You Look Unreal
By Steve Carr
If you don’t mind me asking, who decorated your fake tree?” he said as he slurped his eggnog and grabbed four snowman sugar cookies, leaving but a few disembodied arms and legs for the other guests.
I did mind him asking. I didn’t say I minded (mostly because I got “the look” from my wife, who was holding the cookie tray). We’ve always let the kids decorate the tree. I usually watch from the couch while my wife hands out the ornaments, some made from photos framed in ice pop sticks, and others, tacky mementoes from family vacations.
Even though I held my tongue, I still felt like a grump because although I didn’t tell him how much his question bugged me, it still bugged me and then it bugged me even more for letting it bug me. Here’s the deal. If you have to begin your question with, “If you don’t mind me asking,” you shouldn’t be asking. Is that just a cold sore? Are those real? How much did you pay for your house? How much push-up is in your push-up bra? These are all inappropriate questions. It doesn’t make them appropriate by leading with, “If you don’t mind . . .”
I know I’m being peevish. We like our less-than-professionally-decorated tree. Maybe it was just the fact that he, of all people, reminded me of the artificialness of the tree.
When I was growing up, we used to have “real” trees for the holidays. Like many Idahoans, we had a tradition of heading to the mountains to find our very own Tannenbaum. My memories include thermoses of hot chocolate, a red sled, and red twine to tie the tree to the top of the station wagon. It was an adventure that included snow fights and Christmas carols, and one we insisted on doing long after some of the magic was lost to Dad. Traipsing through hip-high snow pulling two kids on a sled is more fun when you’re young. Looking back, I realize now that our annual journey to find just the right tree grew a little bit shorter each year.
You see, my folks had too many kids. By the time my brother and I came along, Dad had been stuck in the snow more times than we could count. He had changed flat tires with soggy mittens and slippery jacks and even lost a sideview mirror. The “mirror year” was the last year we kept the tradition of the expedition. We hadn’t driven fifteen minutes before we stopped in front of a thicket of trees that were full and round and more perfect than I remembered from previous years. We didn’t need to drag a tree over mountains of snow. The sled stayed in the car, the car stayed running. Heading home, with snow piled high on the sides of the icy shoulder-less road, we turned a sharp corner and saw a sheriff’s car crawling towards us. Dad kept going, eyes straight forward, squeezing by the sheriff until our sideview mirrors abruptly met and crashed to the ground like a couple of bar fighters, each connecting with their one and only haymaker. Dad kept driving longer than seemed prudent. When he did stop, he jumped from the car telling us kids to stay put. I heard the first part of the ensuing conversation.
“You didn’t give me much room to pass,” my father said before the man with the badge spoke.
“It wasn’t my intention to let you pass, and if you don’t mind me asking, do you have a permit for that tree?”
I don’t remember much about the rest of the trip home. It was pretty quiet. I know Mom drove to the department store the next day and found a Christmas tree in a box, complete with lights and tinsel.
Dad loved Christmas until his end of days—even as we replaced one tradition with another. The best holidays include often-trite traditions. So, if you don’t mind me asking, are you ready for Christmas?