Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh. Christmas tree!

And you asked me what I want this year

And I'll try to make this kind and clear

Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

The Goo Goo Dolls

Thanks to my friend Maria, a lot of people have read about my embarrassing search for the perfect Christmas tree.

It started long enough ago that the particulars of how I came to write about the search for the perfect tree are foggy, but I know Maria was the one who made me do it. Whether it was because she was editing a particular Christmas supplement for our newspapers and needed material, or because it was easier than arguing with her about it anymore.

She's 5-feet tall, on a good day, if you squint, and measure in meters. She's an Italian-American from Brooklyn, NY, and... well... Let's just say she's feisty. She also has a huge heart, is incredibly loyal, and, when it comes to loving people, after my wife Sheri, my kids Jennifer, Alison, Kristie and Jason, there's no one I love more.

Anyway... There was space to fill in this special section and I put together a piece about my search for the “perfect” tree. Maria thought it was hysterical and, in fact, used it during more than one Christmas. I didn't think it was all that funny, and that some of what people were responding to was the fact that almost all of them had spent a similar amount of time trying to find their perfect tree, probably with similar results.

The real problem with the search idea was that I had actually found the perfect tree in the first one we bought. Janice and I, who were married at the time, found it just outside Geneseo, NY, where we were both trying to finish college. We paid $5.00 for it, at a time when I was making $1.15 an hour working part-time, and we were preparing for the arrival of our first daughter in less than a month. We used the price tag as an ornament. Perfect.

I don't know if that was pure luck, or our standards were lower, but it was never that easy again.

In the interest of time, let me just cut to the most horrible part- the hunting and foraging phase. Someone decided it would be great to head into the woods to cut own our own tree. I say someone, because I cannot imagine I thought this was a good idea. I had a feeling that “we” would become “me” once the terrain turned bad, sawing had to be done, and dragging was brought into play.

So let me ask those of you who have done, or still do, this. What's the biggest problem with the tree you get? Right. It is waaaaay too big. No matter how hard you try, you cannot get perspective when you are looking at one tree amid a forest. I mean, it can be the smallest tree for miles around and still be more appropriate for the town square than your living room.

This led to a number of years of Janice turning up the Christmas music in the living room, while I cursed my way through resizing numerous Christmas trees. A holly, jolly Christmas indeed.

The hunting-foraging phase peaked the year our younger daughter Alison and I went alone on a weekday afternoon to get our perfect tree. I should note that, in terms of snow, knee-deep is a relative term. What was knee-deep snow for me was shoulder deep snow for Alison who was about two-and-a-half years old. This meant carrying her for a ways, putting her down, going back to drag the giant tree, then carrying her, then putting her down and so on.

Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, that got old pretty quick. Then my big brain kicked in. Alison was little, the snow was solidly packed... so I simply dragged Alison across the top of the snow with one arm while dragging the tree with the other. It was perfect. Yes, she bounced a little bit now and then, and yes, she did sink in a few times, but I just made a big deal about her helping Daddy with the tree and, probably, told her Santa wouldn't like it if she complained (or told her mother).

I know. I know. It's no wonder I have trouble sleeping at night.

Once I was single again, and the kids were with their mom most of the time, the pressure was off. I bought an artificial tree, but had trouble getting it to stand up straight. So I got a coffee can, filled it with cement, and stuck the tree in the cement. Now that, brothers and sisters, was a perfect Christmas tree.

So, you're probably wondering, what does all of this have to do with my journey through cancer? Everything, actually, because I'm not just a cancer sufferer. I'm also the guy who dragged his young daughter across the snow when looking for a Christmas tree; who saw cement as an important part of the perfect tree[ and the guy who married the girl of his dreams.

I'm also the guy who has looked fear in the eye and laughed (ha ha) and looked fear in the eye and curled up in a ball and cried; who still tears up when he thinks of Samantha, the beloved cat that he and Sheri had to put sleep last year but who, a few weeks ago, was finally able to find a place amid the grief for seven-month old MacKenzie who helps make every sorrow we have right-sized.

I'm also the guy who can honestly say that when it comes to my life... cancer is the least of it. As noted in song by Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”