I saw a Christmas tree at the curb just the other day. In the middle of February. And it hadn’t emerged from a melted snow mound, either. It had been put out just then. And I thought it was fantastic, especially in our neighborhood.
Let me explain: We have a lot of neighbors who are are very…efficient. Many of them are retirees with a lot of time on their hands, and gods bless ’em, that’s great—more power to ’em. But sometimes that makes them too efficient—and makes the rest of us feel a little inadequate.
I really like our retired neighbors across the street. They’re nice people. They’ve lived in their not-too-big, not-too-small house for nigh on forever, and they’ve lived in our small village all their lives, as far as I know. The wife did a stint as mayor. Everyone knows them and everyone stops their pickup trucks (usually in the middle of the street) to talk to them as they sit on their front porch. Or they drive by and honk, even at unhonkable hours. (Okay, that part I don’t enjoy.) They’re both the same size and shape—a little short, and comfortably round, soft, smiley, and friendly.
And as retirees, they do indeed have a lot of time on their hands. I’m sure they’ve earned it. But with all that time, the wife gardens relentlessly, which makes me feel guilty for having a barren yard and a black thumb. And she decorates for the holidays. All of them. Frequently. And she switches over from one holiday to another with remarkable speed.
It’s most disturbing at the end of the year, of course. No sooner do the Halloween decorations go up than they come down again—well, some of them. The corn stalks and hay bales stay for Thanksgiving, but the pumpkins are history about the same time as the last trick-or-treater drops candy wrappers on the lawn and sparkles on the sidewalk.
The very day after Thanksgiving, everything brown and orange disappears, replaced by red and green. And the live Christmas tree arrives, trussed up like the turkey whose bones passed it by on the way to the garbage can, propped up on the front porch next to the front door, waiting for entry, which it is granted shortly after lunchtime. I’ve never been in our neighbors’ house on the day after Thanksgiving, but I’d bet my Santa hat that sucker is fully decorated before dinnertime.
And then there’s us. I have to find the time to take down the fall decorations before the pumpkins are just lumps under an early snowfall, stuck to the frozen ground, and the fake autumn leaf garland around the door blows free in the winter wind. Our fall decorations are taken down in stages (when I have a minute) and our Christmas decorations go up the same way (when I have the patience). We’re lucky we can get a tree before Christmas Eve, what with work commitments and winter sniffles and weekends that seem to evaporate before we can blink. But somehow it all works out, and the decorations go up and the tree is cut and hauled inside and we celebrate Christmas with as much enjoyment as anyone else.
And then it’s December 26. BAM. All the retirees’ trees land on the apron at 8 a.m. with one simultaneous thud. Sometimes our overly efficient neighbors across the street get theirs out even earlier in the morning. Although I’ve never actually seen them carry it out, I think I know what goes down: There they are, standing in their living room the night of the 25th, the wife studying her watch. At midnight, just as the second hand sweeps over the 12, she signals to her husband, who hoists the tree up and totes it out the door. Score! First one out, another year running.
And there they all lie, collapsed and forlorn, at the side of the road—woodchipper fodder. Christmas is over, the tree carcasses seem to say. Let’s get going—it’s New Year’s in a few days. We don’t have time to wait around!
This rushing of the holidays always puzzled me. Why is it always the older folks who are hurrying through them? I would think that the older one gets, the more one would want to savor every holiday, every special event—make it last instead of kicking it to the curb (literally) as soon as possible.
To me, seeing all those half-dead trees (or, in our case, entirely dead and crispy, as I couldn’t reach the pan to add water to it) forces me to push ahead as well, when I’m not in as big a rush. This weekend, next weekend—what’s the difference exactly when the tree shuffles off this mortal coil? Hey, the drier it gets, the more fragrant. (Never mind the pile of needles on the floor.)
I know; it’s February. Why am I talking about Christmas? Because of something My Son the Genius said the day the trees all hit the curb. As we were climbing into the car to go to grandma’s, I made a passing comment about how many Christmas trees were now ex-Christmas trees. And he said, quite matter-of-factly, “But we still have ours up in the house.” Yes, I said, that’s true, and it’ll be there for a while yet, I was sure. “I know why.” Why? I asked. “Because they don’t know that the trees are our friends. But we do. We love our Christmas tree, and our tree knows that. It’s our friend.”
Well dang. The kid was right, as usual. There are those of us who make a big deal out of going to the tree farm and taking some time to hang out before cutting down a tree. Having a hot dog, getting a cookie with frosting half an inch thick for dessert. Climbing the hay bale mountain and taking a trip down the giant slide, no matter how cold the metal is. Petting the llamas and feeding the donkey even though he bites your hand as he goes for the kibble you offer. Wandering through the snow for a while, picking just the right tree, just the right wreath, the freshest-looking garland. And seeing—really seeing—the tree in the house. Appreciating that another year has gone by, savoring the holiday season, and not pushing the calendar to the new year just yet. Not counting the minutes till you can take down the decorations and fling the evergreen out the door.
It’s almost spring now. The Valentine’s decorations went up and came down in a blip. I don’t remember if our neighbors bother with St. Patty’s Day green, but I do know that the pastel bunnies and chicks will be propped up soon, even if they get their fuzzy tushies damp in the snow. And that’s all right. I suppose somebody needs to keep us moving or we’ll all stagnate.
But I can still resist—still sit back and marvel that a new year has started and I’ve managed to remember to write the new date on my checks (usually). And take the time to appreciate that my son is still 5 and still feels free to state profound Life Truths with clear-eyed certainty. Because I know he’ll clam up and slouch and be sullen soon enough. Nobody can make me rush to those years, not even my hyperspeed neighbors.