. My heart stops, thinking that he has fallen and that Esther and I will need to drag him to safety somehow. He is several hundred feet below us (completely unharmed), and tells us not to come down directly to him because it is too steep. He tells me to find the gully that he is walking along, and then he keeps walking, away from us, and completely out of sight. You have got to be kidding me! Esther is hungry, she is cold, she is fussy, and I am exhausted. My arms are shaking from holding her, and there is no place to sit down that is not covered in snow. We don't even have any snacks. I was honestly picturing this trip very differently, I can assure you. So I begin to hike back down the ridge, looking for the entrance to the gully my dad had referred to. Meanwhile, Esther starts folding her arms the way she does when we say a family prayer. I can only assume that she is trying to initiate a prayer, and I'm starting to feel a bit scared, so I say a little prayer with her. She folds her arms like this at least 4, 5, 6 more times, and I say a prayer with her each time. I am yelling to my dad as loud as I can and he is not answering. We are fighting our way through deep snow, over downed trees, and there is a steep slope on either side of us. I am on the verge of tears when he suddenly appears around a bend, hacksaw in one hand, cut pine tree over the other shoulder. He begins to ask me to take a look at the tree, to tell him if I think mom will like it, or if he should go back and try to find another one. I'm nearly fainting with relief to see him again, to not be lost on a mountain with my baby in the middle of December. "The tree is great!" I say. "Let's go!" He guides us back to the car. We are much farther away than I thought, and there are many steep slick spots that he helps us through. I am so happy to have him back, I have already forgiven him for leaving us in the first place.
By the time we get home, I am so happy to be alive and safe, I could care less what the tree looks like. As dad points out all of the tree's great qualities, mom looks exasperated. He is wondering if he shouldn't have gone back and tried to find a better one. Mom points out that the moment he bought that tree permit, her hopes for a beautiful Christmas tree ended. He tried to find one mom would like, but let's face it, there are no trees in the entire forest that look like the kind you buy at a Christmas tree lot (or a Michigan Christmas tree farm, for that matter). She wants fullness. She wants triangular shape. She wants postcard. He brings her a scraggly little wild animal.
For me, the annual tree squabble between mom and dad is part of my beloved Christmas tradition. I've always been proud of our Boise National Forest trees. But this year I finally realized that this is not a happy tradition for my mom any more than being abandoned on the side of a mountain is for me. She really does mourn the Christmas tree of her dreams. And I realized this year for the first time that dad gets his dream tree every single year. So this year I'm campaigning for mom's dream tree in '08. Dad, give mom the tree SHE wants. Who knows, maybe you'll have to come to Michigan to get it.