Thursday April 17, 2014





Knox: 'Just follow my voice,' she says sweetly

Might buy the Christmas tree today. Or maybe I'll just go straight to a divorce lawyer instead.

It's a bit of a Yuletide tradition in our house, the annual tannenbaum tension.

Certain family members like a full, symmetrical, perfectly conical tree, lights evenly distributed, baubles spaced with a precision that would make a Swiss clockmaker cry, no ornament hung without regard to its feng shui.

Other family members think Martha Stewart should be drowned in a bucket. They prefer a Charlie Brown tree: twisted, uneven, more missing limbs than a pirate movie. Just do like dad: hide the bald spot by turning it to the wall.

But the tree selection isn't really the problem. No, the trouble begins when I wrestle it into the house without first obtaining a Movement of Hazardous Goods permit.

"Watch where you're going," she says, helpfully, as I topple lamps, sweep framed photos off the walls and blindly lurch through a minefield of shin-high coffee tables. It looks as though I'm drunkenly dancing with a big, green prom date, feels like I'm making out with a porcupine. It's at this point that something small and furry scurries out of the branches and runs down my leg.

Then we go into our Who's On First routine.

"Where's the stand," I bark, pleasantly.

"To the left."

"Whose left?"

"My left."

"How do I know where your left is? I can't see anything!"

"Don't yell at me."

"I'M NOT YELLING!"

"Just follow my voice," she says sweetly, opening the back door and standing on the edge of the deck.

Of course, whatever tree we choose will not remain vertical in the stand, a rickety device designed by the Soviet Lada factory in 1979. At best the tree will have a 20-degree list, as though it should be holding a martini glass. Most of the time it just keels over - boom! - like George Foreman after he took that right hand from Muhammad Ali in Zaire.

One year, I staggered home with a fir that wouldn't fit in the stand at all. It had a butt the size of an offensive lineman's. So I started hacking away at the base of the tree with an axe until it was suggested that this wasn't a job best done in the living room.

Fine, I dragged the tree outside, hacked some more, dragged it back into the house. Still wouldn't fit in the stand.

OK, repeat the process: outside, hack, back inside. Did this maybe four times, hauling the tree in an out like Igor looking for somewhere to dispose of the body, until she said  - after first making sure I was no longer holding the axe - "Why don't you just bring the stand outside, too?"

I wish I were making this up.

By this time the tree was naked as Prince Harry at happy hour, the carpet covered in more needles than the Downtown Eastside. Shirt torn, hair disheveled, one eye sealed shut with pitch, I looked like a zombie from The Walking Dead.

The good news, though, is that we managed to string the outdoor lights along the roof last weekend without calling the marriage counsellors or paramedics. No repetition of the time when, growing up in Kamloops, the ladder shot out and I broke my nose (again, wish this wasn't a true story).

Still to come is the annual test of map-reading skills as we attempt to take the Christmas light tour ("How did we end up in Seattle?"), the traditional accidental burning of the winning scratch'n'win stocking stuffer and the usual debate over how/where to stuff the turkey. I hope this Christmas Day, unlike two others, will not be spent in the hospital (though I did enjoy seeing the Mountie take down the guy who tried to rodeo away from her in the ER waiting room).

It's all good. Christmas is really only a time of tension when we try to make it perfect. That's why people embrace National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, not the saccharine Hallmark schlock.

As for Christmas tree disasters, the ones where the angel desperately clings to the top as it tips into the roaring fireplace, they just infuse us with a warm holiday glow. Wait, no, that's the rum and eggnog.





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