It was beastly cold, several degrees below zero, the day Paul and I walked to the Christmas tree lot two blocks from our apartment to purchase our first hyphenated-life Christmas tree.
I was drawn to the slender trees with spaced-out branches and short needles. Paul pulled out big, round, full trees with long needles.
We stood there in the cold and went through three of the five steps of a mixed-tree marriage: persuasion, negotiation and compromise.
“Look at this tree,” I said, “it’s ideal for showcasing ornaments.”
“We do not have ornaments,” Paul reminded. “This tree makes a statement. It fills up a room.”
“We do not have room,” I reminded.
“Short needles are prickly. Feel these soft, long needles,” Paul said.
“Short-needled trees stay fresh longer,” I said with the authority of someone who heard somebody say this.
“Why don’t we get a slender tree with short needles this year, since there’s not much room in the apartment?” I said.
“This year, why don’t we get a full tree with long needles, since we don’t have ornaments?” Paul countered.
Neither of us mentioned the other’s inferior tree preference was the result of familial dysfunction. Neither of us thought to trade a favor for their choice of tree. We were young newlyweds, clearly novices at marital negotiation.
Two hours later, I had lost feeling in my toes. Paul’s mustache had grown icicles. We found an acceptable tree. It was neither slender nor full with medium-length needles.
By the time we got the tree home and up in its stand, it was time for lunch.
From the dinette, I heard a strange sound: tinkle. tinkle.
Paul heard it: tinkle. tinkle.
By the time we got up from our Naugahyde swivel chairs, “tinkle, tinkle” became “WHOOSH.”
We followed the sound to the living room. Our Christmas tree stood in a pile of its own needles.
Wordlessly, we took took the naked skeleton-tree out of the stand and walked it back to the Christmas tree lot.
In less than five minutes we picked out a new tree. In accelerated fashion, we entered the fourth stage of a mixed-tree marriage: acceptance. Once a Christmas tree is yours, it is beautiful.
The next year we did research and determined that Blue Spruce trees hold their needles. Blue Spruce trees were (and probably still are) more expensive, confirming the conclusion of superiority.
In one short year, we moved from affiliating with the trees of our childhood to this new understanding of “our tree.”
Over the years, we’ve had fresh-cut trees, fancy garden-center trees, a big artificial tree and a wee one. It never fails, once a tree is ours, it is beautiful.
Dec. 2, 2012