Thinking outside the Yule-tide box

This Christmas Joyce and I had the house to ourselves for the first time in several years, our daughter and granddaughter having moved out this past summer.

With several family and professional issues challenging us, we didn’t feel particularly in the Christmas spirit. But Joyce wanted to put up the Christmas tree anyway, so she left me in charge of wrestling the monster down from the attic.

You need to understand that we have battled over Christmas trees for most of our 35 years together. I have always maintained that a live tree is the only real Christmas tree — in fact, if I had my drothers, it would be an Eastern red cedar cut from a local fence line or open field.

Citing allergies, Joyce banished live trees soon after we married. With the exception of a couple of experiments when Laura was little that proved the allergies still active, we’ve had what I call toilet brush trees since.

But not just any plastic tree will do. Back in the 1980s, we hunted the perfect plastic tree all over Atlanta, where we lived. I have to admit, it was about the prettiest toilet brush I’ve ever seen. But about the third year of ownership, my allergies started kicking in — seems I’m just as allergic to household dust as my bride is to evergreen smell.

We tried all the recommended remedies — hairspray (which does an excellent job of binding last year’s dust to the branches and attracting this year’s even more strongly), special “Christmas tree cleaner” sprays (which seem to do about the same thing as hairspray but cost more), even branch by branch washing with a wet rag. Nothing seemed to work very well. One year I stood the thing up on our lawn and sprayed it with our carwash sprayer. That worked about as well as anything, even though it was messy and you had to hope the tree dried before it froze if the weather was cold.

When we moved to North Carolina, the old toilet brush didn’t make the move with us — probably because I did the packing. But when Christmas came around, I found myself driving by dozens of beautiful live Christmas tree lots to the big Christmas shop in Charlotte (the one that sells hot tubs the other part of the year).

We ended up driving home with a gigantic toilet brush tree. It was so big that we had to take it out of its box and put the pieces into whatever part of the car we could fit them.

The thing was so large it took over half our dining room each Christmas for a couple of years, complicating family dinners. After moving in with us a few years ago, our daughter, Laura, took responsibility for helping me wrestle it up and down the steps to the attic. She also cleaned the branches one by one to make the thing bearable.

This year, she wasn’t here for the annual ritual. I was instructed to put up the tree while Joyce was at work. I tried to drag it out of the attic, but the special Christmas tree bag caught on everything around it. I tried taking the parts out of the bag, but the branches unfolded and grabbed even more strongly. When all the dust made me sneeze, I gave up in disgust.

“I’m not working this hard and falling down the stairs just to give myself an allergic Christmas,” I vowed.

So I told Joyce I was rebelling. I would not put up the toilet brush.

“What about a live tree this year?” I asked hopefully.

“Not in my house if you expect me to live here,” was the reply.

So we didn’t do anything right after Thanksgiving. Later we both regretted the absence of a tree.

Then I had a brainstorm.

Our house has a screen porch off the family room, connected by French doors. It’s not heated, so we don’t use it in cold weather.

“What about putting a live tree on the screen porch?” I asked. “We could see it through the glass, but it wouldn’t bother your allergies.”

Joyce thought it was a goofy idea, but she has come to recognize my talent for goofy ideas. After thinking it over for awhile, she gave her approval. We drove to the nearest Christmas tree lot where Joyce picked out a tree about twice the size I had in mind. Knowing when to pick my battles, I obediently stuffed the monster into our car and brought it home.

By the way, if you stuff an oversized Frazier fir into the trunk of a Volkswagen Passat with the back seats folded down, you’ll scrap off enough needles to fill a shop vac. Don’t ask how I know.

So this Christmas, our tree sat just outside as we watched it from the warmth of our den. Our presents spilled “under” the tree just inside the French doors. The tree’s branches seemed to stay green and pliable longer than they would inside, and nobody sneezed.

I think we may be onto something here.

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