Christmas with a Friend

Cathy's tree 2015

I have a very good friend who celebrates Christmas, or almost anything, with great gusto. Gusto can translate into packing huge 12-foot Christmas trees into the house…vertically…and then having to cut a couple of feet off to even stand them up. Christmas trees weigh a lot more than you would imagine, and they are quite unwieldy while horizontal, I might add.

I should have known better, but I always say that after the fact.

It was early December, a few years ago. My friend lived in Maryland at the time, with a neat house and five acres of woods. She invited me to help put up Christmas decorations…seemed simple enough, especially for her. She is a master decorator, with amazing talent, who also can get into some amazing challenges. “But what the heck? What are friends for? “, I thought.

So, I flew in for a few days of holiday fun. Well it was certainly holiday something. At least we had some warm hot chocolate before we began. It was almost 20 degrees outside, with lots of cloud cover. But, I figured that was no problem. Decorating happens indoors…right? Wrong. Plus, I did not want to be the one climbing up on a ladder to decorate “monster tree,” as I affectionately began to call it.

I was very grateful that the tree was already vertical. At least that was done. Stand close enough and you could almost not see the top. I hadn’t seen much of my friend’s husband…but what the heck…he was probably taking a nap after wrestling the tree. And then I got my chore: holly. I love Christmas holly, especially when it is in the stores at Christmastime. It smells good and looks pretty from a distance. Turns out it’s fairly prickly up close. And getting close can be a problem in itself, especially when visiting my friend.

Well, my friend gave me a set of shears, a pair of gloves, a basket of sorts and told me BE CAREFUL. Hey, I had already figures out that holly had stickers. I wasn’t going to be on the pointy end of one of those. I marched outside with grand confidence, no jacket and began the search for holly. My friend lived right on the edge of the woods…and apparently so did the holly.

Took me a while to find out where it was, which was on the very top of a fairly steep little hill, that zoomed off pretty much straight down into the woods. If you didn’t watch your footing, so would you…I suddenly understood BE CAREFUL. But I knew from experience that I would be coming back with holly. It just had to be! I studied that holly and that hill for quite awhile. Without a jacket, I grew pretty cold, pretty darn quick. I finally figured out that if I hung on to a pine tree branch and sort of swung out at an angle, I could get that holly, bit by bit. And the nice thing was that the stickers stuck right into my arm, so I never dropped one sprig.

I returned with my treasure, which I was pretty proud of, and took a quick sip of lukewarm chocolate, and we were off again to string lights. Where you ask? That is actually what I should have asked. We were stringing lights all across the entire front of the very, very tall house. All of a sudden, it looked a lot bigger than it had when I first got there.

My friend toted a large box off strings of lights outdoors–a really big box, which sort of looked like a bird’s nest. We were off and climbing ladders, and stringing lights, and testing each string; well, you get the idea. And my friend’s little dachshund barked all along the way; giving directions I surmised.

All of a sudden, about in the middle of this massive project, we found a defective string. Toss it out was my idea. But no, my friend had an extra battery, or bulb, or something, and we retested it. I was told not to worry, it was fine; I was wearing out. And my friend’s husband had just appeared to see what we had almost done (funny about that)…and we were instantly , without warning, plunged into total darkness. Did I mention that it was still cold?

I had no doubt the offending string was the very one that we had jerry rigged. It had failed. I asked my friend to tell me which one to remove, but she couldn’t remember. Her husband quickly smiled graciously and retreated into the house, to stand next to the Paul Bunyan tree, I guessed. It was depressing, to say the least. We couldn’t figure out how to get enough light to see what we were doing, because there were no lights. You get the drift. And then we started to laugh. We were laughing so hard, we were crying, and the dog was howling, and it was dark and getting cold…and my heart was warm. It was a great adventure, which I obviously never forgot. I must admit when asked recently to come decorate my friend’s new home in Missouri, I realized that I was just too busy…