By Peter Funt
I grew up believing that you judge a man by the size of his Christmas tree.
Each December my father and I would jump in our Willys Jeep and rush over to the local drive-in theater. Though closed to moviegoers for the season, the spacious parking area was rented out to the Lions Club for its annual Christmas tree sale.
Dad never failed to ask the sellers, “Don’t you have anything bigger?” And he was always certain to assure me, “Don’t worry, Pete, it will fit in the living room.”
The Lions were happy to get rid of their largest tree — usually 12 to 14 feet tall — because few customers had interest in such a bulky specimen. Tied precariously to the Jeep, we drove it home, where I knew the height of our ceiling to be exactly 9 feet.
Cutting off the bottom would have been too easy. “That’s where the best branches are,” dad insisted as he whacked off the top, leaving what no longer looked like a tree but rather a rotund mass of shapeless pine. So unstable was this monster that we needed to secure it with baling wire, strung to the radiator, the couch and even mom’s piano.
New ornaments were purchased every year, but since we could never part with the old, broken ones, the volume of metal and glass kept increasing. The fancy star on top was shrouded because our tree didn’t come to a point, it only stopped when it reached the ceiling.
Some branches snapped under the weight of ornaments, creating a need for more baling wire to hold them in place. Our tree shed needles furiously because we had far too many heat-producing lights. Mom vacuumed under the tree daily, but as soon as she finished our cat Lolly would attack, causing another cascade of needles.
I think dad enjoyed the chaos he created each year and the problem-solving process that brought the family together. It’s nice when things go well, but my fondest holiday recollections are rooted in relatively harmless, even humorous, adversity.
Turns out the size of your tree means less than the magnitude of your memories.