To start with, I lapse into temporary insanity, which exhibits itself in the Yuletide delusion that I suddenly have the culinary ability that I so obviously lack during the rest of the year, as you all well know by now.
Oh, yes. It’s “time to bake the cookies.”
It would be sweet if it wasn’t so pathetic. Every year, I bake hundreds of cookies, which I tie up in red or green cellophane with a beautiful bow, and present to friends and relatives . . . who, if they’re smart, eat the red or green cellophane and the bow and throw away the cookies.
And I don’t bake just one kind of cookie, either. My usual Christmas selection includes:
Peanut Butter Stuffed Dates: My adventure in taxidermy.
Sugar Plums: Which may not dance in your head, but certainly do a production number in your colon.
Russian Tea Cakes: Which resemble and taste like eastern European ammunition.
Caramel Bars: The operative word here is “bars.”
Chocolate Bark: With real bark!
Divinity: A cruel joke.
Meringues: Who needs throwing knives?
Black and White Brownies: My contribution to the complete destruction of interracial harmony within the fairy realm.
Hermits: What you will become whenever you hear that I’ve been baking cookies again.
The friends I have left like to refer to this farrago as “The Annual Waste of Ingredients.”
Naturally, my husband, Stij, plays a big part in the festivities of the season, as well. He goes with me to get the Christmas tree. Our children, Leo and Alexandrea, are left at home, suffering from some exotic, as yet unnamed malady resulting from careless Christmas cookie consumption.
The first step, upon our arrival at the tree lot, is for Stij to say, in a soft voice that will cause horses to spook two towns away, “Criminey! These things are EXPENSIVE! Let’s go over to K-Mart and get a fake one!”
This behavior stops after I threaten to shove a Tea Cake down his throat.
The lot we go to every year always has a great selection – easily a hundred trees or more, much to Stij’s chagrin, because I have the patience of the Venus Di Milo, and will carefully inspect every single tree before making a choice. Stij, you understand, has no part in this decision whatsoever. He’s just along to shut up, pay for the tree, and tie it to the roof of the car. Until he is needed, he wanders off to the sales shack to have a drink with the other men who are waiting for their wives to pick out trees. Oh, that’s another thing. It’s an unwritten law that all men must BYOB to the Christmas tree lot. And they’re happy to do it, believe me.
Okay. Three hours later, the tree is on the roof of the car and everybody’s happy – I because I got the “perfect” tree, and Stij because he got Alvin drunk enough on the good scotch he bought to knock an extra $5 off the price. The simple economics of the fact that he had to pay $40 for the scotch that bought him a $5 discount are lost on him.
By the time we get home, our children, being the resilient little creatures that they are, have recovered from the cookie poisoning that would have killed anyone else and are ready to help put up the tree.
The first argument is where to put it. Leo always thinks it would be best to put it in his room.
“You can’t have it in your room, Leo,” Alexandrea exclaims. “There’s no chimney!”
“That’s OK,” Leo assures her. “There’s one in the living room. He can just come down in there and walk into my room. He needs to lose a little weight, anyhow.”
It’s at this point that Stij gives them THE LOOK. “It’s going in the living room,” he intones in a voice from beyond the grave.
They don't ever argue with him. Legend had it that after THE LOOK comes THE REMINGTON. They’d never pushed their luck past THE LOOK.
Location decided, I fetch the tree stand . . . the bane of male existence everywhere. That metal nightmare with the three trunk screws has been known to fill lunatic asylums the world over during the month of December.
“It won’t matter which side shows,” I chirp. “The whole tree is perfect, just perfect.”
After twenty minutes of wrestling, Stij gets it screwed into the stand and steps back.
The tree is listing about forty-five degrees to starboard.
“$#@#%%$%%!” he mutters, crawling back under, unscrewing it, realigning the trunk, then re-screwing it back in place again.
He crawls out and steps back.
Forty-five degrees to port, now.
After two hours of this, he makes a discovery. About halfway up the tree, the trunk is crooked. And not just mildly crooked, either. The S-bend of the plumbing under the sink is straighter.
Stij slowly emerges from beneath the lower branches. His eyes are red-rimmed. His hair has gone completely white. His teeth are now elongated and pointed. He looks like Dracula’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
One look at this apparition and self-preservation kicks in. We all run and hide.
When the cursing and the sounds of heavy equipment die down, and after first holding a hat on the end of a stick out the door, we venture forth to survey the wreckage.
There is a chain saw smoking in the corner and greenery and wood chips festooned about the room. The tree stand has been reduced to a mass of twisted metal, after which it was summarily lobbed into the cat’s litter box.
The tree is now two-and-a-half feet tall and nailed directly to the floor.
I gaze upon it lovingly and smile. “You see? I told you it was perfect