Perhaps memories of unhappy holidays past haunt us. Or maybe we stress out at the pressure to project "happiness" during this time of year.
If something truly important is bothering us, faking some form of cheeriness isn't going to keep us from gnashing our teeth when another ornament falls and shatters, or when your son yanks a candy cane off your decorated tree —
And the tree tipples over, too.
In my novel, SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES, my heroine, Lyssa Harper, knows her husband, Ted, is angry at her because she refuses to drop her friendship with Harry, one of the neighborhood's stay-at-home dads. She thinks his request is irrational, that he has no reason to be jealous . . .
And yet, it's certainly flattering that he is upset.
But that shouldn't get in the way of the Harpers' annual holiday tree-cutting expedition, should it?
As you'll read in this excerpt, of course it does . . .
perfect tree is the Douglas fir is the equivalent of taking down the great
white whale. It must have a thick petticoat of branches rising from the base,
its layers coquettishly shorter albeit in proportion all the way up to its
needled crown. As if projecting his own fears of a thinning pate, Ted cannot
tolerate bald spots between layers. I, on the other hand, abhor crooked bases.
Between three rambunctious kiddies and a clumsy dog the size of a Shetland
pony, our tree can’t have the posture of a tilt-n-whirl. The one thing we both
agree on is that it must stand at least 13 feet tall, so that it is not dwarfed
by the double height of our entryway: the place of honor.
The search for
the tree is a highly charged competition. The winner is the first to be
photographed with it. The photo is then mounted on the first page of this
year’s Christmas photo album, validating a full year of bragging rights.
Tanner is old
enough to carry the bowed safety saw, while Mickey drags the tall PVC pole that
is marked a measuring stick. Every now and then he attempts to pole vault from
one row to another. Olivia is charged with holding the twine that Ted will use
to tie the tree to the sleigh that hauls the tree back to the cashier,
who will ply our children with Christmas cookies, candy canes, and warmed cider
while I peruse the wreaths on display. Eventually I’ll settle on three: one for
the front gate, and two for our doublewide front door.
“Mommy, why not
this one . . .or this one?” Olivia loses all sense of discretion when she’s
within sniffing distance of gingerbread men.
That one is not tall enough, and the other is much too bare on the back side.”
“Hey, Mom! MOM!
OVER HERE!” For this task, Mickey has always had a great sense of focus that consistently
leads him to the right tree. When he was younger, it frustrated him to lose to
his brother. Ted’s way of mitigating it was to lead our youngest son to a
potential winning candidate. Now that Mickey’s developed a connoisseur’s eye,
Ted no longer has to do that.
The tree Mickey
has spotted for us has all the necessary criteria. Ted whistles for Tanner to
trot on over with the saw, but Tanner tries for an end-run. “Wait, wait . .
.what about this one over here? It’s hella taller . . .”
Ted looks down
at his cell phone, for the time. “Nope, we’ve got to call it a day. Warriors
and Lakers tonight, remember?”
“Wait . . .
aren’t we going to decorate the tree when we get home?” Mickey’s look is
incredulous. We all look up and over at Ted.
He knows he's outnumbered.
He smiles weakly. “Sure! Of course! It’s our tradition, right?”
As we head back
to the cashier with our find, I give him a kiss on the cheek. He stops short in
order to draw me to him and give me a real kiss, the kind that should melt away
any lingering doubts about love and fidelity.
His doubts, not
Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown
Are the holidays a happy time for you, or just more added stress to a life that seems already too flustered, too out of control?
If so, have you figured out why that's the case?
I'd like to hear from you, be it ho ho ho, or boo hoo hoo,
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press