Row of Christmas ornaments sitting in snowIt looked as if a forest had exploded. Green pine needles littered our carpet with a trail of them scattered throughout our foyer. This was the beginning of the New Year, and the mess came from carrying our gigantic Christmas tree outside to the curb. The tree had been netted coming in, so no problem there. But going out was a different scene: I had to forcefully shove the dried thing out the doorway, leaving a bulk of needles behind in the house.

“We need to seriously consider an artificial tree next year,” I told Susan as we cleaned up. “They’ve come a long way in how realistic they look.”

It took some convincing, but when we found an extremely nice one on sale after Christmas, we took the plunge. Susan even bought a strong scented pine spray to add to the illusion of a real tree.

The next Christmas, I unpacked the artificial tree from its box, spreading out the pieces. The groups of branches that randomly came out were labeled with inconspicuous letters. I pulled out a group of “M”s and set them aside, then a group “X”s and placed them in a separate pile. I continued this way until the box emptied.

Connecting the main trunk was easy. Next came the task of inserting the individual branches. Starting just below the small top section that already had limbs, I inserted the “A” branches into the center trunk section. Then I sifted through the groupings on the floor to find the slightly longer “B” branches, continuing the process alphabetically down the tree as it begin to nicely fill out.

Everything progressed stunningly until I peeked right below the “K” section on the trunk to see it skipped to “M.”

“They made a mistake labeling this thing!” I called to Susan in the kitchen. “There’s no ‘L’!”

“What?” she hollered back.

“There’s no ‘L’!”

In that instant, a grin spread across my face. I looked through all the branch groupings on the floor to confirm: there were no “L” branches either. Not a mistake at all, but a gift. How many parents had bought that tree and done the same, calling to a loved one, “There’s Noel!”?

We only used the artificial tree a couple of Christmases. Although it looked fantastic, we missed the fun of searching for the perfect tree with our boys, enjoying that small moment in time where life presents infinite possibilities: “What about this one, Dad? No, wait, over here! Look at this one!”

The times when life is ripe with infinite possibilities seem to decrease as one gets older. I didn’t want to prematurely nix one more of them. But I smile every Christmas when I remember putting together that artificial tree. I hope whoever came up with that clever idea was rewarded handsomely, even if only by a genuine heaping of praise.


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