Filling in those bald spots


“What about the tree?”

Carol’s question brought me to the reality that Christmas was upon us and there is yet so much to do. The tree was right on top of the list and I hadn’t even gotten to that.

“We can get it tonight,” she suggested. I knew what that meant. She would just as soon I pick out the tree and appear with it. I learned that years ago.

We’ve tried all sorts of trees. There were years when we wrestled live trees into the house with a ball of dirt wrapped in burlap almost as large as the tree. Watering those trees indoors was problematic except for our dogs that thought it was the natural thing to do. There was the year in upstate New York where we trundled into the snow-filled woods and returned with a spindly hemlock that was the closest to anything green we could find. And there was the year we tried a miniature tabletop tree that was dwarfed by the gifts around it. That didn’t work.

It was a call from my daughter Diana that reminded me of those years when, as a family, we got the tree. They usually had ideas of where we should go and differing opinions on the best tree, which made the outing more of a debate than a uniform effort.

One for a bargain, I gravitated to the stands that advertised the cheapest rates.

The kids knew better than to protest when I pulled into a lot with a sign prominently proclaiming “trees $7 to $15.” We piled out of the car and started walking between rows of trees leaning against a makeshift fence down the middle of the lot. They were reasonable facsimiles of Christmas trees, but clearly not the top of the line firs pictured in Better Homes and Gardens. The kids had a few suggestions. They were all on the pricey side. Fifteen dollars seemed like an awful lot to pay for something that in another three weeks would be lying at the curb on trash collection day.

A salesman was watching and came over to help.

“Where are your seven dollar trees?” I asked.

He led us to the back of the lot where there was a meager selection of scrawny trees. The kids were appalled that I would even consider getting one of these trees. I looked them over, finding one of decent height, straight and greener than the rest. But it was seriously flawed. With the exception of half a dozen branches, it was barely more than a stalk. This was the runt of the shipment and without question the one tree the salesman never expected to sell.

“I’ll take it,” I said to the man’s utter bafflement and to the shock of the kids. The salesman was now smiling. I imagined he was thinking if he could sell this tree just about anything was possible.

“Do you mind if I take along some of these?” I said, reaching down and lifting several boughs that had been cut from the trunks of other trees. “No charge for those,” he said, relieved that not only was I taking the tree but also cleaning up the lot.

Back at the house I got out the electric drill and a knife. I drilled holes where I intended to add branches and then whittled the ends of the boughs to make for a tight fit. When I was finished, our naked tree was fully dressed, although not all the limbs were of matching color.

For years after I’d pick up a few extra boughs and, if necessary, fill in the bare spots. It became such a part of the tree ritual that the kids thought nothing of it. Diana reminded me of it Sunday when we chatted about our respective Christmas trees. Friends in Jackson, Wyoming, where she and her family live, couldn’t believe my scheme to make a better tree. They hadn’t thought of that.

So, she wanted to know, had I filled in a few bald spots on the tree I got this year?

Truth be, I didn’t have to.

I called Carol on the way home and she was ready at the door when I arrived.

We stand our tree in a pot of water anchored in a plastic milk crate, using sections of wood to brace the trunk. For added security, I tie a line to the tree from a steam pipe leading to a second floor radiator. Carol had everything set and, after cutting an inch off the trunk to ensure it could get water, we stood back and admired our Christmas visitor. It wasn’t perfect; besides, that wouldn’t have looked real.

We’re ready for the kids – and now their kids – to come home and see the tree…and, guaranteed, none of the branches are going to fall off. They all belong to that tree.


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Saturday, January 7