I realize all relationships have different personalities but when it comes to marriage the differences in personalities between a couple can make for much interest, challenge and yes, humor. When those differences no longer can be seen in a humorous vein, that is what I guess we could call the spice of life.
My husband, Jim and I have a very spicy relationship. It’s not a sugar n’ spice type of relationship; it’s more of a vinegar and chips sort. When life’s chips are down we are always there for each other but as two strong personalities, we often disagree on the way things are done. He’s a lefty, I’m right-handed. I’m small and thin while he is extra large and tall; he’s gruff and manly I am more soft spoken, yet deadly in my meaning. He talks to phone solicitors and I hang up on them. He gives to many charities without checking them out first and I give only to the ones I know I can trust. I have been disabled for many years while he has always been very healthy, less so in recent years.
I have often said, when we were in high school he was kind of boy my parents wouldn’t let me date. He was his vice principal’s worst nightmare, cutting class, smoking when he felt like it while I was Miss Goodie Two-shoes and a good little Baptist girl. He lived a few towns away from me where he joined the army right out of high school while I was off to Christian college. Well, my friends, as time and only time and life can do, it bent us, shaped us and sent us out to learn and grow smarter. When we met, we were in our thirties, both divorced and both interested in medicine. We met at a hospital where we both worked, I as an RN and Jim a Respiratory Therapist and that was the beginning of an interesting, loving yet often salty relationship. As all good marriages must, we blended our lives together, each bringing our own memories, families and customs into play. That blending, both sweet and sour is never more obvious than during the holidays. The annual choosing of the Christmas tree was a matter of much contention for many years which reminds me when looking back on them, how much fun those times were.
One particular year stands out in my mind as being fun in a somewhat perverse way, something like watching a horror flick on TV but being unable to change the channel. It was time for our annual trek to the Christmas tree farm to choose our tree. That particular year, since we no longer owned a truck, we had the choice of transporting and hauling the tree on a brand-new car, my husband’s, which was out of the question if one valued their life or my little blue Mustang convertible. Naturally, we both opted for my convertible. Only in California is it fairly common to see someone fetch a Christmas tree in a convertible. Many things can be said about it and I guess the word “festive” would be that word.
On arriving at the tree farm, we were handed the yuletide measuring pole used for measuring the height of the tree one chose. The trees were beautiful as always as their sap filled the air conjuring memories from Christmases past. I asked the owner, a sweet, elderly woman, “What if the pole isn’t as tall as the tree we choose?”
She replied, “Oh my dear, that won’t happen. That pole is twelve feet tall.”
Poor thing, little did she know she was speaking to the Paul Bunyan of all Christmas tree buyers. I couldn’t help it. I used to simply lose it at Christmas time. I have changed since then but at that time in my life, I became addict like, seeking the largest tree on the lot. Jim, who knew that about me treated me with tolerance and firmness. Trudging through the boggy furrows of the farm, we eventually reach the back row of trees. This was to fulfill the old Christmas tree adage, “One always chooses the Christmas tree located the farthest from one’s vehicle.”
As we were seeking our tree for the year, Jim uttered a remark I had never heard him say nor have I since. He said, “No, that one is too small.” I couldn’t believe it but thought it was a good sign. We finally settled on a lovely, majestic Monterey pine which stood as tall as the twelve-foot pole. Once again, I uttered a word of thanks that we had an old Victorian with twelve-fourteen foot ceilings throughout the house. Jim went to fetch the saw while I stood guard lest some other tall tree zealot, strike that, aficionado, came along and wanted my tree.
Felling the tree always gives one a sense of wastefulness but thankfully, for me that feeling never lasted too long. Could we go to a tree farm where they had a tractor, an electric cart or better yet a sleigh and eight reindeer? Oh no, not us. We two were on our own dragging a 150 pound tree to my convertible.
The elderly proprietor now accompanied by her gray-haired husband asked us how tall our tree was. Jim replied, “Oh, she had to have one of those giant Sequoia’s in the back row.”
After paying for our now beloved tree we hauled it to the convertible. As you can imagine a twelve-foot tree totally fills a top down convertible, the tree looking for all intents and purposes like the owner of the car being chauffeured about. The trunk of the tree sat next to Jim in the passenger seat while I, the guilty party who had to have this particular tree was squished into a six-inch space beside 500 wet yet wonderfully fragrant branches. At that time in my life I did not have a six-inch sitter, therefore it made for an interesting ride but, having read the expression on my husband’s face, I did not complain…keeping in the spirit of Christmas and self-preservation, etc.
After arriving at our old house, we proceeded to drag it up the porch stairs and squeezed it through the doorway. We placed the tree stand on the trunk and proceeded to erect our majestic, wonderfully sappy tree. Of course, another age-old yuletide custom began to enact itself as the huge tree began to lean. That year, having been through this “custom” before, I was prepared. I had wire, wall hooks, hammer, saw and nails all at the ready, just in case. We carefully wired the odiferous and sticky tree to the wall with not just one but three pieces of wire. That baby wasn’t going anywhere. Little did we know. We stood back to survey our work. It was perfect. I then proceeded to pour a gallon of water into the stand lest the pour tree stump dried over before the giant could drink.
Relieved beyond words, my negative husband went downstairs to utter expletives to himself and to make a sandwich. I, more charged than ever, began to pull out Christmas lights, ornaments and garland. Then something strange began to happen. Our tall, perfectly stable, wired giant tree began to lean precariously and dangerously toward the window in the living room. “Oh, Honey, I think you’d better come up here,” I said.
“Don’t tell me,” he said from the kitchen below.
Believe me, I wouldn’t have told him if I had any other way to go at that particular moment. He came up, sandwich in hand and removed the wires. We cajoled and rotated the 150-pound giant tree, recalcitrant and heavy as it was. It didn’t seem to matter what we did or what position it was in the tree did would not stand without leaning. Despite our best efforts, gravity won every time.
“That’s it!” Jim shouted. “This is the last year we have a Christmas tree. No, I mean it, you mark my words. This is it.”
“Now, Jim, don’t say something you’re going to regret. I’m sure we can work this out,” I said.
I’m one of those people, if I had been aboard the Titanic would have said with my last moist breath, “The cavalry will arrive anytime, I know it will.”
My husband is the type of individual who would have said were he onboard, “With my luck this ship will go down during dinner.”
Our best efforts continued to be futile. Jim stood there surveying the tree, without a shred of Christmas spirit, “Well, I think we should haul this thing out onto the front yard, douse it with gasoline and set it on fire.”
“Now, Jim. Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
“Ridiculous is what we’re doing. No, I’m absolutely serious. If we get a tree at all next year it will be an artificial one from Sears.”
To this I reply, “Not while I’m alive.” This I say, to a large man with very sharp saw in his hands.
“Don’t tempt me,” said he.
“Jim, we have to do something. I’m not going to let you burn this beautiful tree. How about if we cut some more off of the bottom?” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll try it but if that doesn’t work…out she goes. Okay, Sue, get the water out of there.”
“Me,” I reply. “Why not you?” If looks could kill I’d have been one dead optimist. “I don’t know how to get it out of the tree stand. What do you want me to do, suck it out?” There it was again. At best, that look from him had Divorce Court written all over it. Is Divorce Court still on television?
“Okay, I know what we’ll do,” I said. “I’ll get a couple of blankets, put them around it to soak up all the water and you tip it over.” Jim rolled his eyes toward heaven, obviously seeking Divine help.
He said, “Okay, I think it’s a stupid idea but we’ll try it.”
I placed two large blankets next to the tree and he dumped out the water. My one gallon of water, which then looked like five gallons, began to flow out…but in the opposite direction of the blankets. Chasing the water, I picked up the blankets and threw them at the water flow. Losing my Christmas spirit, the room was now filled with a massive tree, flowing water and two angry human beings.
While looking totally disgusted, Jim asked me, “Isn’t that one the electric blanket?”
I replied, “Sure it is. I thought I’d get it nice and saturated then ask you to hold it while I plugged it in!”
Of course, it wasn’t the electric blanket, only a look-alike. Our daughter entered the room at that point, assessed the situation and said, “Hey, I’m out of here.” I knew she was a smart girl. Then the magic of Christmas came to our rescue. We, or rather he, sawed about four inches off the bottom of that huge tree, we stood it in the stand and magically, it stayed. We placed one wire on it to keep the dog or cat from toppling it. We had a Saint Bernard in those days and it was a genuine concern. We had a wonderful Christmas that year and every year since then.
We, like many of you have evolved into smaller trees, and often an artificial one as part of our bodies became troublesome. Of course, we all grow wiser and realize the joys of Christmas are outwardly displayed in trees, décor, presents and a brightly lit home but the true spirit of Christmas lies within. May your within spirit match your outward spirit this year as you think back on Christmases past, loved ones gone, loved ones still present and the joys that never die. The older I grow, the more I understand why older relatives were always talking about the past. Both Jim and I have had our families taken from us in recent years yet the memories of loved ones are strong and true. They are kept like rare collectibles and are especially enjoyed and revisited during this sacred season. May each of you enjoy, relish and savor your Holy days, whatever you choose to celebrate in the spirit of love and thankfulness. AS for us we thank the gift from God in the form of the Christ child.