When the last piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie had been served and eaten, Neanderdad’s offspring quickly turned their full attention to the last and most important holiday on the calendar—Christmas. And the very next day, with the warm light of November still shining down upon them, Neanderdad and his family were walking through a large field full of christmas trees, trying to find one that they all agreed upon.
“I want this one.” the boy said, pointing at a half barren, half dead, dwarf-tree. Neanderdad bit back a judgmental comment but he must not have been able to hide his true feelings about the tree from because the boy looked at him and suddenly looked sullen. Neanderdad’s wife stepped in with the kind of perfect let down that parenting books always talk about but that are rarely heard in the wild.
“I can see you really like it. I bet you worked really hard to find it,” said Neanderdad’s wife, earning herself a grin from the boy, “but do you think you could find one that’s even taller?”
The boy gave the ugly shrub another appreciative look and then shrugged and headed off amongst the tree rows in search of something else. Neanderdad had only a moment to marvel at his wife’s approach before he heard the girl calling. He zeroed in on her calls and found her in front of a giant of a tree, easily three feet taller than any ceiling in their house. Neanderdad looked at her excited, hopeful face and tried hard to channel his wife. But he could only think to say the obvious.
“Too tall,” he said, extending his arm to show his daughter that it was too high.
“It is NOT!” she said, angrily. “Its PERFECT.”
“Too TALL,” Neanderdad said again, trying a different approach.
What followed were a series of exasperated pleas by a girl deeply in love with a Douglas Fir and the desperate, partially modulated rejections of a father with a low ceiling. In the end, his constancy won Neanderdad a pyrrhic victory as the girl gave him an angry look and stomped off into the trees
“FINE!,” she yelled over her shoulder, her voice echoing through the farm.
“What about this one,” Neanderdad then heard his wife call. After a short search, he found her standing next to a bushy tree with a horribly bent trunk. The children had wandered over and looked it over. Though it did look nice, Neanderdad did some quick calculations and decided that it would never remain upright in the stand.
“Bent,” Neanderdad said, perhaps too quickly. His wife frowned slightly at his lack of support but said nothing. However, Neanderdad noticed that his offspring were focused more on him than the incredibly bent tree.
“Daddy doesn’t like anybody else’s tree,” the girl snarked as everybody ventured off again into the patch to find something else. The boy nodded agreement and followed her. Neanderdad went in the opposite direction, sensing that somehow he had done something wrong, but baffled about exactly what it was.
Then, as he pondered, Neanderdad stumbled upon a true christmas miracle. There, standing amongst its mis-sized, asymmetrical, bent and brown-needled brethren was the most perfect tree he had ever seen. It exactly the right height. It had an arrow-straight trunk. It was bushy and full. It had no gaping holes or brown patches. Neanderdad stared at the tree in wonder for a moment, basking in the pure ecstasy of discovering it. Then he called excitedly to his family.
“Perfect!” he exclaimed.
They came to him then. One by one. Each with a glint in their eye. They gathered around his discovery and took a look at his so-called ‘perfect’ tree. Then they circled it quietly, like wolves might circle a wounded deer. The girl spoke first, clearly enjoying herself.
“I don’t know, daddy,” she said, her hand at her chin. “I’m not sure.”
“It seems kind of fat in the middle.” The boy then added.
“I don’t know. Well, it looks nice from this side,” said Neanderdad’s wife, damning the tree with faint praise.
Then all three of them circled Neanderdad’s dream tree again before coming in for the kill.
“I don’t like it,” the girl concluded. She kicked at the lower branches with her tree. “Its ugly.”
“Just too fat,” the boy added.
“Well, we can keep it in mind,” Neanderdad’s mate said as an appeasement. “In case we want to come back to to it.”
“Perfect,” Neanderdad said again, pleading.
But the tree wasn’t going to get the necessary votes and Neanderdad knew it. Neanderdad’s family was already drifting away from the tree and into the adjoining rows. He looked at his tree one last time and silently apologized to it for having failed so thoroughly at the politics required to give it a home. Neanderdad then wondered aimlessly amongst the rows of Christmas Trees, barely able to look at any of them, and trying hard to not look back at the tree he had wanted. He eventually stumbled upon his son who was standing in the middle of a row, looking up at a nearby tree with an expression of rapture on his face.
“This one, dad,” the boy said with an iron certainty. “Its perfect.”
Neanderdad drew in a deep breath. Had he learned his lesson? Could he let go of his own aesthetic preferences and truly see the tree as his son was seeing it? Neanderdad took a peak at this ‘perfect’ tree. It was nice enough in the body, with full boughs, but the crown was a triad of bare, gnarled branches without any covering needles. Neanderdad looked back at down at his son, though, and saw the same type of devotion to his choice that Neanderdad had had for his own. So Neanderdad chose a new path.
“Perfect,” he said, with all of the enthusiasm he could muster. The boy burst out into a giant grin.
Then Neanderdad beckoned over the rest of his family to see the boys tree. His wife arrived first and instantly praised the boy’s discovery. Then the girl arrived. Neanderdad expected the usually sibling rivalry to emerge. But the girl surprised him.
“Wow! Good choice! Lets get this one Daddy,” the girl cheered.
And with a beaming boy, supportive sister and amused mate by his side, Neanderdad hacked the tree down and dragged its corpse back toward the car. As his family chattered with joy, they passed the ‘perfect’ tree that Neanderdad had seen previously. Strangely, it now seemed plain and ordinary. And later, at their dwelling, when the boy’s tree was lighted and decorated. it stood proudly and majestically in the living room, as if it had always destined to be there. Of course, when nobody was looking, Neanderdad carefully placed ornaments to cover up the bare spots.