The Last Christmas Tree
This is probably the last Christmas tree that my spouse and I will ever have. It turns out this is a tree that was never meant to be and the previous year's tree could possibly be considered our last. Seeing this tree every day was a reminder of how things were no longer right in my home. Looking at this tree reminded me that something was missing and how my life that had felt so right recently, now had a part of it that was very wrong. This is the story of the last Christmas tree.
My spouse loves Christmas trees! She does not fancy artificial trees but prefers the "live" variety and to her the bigger the tree the better. We have a ton of ornaments and every year after we put the tree up and get the lights on it, she proceeds to decorate almost every square inch of the tree with the festive ornaments (some of which are family heirlooms or have great personal meaning to her). The real fascination comes every day afterwards when she will spend time moving the ornaments around the tree and redecorating it. She gets that childlike look in her eyes when rearranging the tree and this is something she does every year the whole time the tree is up.
Her family had a tradition of having a small celebration for "Old Christmas" on January 6th. She told me in the past they would take their large Christmas tree down and put up a smaller one for Old Christmas but as the years went on they began to leave the Christmas tree up through the second holiday. For this reason, we usually waited until after the first week of December to put up our tree and we left them up about a month, through Old Christmas.
Our first Christmas together as a married couple we were living in the garage apartment of my parents' home and the small space would not allow for a really huge tree. Our funds were a little limited that year too so I went to Wal Mart and bought a cedar tree and brought it upstairs to the apartment. The are less expensive than the Frasier Firs and do not last or hold up as well but it was still a good sized tree. I had just gotten a job in a rural area about 30 miles from town and in spring we moved into a nice mobile home with a quiet country setting on a pond, and very close to my workplace.
Our first Christmas in the trailer I wanted to do something big as far as a Christmas tree so I decided to go into the woods and cut a large Red Cedar and bring into our little living room. I had never cut down a tree before and all I had was an hatchet I had gotten from my dad and a hand saw. First I had to scout the surrounding forest for the Perfect tree and the day I had chosen to do that was a Sunday afternoon when on the ground we had a rare early December snow of a couple of inches. I put our dog Jumper on a leash and we set off into the woods to find the tree. Jumper was young then, less than 2 years old, and she had a tendency to run off so I did not dare walk her in the woods without a leash. I found the Perfect tree not too far from the house and not too far from a logging path so I could drive my Jeep down to it. I did have to get the tree back to the trailer after I cut it so I needed a plan.
I would go back the next afternoon after work, cut the tree down and bring it back home, but as long as we were out walking on this cold, snowy day I figured Jumper and I could have a good time exploring the woods for a bit. Jumper is a mix of Chow and Alaskan Eskimo Spitz and she always loved the cold weather and relished being out in snow. The kid in me loved to explore and also loved cold weather and especially snow. We walked and walked, getting off of the paths and logging roads that crisscrossed the gently rolling forest. This was mid afternoon during the time of year when it gets dark very early and even though I think the snow has stopped falling it was very cloudy and the sky had that blue/grey "snow day" haze. Sensing the need to get back to the house, we turned around and walked back out of the woods the same way we came in. Or so I thought.
Most of the woods in this part of the country are pine or pine/hardwood mix and they are logged fairly frequently so there is no "old growth" forest that is easy to walk around in. There is a lot of undergrowth and debris on the ground and walking a dog through the woods on a 6 foot leash can be slow going. At some point I realized that we were lost and seemingly going in circles. Darkness was not setting in yet but it was immanent and a sense of urgency came about me so we tried running or walking as fast as we could. It seemed like we just kept getting deeper and deeper into the woods and with no sense of direction or plan, we just kept moving forward hoping to find a road or a cleared field. This part of North Carolina is not wilderness but is a mixture of forest, agricultural fields, homes and little communities along the roads. Some of the woods are pretty big in that area though but they are sliced by logging roads, so I felt like we would run across something soon.
We just kept going and going and the undergrowth seemed to get thicker so movement was slow. Darkness was now creeping in and I began to envision the possibility of being stuck overnight in the frozen forest or having to keep hiking in the dark with no visibility. Finally, I saw a light. Thank God, we were going to make it out before darkness, but just barely. It turns out that a huge brier patch covering many acres lay before us and the ray of hope I saw off into the distance. Walking a dog on a leash through a large brier patch is not something I would recommend for fun and we struggled to slowly move forward. I kept having to weave the leash through the briers that would catch it, but I dared not let Jumper off and risk having her run off and get lost. It was our dog but it was primarily my spouse's dog and she would kill me.
It had just gotten dark out when we made it to the light we had been walking towards. It was a porch light on an old trailer surrounded by woods and sitting along a muddy path. This was not a road but a country path and no more houses or trailers were in sight. We were not having an emergency so I did not go to the residence but we started walking down the path. I was not sure which way would lead us out but soon we got to another trailer and then a couple more. It looked like the path got a little bit wider and better maintained and soon it turned into a dirt country road. We passed a couple more houses and a few fields and then we made it to the paved road. We had hit Highway 581, a two lane blacktop that I took to work every day. I was a couple of miles from home and I knew the way so we kept walking. I think I had a cell phone back then but I had not carried it with me and reception was very poor in that area so I do not know if I could have gotten through if I had called the house. We finally made it home about an hour or more after dark and to my spouse's relief the dog was ok. I think she was happy to see me too.
After the adventure of finding the tree, going back and cutting it was to be a piece of cake. Actually, with the tools I had and my lack of experience it was a real challenge to cut it down. It seemed to take forever but I was determined and finally brought the great Cedar down to the forest floor. It was probably 9 feet tall, a beautiful tree, but I do not think the ceiling in the trailer was much over 7 feet. The next challenge was getting the tree into the house and not having it stick through the roof. It was too hard to cut more off the bottom at that point so I cut the top of the tree until I could make it fit inside. With the top off, the tree was thick and wide all the way from top to bottom. It was huge and occupied maybe a fourth of the living room. We got the lights and decorations on it and over the next few weeks it was fun watching her move the decorations around and adore the tree. It was a really special tree but it was also the lastand only tree I ever cut down myself. The next year and every year after, we bought big Frasier Firs off the lot.
|2011 Christmas tree: last Christmas|
So we come to the story of this year's Christmas tree. With our marriage failing and both of us agreeing that we would separate sometime after the holidays, I envisioned that this would be our last Christmas tree together. When December got here I started talking about going to get the tree but she would put it off and not want to look at them or talk about it. This was the first year that she was not excited about getting a tree. As the time grew closer to needing to get a tree she started telling me we would not get a tree this year. I didn't pay any attention to that, I knew we were going to get a tree, and I was possibly more excited about it than usual knowing it would be our last tree. Usually it was grumpy old me that kept putting off the tree purchase until the last few trees were on our favorite lot, run by a local charity. Sometimes I waited too late and we had to get one somewhere else at a higher price and from a lot that did not help children with the proceeds. I was feeling happier and better than ever this year and wanted to relish this experience one more time, so I could not wait to get the tree up and watch her marvel at it. This year she did not want one at all.
I knew the lot was running out of trees and I finally got her to agree to put the dogs in the truck and ride out and get one. When we arrived there were only three trees left on the lot. She always wanted the biggest one we could afford and was very particular about it, spending a lot of time (when there was good inventory) picking out the perfect tree. This year she walked up to the man and said we wanted the smallest tree he had. It was still a good sized tree and we had him cut the base and place it on our stand before I lashed it to the back of the truck. This was Thursday afternoon and I got home, placed it in the living room and adorned it with all of our lights. Friday evening we went out to eat with my parents and when they dropped us off at the house they rode by and admired the lights on the tree through the window. I asked her when she was going to get around to decorating it and she put it off. I so wanted to see her put those ornaments on that tree.
Saturday afternoon I left for an overnight trip to visit my boyfriend in Virginia, 2.5 hours away. I was honest with her about it, as I had been for many months, and she told me she would decorate the tree while I was gone. She also told me she was probably going to spend Sunday night with her sister and made a bigger deal than usual about where to leave the dogs and how she would lock the screen door and so forth. I thought nothing of it. I wrote about this in the last few blog posts, but Sunday afternoon while getting ready to check out of the hotel in Virginia I was overcome by a wave of emotion and had a major crying spell. My mind was thinking back to good times I had on trips with my spouse and in my soul I felt her fading away from me right then, at that exact moment. Sunday night I got home and she was not home as I expected. Monday I found out that she had left us and had gone to live out of town with her sister. She had placed a few ornaments on one section of the tree before she left, the rest of it lay bare.
At the exact moment I was hit by that emotional crash while in Virginia, she was packing her things and leaving our home for good. I did not know it but I felt it. That sinking feeling came rushing back Monday when I found out she had left us. That feeling has gotten better at times but it has not gone away. She has since told me that she had no intention of getting a tree this year. Her plan was to leave on December 8th, when I would be out of town with my boyfriend at a Christmas party. I got sick and stayed home that weekend so she postponed her plan to leave. She went to the store and got me medicine and stayed until I got feeling better and left her home overnight again. Then she made her move.
Yesterday I took Jumper to the veterinarian because she has been swelling up. Her body is filling with fluid and the vet is now working on finding out what is wrong with her. It is very serious. Jumper is over 16 years old and I don't know that she will live much longer. I had always envisioned that my spouse and I would stay together through the end of Jumper's life. That dog has been the glue to really held us together for a long time and she had been integral in bringing my dogs to us back when we were living at the trailer. Buddy and Nightingale showed up at our trailer in different years as strays and picked our home as their new home. They wanted to live with Jumper and we were a family. Certainly we were non traditional in a lot of ways and dysfunctional in our own ways. At times we were happy. We needed each other. I am doing my best to take care of Jumper but she misses my spouse very much and it may have broken her heart when she left. The doctor says that what is wrong with her is either her heart, cancer or a rare disease. It would not surprise me if she is dying of a broken heart.