Tree Ins and Outs
By Walter Jowers
DECEMBER 22, 1997: There was a time when I was in charge of the whole Jowers Christmas tree operation. I hunted down a good Frazier fir, hauled it home, wired it, tinseled it, balled it, and put the star on top.
But one day, Brenda came home early and caught me out in the front yard, holding an 8-foot tree over my head and aiming to plunge its trunk into the center of the tree stand, like a stake into the heart of a vampire.
"My man Wally," she said. "Lay the tree over on its side and hammer the stand on sideways." She threw off her coat and did the whole operation in two minutes, then waltzed the tree inside the house while I held the door.
Then and there, as I watched Brenda with the tree, I understood that putting up a Christmas tree is a lot like dancing. Women are naturally good at it, and they're eager to do it. We men dance only to please our women. It's a duty, like bearing arms in wartime. If we can duck the job honorably, well, that's just fine with us.
That year, Brenda took over all tree duties except stringing the lights and getting rid of the tree. I was in charge of the lights because I wanted to inspect the wires inch by inch before they went on the tree. Back in South Carolina, where we had no city chipper service or trash pickup, I disposed of our old trees by burning them. I'm here to tell you: A burning Christmas tree makes an impression on a boy. You put a match to a bottom limb, and about 30 seconds later, you've got a whooshing, eyebrow-curling inferno.
I got tree-disposal duty because Christmas trees become garbage on New Year's Day, and I'm in charge of garbage. When daughter Jess was 3, she wanted to see the place where old Christmas trees go. So I took her with me to Elmington Park, the city-sanctioned drop-off site for soon-to-be-recycled Christmas trees. When I threw the tree onto the heap, Jess got a little bit damp-eyed and said, "Bye-bye, tree. Have fun with your sisters."
In recent years, the family allergies convinced us to go with a chemically inert--and flameproof--plastic tree. I've been excused from all Christmas-tree duties. Now it's just Brenda and Jess and our plastic tree, which, if the mouth of babe Jess can be believed, is also a girl.
Before all my accumulated Christmas-tree knowledge sinks to the depths of my brain, somewhere under the lyrics to Traffic's "40,000 Headmen," let me share what I know:
Pick a fresh tree. Bounce the tree on the ground and pull gently on the needles. If the tree sheds a lot, keep looking.
Buy from a lot that'll bundle up the tree in one of those giant plastic hair nets.
Cut an inch or two off the bottom of the tree, to expose fresh wood. This is critical for keeping the tree fresh.
Leave the tree in the hair net as you place it on its side and hammer on the stand from the end.
Use a cheap stand. The $10-$20 Wal-Mart red-bowl-with-green-legs variety is fine. Expensive decorative stands often break or fall over.
Once the tree's in the stand, swing it upright, then get it plumb by adjusting the screws on the stand.
Cut off the hair net. Spray the tree with an anti-desiccant spray such as Wilt-Pruf. This will keep it from losing water while it's inside.
Wrestle the tree into the house. Place it well away from heat sources (heat ducts, wall heaters, etc.). Fill the stand with water, up to about a half-inch from the top. You'll probably have to refill the stand every day or two.
Use only modern low-temperature lights. If you've got the old, too-hot-to-touch lights, throw them away.
When it's time to get rid of the tree, put an old sheet or some heavy plastic on the floor near the tree. Take the tree out of the stand and place it on the sheet. Wrap up the tree and take it outside. (The idea is to take most of the needles out with the tree.)
Gardening tip: Saw off branches and use them to cover not-quite-hardy plants like azaleas. Take the rest of the tree to a disposal site. Wave goodbye.
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