A tale of two trees.
It started, as many “you ought to” ideas do, with my wife’s hairdresser. Luckily for me this was not of the “you ought to divorce him” variety but rather the lesser known but possibly designed to induce divorce “you ought to cut your own Christmas tree.” Shannon had a honey hole between Cashiers and Highlands that she said was perfect and my wife was sold.
Now, I have spent my entire adult life driving to a local lot to buy your standard fare (and during high school a couple of NMBs used to work at Boylan Family Farms on Haywood Road, complete with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” t-shirts) so I was a bit skeptical. But then my sister and her family said they were in too so we decided to make it a caravan into North Carolina. Sadly one of Carrie’s family friends, Judge Kenny Goode, passed away so she and our son headed to Winnsboro for the funeral. That left our daughter and me to handle the tree excursion and not let the family down.
We set off Saturday a little after 8 a.m. The 65-mile trip took about an hour and 45 minutes and took us through #yeahthatberea, Dacusville, and Pickens, and by a mess of farm animals, three lakes (Jocassee, Keowee, and, uh, Saluda), two manufacturing stalwarts (Alice and Kentwool), and one exclusive golf club (Wade Hampton). Finally, after many twisting turns and promises of “we are almost there,” we pulled into the gravel lot.
Turns out, a Christmas tree farm is exactly what it sounds like - a farm with a huge field full of Christmas trees (Fraser firs to be exact) instead of say, soybeans. Importantly, this means there is neither a bathroom or a credit card machine (cash or check only). I don’t know that Fraser fir is the best kind of Christmas tree but I do know I learned this about it on Wikipedia: “It is an evergreen conifer. In the past, it was also sometimes known as ‘she-balsam’ because resin could be ‘milked’ from its bark blisters, in contrast to the ‘he balsam’ (red spruce) which could not be milked. It’s range is restricted to the southeastern Appalachian Mountains.” A tree that can be milked that only lives around here. I’m sold.
There are hundreds and hundreds of trees growing on the side of a hill. Each tree has a small piece of colored plastic tied to a branch and that color corresponded to the price list. We have high ceilings so I was locked onto blue (8 feet, $90), yellow (9 feet, $110), or purple (10 feet, $120). I soon learned that these numbers were not exact as it appeared there was a good amount of guesstimating. You walk around and look for the one you want. Once you find your tree, you put your ticket on it and call over the staff to help. They can cut it for you or you can cut it (with a hand saw - no thanks).
We have all seen Christmas Vacation. The Griswolds hike around in the snow before they spot the perfect tree. Our experience did not involve snow or driving under a logging truck, but I admit that I knew our tree as soon as I saw it. I was looking for a nice full tree from the top down and there it was, a purple-tagged beauty right on the main strip. It was no less than 14 feet tall. I took a picture and texted it to Carrie and the instant tell-tale response bubbles appeared and then “Ummm beautiful but that looks super tall. Will it fit?” My response: we will find out.
Four men showed up on an ATV and trailer with the “big saw.” One guy pulled his measuring pole out that goes up to ten feet and laid it on the side of the tree. It was several feet shy of the top and they looked at me as if to say “you sure about this?” I assured them this was our tree and they went about cutting it down with a large chainsaw.
I started to realize what I had done when it took all 4 of them to get it on the trailer - last year at the Sertoma lot it took only me to put the tree in my truck. This would be a different kettle of fish.
I started to get nervous as I looked at the trunk and my nephews counted out 17 rings. Would this thing even fit in the expensive stand (but it’s made in Germany and will last us the rest of our lives!) I bought last year? Right then and there I told the men to cut about two more feet off the bottom. It did not look any different.
They then drove the tree to the baler to wrap it with twine for the ride home. But the regular baler was too small so they had to crank up the “big baler” (big saw, big baler, sensing a theme here?). Four more men then put the tree in my truck, and it overhung the lowered tailgate by about four feet. No need to tie it in, the weight will prevent it from sliding out. Okey-dokey.
We made it back to town and my sister and her husband and my nephews came over to help me get it in the house. It measured 11”7’ in the truck and I had to chainsaw off enough to make a second, regular-size tree.
After all that cutting it took 5 of us to get it in the house and into position. But now my house smells like Christmas and my people are happy. Even if there is an 80% chance I will have to hire a crew to remove it.
I can feel you judging me already. It’s ok. It’s even hard for me not to judge myself this holiday season. Matter of fact, my wife was not sure we were even ready for this story to be shared with the general public. I must warn you; what I am about to share with you is very personal. If you are not prepared to feel uncomfortable or if you are nervous that you will no longer want your children to come over to play at our house, then stop reading now.
We have a fake Christmas tree.
If you are still reading, I assume you don’t have a weak stomach or you have a fake tree as well. So, to the six of you remaining, let’s discuss this in further detail. One person who has already quit reading is my grandfather in Heaven, Big Tom. He took great pride in his Christmas tree each year. On his tree, he had the huge, old, colored lights; you know, the ones that could burn down a mobile home in seven seconds. He also had his tree adorned with tinsel and several ornaments that were mainly constructed from styrofoam. To tell you how much he enjoyed his tree each year, he placed a trophy with a blue ribbon attached to it right in front of the tree. He did this for one reason only: so when people came by the house and asked what the trophy was for, he could tell them he won first place, the Best Tree of the Year award. Of course, this was not a local honor; it was a world championship. Yes, he placed a trophy and blue ribbon in front of the tree each year, even though neither had anything to actually do with an award the tree had won. So for his bloodline to have a fake tree will make for an awkward reunion in Heaven.
So, how did we get to the point where we gave up going out to a special Christmas Tree farm on Haywood Road, buy a tree (and one for a soldier), get the tree inside the house, attempt to get it straight in the stand (an exercise that took our marriage to the brink every year), watch it completely die by December 17th, then avoid breathing near it, fearing full branches of needles would fall off, until Christmas Day, you may ask?
It all started innocently enough, “Let’s get a second tree to put on our screen porch this year,” my wife suggested. Sounds great, but let’s get a fake one that we can use every year out there. We will still get a real one for the house, so all is good, I thought.
It was Black Friday. We were leaving an afternoon Clemson basketball game (imagine that), and all the home improvement stores were having sales on Christmas stuff. We made the impulse decision to swing into the Clemson Lowe’s to pick up a fake tree. We find a pre-lit tree that we both like, and all we have left to do is make the purchase. Wrong! Only look, why don’t we get these two brown wicker light-covered reindeer that have fake snow on their backs? They will look so “natural” in our back yard. Hey, Mr. Lowe’s man, where are these beautiful creatures I see here on display located? “I am sorry sir, we are out of those right now,” we were told. Any rational human at this point would have taken that as a sign from above to walk away. Not the Gilberts. “Can we purchase the display?,” comes out of my mouth before I even know what happened. I don’t even know who I am anymore at this point. Before we know it, an army of Lowe’s workers are unhooking these Reindeer, who look as natural as SPAM, from a huge display. So here we are, my wife pushing a tree in box the size of a coffin and me with a reindeer under each arm. We get to the car and kids have to go to the bathroom, of course. So they all head back into the store while I load up the car real quick. Oh wait, we don’t drive a semi-truck, which is really what we needed to transport all this stuff home. Wicker reindeer don’t tend to bend much. After trying every option possible, including thinking about leaving a child to play in the garden center while I took the stuff home, we found a way to fit it all in the car. The children really needed to be wearing football helmets to truly make the ride safe for them, but we made it back to Greenville without anyone losing an eye, which was the first Christmas miracle of the season.
It is now Saturday of the Palmetto Bowl. I am smoking pork shoulders to keep myself occupied while waiting on the game. My wife begins to assemble the tree on the porch. In five minutes, the tree is assembled and glowing. It was the easiest thing ever and we were not seeking marital counseling. That is when it happened...we had the same type of conversation every couple who has ever purchased a mini-van has had. Oh it is so practical. It just makes so much sense. No more needles. No more dead tree. After just a couple years it will save us money. We can light candles to get the tree smell we want. Just like that, we had talked ourselves into purchasing a fake tree for inside the house.
The tree went up with the same ease as the one on the porch. It is obvious that we still struggle with this because each day we add something new to the exterior of our home to compensate. First, I wrapped a tree in the yard with lights, then we wrapped the greenery around our front door in lights, and yesterday a family of Snowmen inflatables appeared, to keep guard over the snow covered Reindeer in the backyard.
So if you see me in a panic on Haywood Christmas Eve, I am either going to Spinx to buy more pine scented car fresheners to hang on the fake tree or making an emergency real tree purchase so my grandfather does not tell Santa to skip our house.