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The Last Christmas Tree Standing
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The new issue of The Orphan Scrivener is online with a bit of news and essays by Mary and myself. Mary reviews three Golden Age mysteries you might enjoy. My own essay, alas, is a reprint from this blog. However, since it appeared years ago I'll "repirnt" it!

Someday natural Christmas trees will probably be about as common during the holidays as horse drawn sleighs. Even people who don't go in for the artificial sort weigh their trees down with so many ornaments (glass, ceramic, knitted, animated) and lights (blinking and bubbling, large and miniature) and so much tinsel, not to mention spray-on snow, that there might as well be a large garden gnome or a Dalek under it all.

Fake trees used to be all but unheard of. My grandparents didn't always buy a tree or cut one down. When I was a kid my dad's first Christmas tree was still growing behind the house where it had been planted decades before, by then a good 60 feet tall. There was a long row of tall pines beside the garden and more than once my grandfather cut the crown off one to use in the living room. In the fifties even the trees had flattops.

My parents were particular about trees. For years we had blue spruce. Beautiful to look at but the sharp needles made decorating the boughs a less than joyful experience.

My parents' trees also had to be straight as a plumb line. Maybe that's why I remember affectionately some of the forlorn trees I've since brought home -- trees that revealed huge gaps when their limbs thawed out and came down, trees with crooked or forked trunks. Still, it seemed in the spirit of the holidays to give those poor trees a good home, to dress them up and make them the center of attention, even if they weren't perfect.

I guess I always felt a little guilty about keeping a sacrificial tree in the house at Christmas. Maybe that's why I was reluctant to dispose of them. Most years I'd leave them up until the second or third week of January. As long as they stood in the corner decked out in lights and ornaments, their browning needles covered with layers of tinsel and artificial icicles, it was easy to ignore the reality of the situation.

The reality became only too clear, at last, as the water in the tree holder was never consumed, needles piled around the base, limbs drooped and twisted grotesquely, spilling glass balls onto the floor.

One January I got up and saw a denuded skeletal object, frozen in rigor mortis, bowed under the weight of dangling strings of lights, a wooden corpse propped up in the living room.

Tree pick-up day had long passed. It cost extra to have trees hauled away after the first week of the year. If only the body could fit into a heavy duty trash bag...

K-Mart boasted a liberal return policy. If an item did not prove suitable it could be returned, no questions asked, so long as you had the receipt. Checking to make sure the car's gas gauge was not too far below empty, I drove to the store and purchased the only saw they sold, a hacksaw of sorts made in Taiwan, and set to work on the tree.

An hour later I was bleeding profusely but the remains of the tree had been dismembered and hidden in a trash bag to be picked up by the unsuspecting sanitation workers.

The saw was in only slightly better shape than the tree. I took the twisted thing and the three broken spare blades back to K-Mart.

The store was good as its word. No one asked how I had managed to run over the saw with a steamroller, bury it in a landfill, dig it up and lend it to King Kong just as Godzilla came along looking for a Taiwanese hacksaw, in less than two hours. Nor did they remark on the bloody fingerprints on the receipt. In fact, they refunded my money very quickly indeed.

It was enough to buy gas to get me home for the final end of the holidays

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