Editor’s note: This column originally was published Dec. 18, 2002 in the Braidwood Journal. Besides the cosnistently strained equations to love and dating from this period in my writing career, the sentiment still holds up.
The cry grows common in these days and in these parts.
“I’ll never find that special one.”
December means many things, but most of all it serves as a time of introspection. With a few days off, the mind — just like the snow — inevitably drifts. You sit down on the couch and wonder when you’ll ever find the perfect match.
Then reality smacks its leather gloves across your face.
“Holy holiday heartache, Batman … We need a Christmas tree, and fast!”
There are few feelings quite like heading to the tree farm and scouting for that perfect score. In a way, the mad post-Thanksgiving rush for Christmas trees rivals the worst of singles bars in unfortunate but necessary angst. After all, it’s tradition.
Of course, when I began eying Christmas trees all those years ago, I wasn’t equating cutting down a tree with a version of The Dating Game. Actually, I just thought it would be cool to hold the saw.
My family has participated in rituals akin to many in this area. In an attempt to quell any thoughts of buying an … ugh … fake tree (that’s so Hollywood), we travel down to the local tree farm and hope this year’s tree will be better than the last.
Because the hunger never is satiated, is it? You never hear anyone say, “Well, that’s it. We found the perfect tree.” Even if one found such a subjective milestone, the tree still dries out and fades away faster than Frosty on a spring day.
So we head out to the tree farms with the same purpose and just a few tools of the trade — a map, a saw and little hope.
In earlier times (the mid-1980s), the day after Thanksgiving meant bundling up in the widest assortment of winter clothes possible. Most of the time, the Brockett boys looked like they modeled the clothes Skittles would make if they ever entered the fashion industry.
We braved the cold for two undeniable reasons. One, we could sit in the back of a minivan that lacked seats. And two, the trip meant our annual stop at McDonalds in Wilmington.
Most people laugh when they hear that tidbit (so go ahead, laugh). But for a family in rural Elwood, fast food meant something on rice for dinner. As the years went on and McDonalds became a regular staple of the college diet, the magic of those golden arches faded a little bit.
The fries never tasted quite the same once they lost delicacy status.
As I drove through the winding dirt roads through rows of trees and dozens of people with similar intentions, I was reminded of those trips of old. Each year created a different memory, even if the years aren’t kept straight.
The Year of the Mud. The Year of Bitter Cold. The Year Dad Cut His Hand On the Saw. (Let me tell you, we were careful to double-check what was ketchup during that McDonalds trip.)
All these memories were aided by how things have changed. Last year, the family chose the tree while I was away. And this year two Brockett boys were prepping for finals, not the cold.
So please forgive this Dating Game dalliance. The cold plays mean tricks on the head.
Now, there’s the obvious comparison between the kinds of trees versus the types of people looking for a little love. Douglas firs vs. Scotch pines stirs just as many opinions as a Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate. Add short-needle versus long-needle to the mix and you’ve got the makings of a bar debate right there, if not a lost verse from Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5.
But just like the earth itself, things warm up the further we dig. On television shows like Blind Date, Dismissed or Elimidate, the contestants seldom worry about the appearance of their dates. But in real life, blind dates can be more froggy than prince-like, so to speak. The end of these dates are capped off with a polite good-bye, and the mutual friend hears some rationale about a good personality but poor chemistry.
Saying a tree “has a good shape” is the tree world’s version of the good personality.
There could be a pathetic little tree 30 inches off the ground and blown over by the wind, and some good soul will say, “Hey, how about this one? It’s small, but look at that shape!”
Bless these people. However, living in a house with a good soul such as this, I reveal one truth: This attitude can cause open revolt.
We want tall, full, powerful trees! The buxom type, where you can point it out to a friend and say, “Whaddaya think of this beaut?” And the friend only can nod in envy.
Finding these needles in haystacks can lead to disappointment. Just when the right tree catches your eye, there’s a big bare spot on the side. Or, the worst of all, it looks fine until you’re ready to break out the saw … and there are two trunks.
No Crying Game references, please.
In some way, after giving up on multiple occasions, a tree ends up in our house. And with more than two decades of ornaments to pick from, the tree inevitably finds its charm … even if it’s not love at first sight.