One evening a few days after Thanksgiving, I came home to find a
shiny green pole of unknown origin propped against my door. Upon closer
inspection, I realized the mystery object was a Christmas tree tightly
wrapped in plastic.
In a Grinch-like way, I puzzled and puzzled till my puzzler was sore, then I thought of something I hadn't before: Oh, our big-hearted brother-in-law, Dan, sent it.
A couple of weeks before, Dan took his son to visit relatives in Montana. He wanted to share with four-year-old David his romantic family tradition of trudging into the snowy woods and chopping down a perfect fir for holiday adornment. Then he would ship the tannenbaum to his home in Pasadena.
Dan planned this adventure for months. Back when the trip was merely a glimmer in his eye, he mentioned its possibility to his wife's brother--my husband. "Cut one down for us, too!" Mike said. I thought he was joking. Surely Mike didn't expect Dan to go through the hassle of bundling up a second tree and mailing it to us.
Long after Mike and I had forgotten about the conversation, Dan--being Dan--felled us a Christmas tree.
Naturally, my first reaction to Dan's thoroughly thoughtful effort was, "How sweet!" Then it dawned on me: Mike will be out of town for the next few days. How am I going to handle this thing by myself? Putting up the Christmas tree is his job!
I manage the bills and other money matters. In fact, I oversee every shred of tedious, eye-straining paperwork holding our house together--from Christmas cards to thank you notes to our kids’ book reports. The scheduling of doctors’ appointments, dishwasher repairs and birthday parties--also my domain. Mike says he's the "big picture person."
For his part, Mike takes charge of anything mechanical, whether it's loading film in the fax machine or piecing together the Hot Wheels Shark Park. Automobile tune-ups--also his area, even for the car he seldom operates. Retrieving suitcases from the attic? Mike. Dragging in the Christmas tree (normally from the hood of our van) and anchoring it in a stand--a 100 percent Dad chore.
Funny. In my premarital life, I proved quite capable--if not expert--at disassembling my computer setup when need be, and then replugging all the right cords in the right places. Now I feel paralyzed when my husband fails to reconnect the printer after borrowing it for his laptop.
And guess what? I hung pictures--loads of them. Nowadays, I summon Mike to drive in nails, as though I can't possibly swing a hammer myself for fear of breaking one of my own nails.
Every December, I traipsed through a Christmas tree lot, picked a beauty, erected it in my apartment, and garbed it while sipping eggnog with friends. One winter when I lived in France, I dragged a tree for blocks through the sidewalks of Paris and up three flights of stairs.
Before he hooked up with me, what's more, Mike must've grasped the concept of writing a check and dropping it in the mail.
How is it that, once united, Mike and I each shed some formerly possessed skills? Perhaps the answer lies in the ancient rules of gender identification: The little lady assumes the clerical tasks, her caveman does the heavy lifting.
Which brings us back to my recent dilemma. Figuring the cold would keep it fresh, I left the poor tree on our porch overnight as I contemplated its fate. When the sun beat down the next morning, I considered sticking the tree in a bowl of water and leaving it out front until Mike showed up. Then I worried that its limbs would become permanently flattened if I didn't free them from their straight jacket.
So I ascended into the attic--all the while certain I would fall, break a leg and lie helpless in the dank garage waiting for one of my children to discover me. I rifled through boxes until locating the stand. I tugged the tree inside, snipped off the plastic and (do wonders never cease?) actually sawed off several obtrusive lower branches. With my daughter's help, I situated the tree in the stand and tightened all those screws.
The branches eagerly unfolded like an umbrella released. There before us stood, almost straight, an elegant Noble fir--the most magnificent and special Christmas tree we've ever possessed.
It would have to go bare for a while, until the traveling patriarch returned for our tree-trimming festivities. But even undecorated, it gave our house the scent and the warmth of Christmas.
And it gave me a little something more--a reacquaintance with the fact that--yes, Virginia--girls can do the heavy lifting, too.