We both vowed, come hell or high water, our holiday priority would be to make this a memorable and remarkable Christmas for Emmy. We’ve been secretly boxing up little treasures: body sprays from the dollar bin at Target, two dollar gloves bought with Rick’s discount at the Boston Store, a vintage Breyer horse I found at a flea market for three dollars. The gifts may be small but the tree will be full. It’s been very hard to gage how our poverty has effected Emmy. It’s difficult to see how much she has become aware of the meaning of money. We know she has learned how to shop for bargain shampoo. She chastises us for making a purchase she thinks is too costly or frivolous. She says no to things I know she would like to say yes to. She knows she is no longer monetarily rich. She senses that others have more than she has. I have yet to decide if this has taught her a valuable lesson about money and risk or if it has made her so fearful of spending she’ll end up a mattress stuffer or a hoarder of useless junk. The later is becoming scarier as I see her stashing away used popsicle sticks to make fences for her Sunshine Horse Farm. On the other hand her inventiveness is extraordinary. It’s heartwarming to see her being content with making do. I marvel at her imaginary play with her seventy-six and counting plastic horses. There is still so much of the little girl in this thirteen-year-old frame. I want to keep her that little girl with her little girl toys for as long as I can. Where many of her friends are jumping head first into that boy crazy phase, she remains content to build houses and stables out of building blocks, scraps of fabric and bits of tinfoil.
Now that most of our gifts had been put in boxes our next task was to find the perfect tree. We scoured Craigslist and pursued the recommendations of family. We were counting on them to serve as our roadmap for finding that short needled, perfect pear shaped tree. Because of the height of our new home’s living room ceiling Rick really had his heart set on a tall tree. Because the number of deposits in our checkbook continued to be on the short side, the tree we were going to find would have to be what it would be. My sister and her husband had gone to cut down their tree the week before. They traveled forty miles north to a tree farm where you paid forty dollars for any tree on the lot. Pre-cut trees at the local lots around Madison were running around fifty dollars for a standard sized tree. One the size we wanted boosted the cost to way over one hundred dollars. We started to worry we were going to end up with a Charlie Brown twig instead of a ten to twelve footer. It made our search all the more critical. Finally we found it. “All trees $30 and under at our state licensed tree farm”. This was our ticket. Sandy and Dan lent us one of their SUV’s they insisted needed a trailer hooked up to it so we could safely cart our tree home without scratching up the vehicle. I thought we could just stuff one in the back of the Ford Escort. The thought of having to navigate yet another oversized means of transport was beginning to drain my resolve of making the cutting of the tree a joyous memory.
Emmy, Rick and I all piled into the front of the SUV, cranked up the Christmas tunes and set off to get our tree. I got the hang of driving the oversized vehicle until we got to the tree farm. Calm turned to panic as I saw the farm’s driveway, a narrow one car width dirt drive about an eighth of a mile long lined with cars and with no visible turnaround area anywhere in sight. What could I do? Either I went in and we got a tree or I kept on going ruining everyone’s day and turning a memorable family event into a family tragedy. I did the best I could, too bad the tree farm couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain. The minute we got out of the truck I could see we were in trouble. What they had billed as a tree farm was actually a series of six rows of the scraggliest looking trees you’ve ever seen and not a one of them over five feet tall. Now we had no tree and I was stuck with no visible way of backing that trailer hitched SUV out of that misrepresented tree farm . This is just the kind of situation that kicks Rick’s determination into high gear. Somehow he managed to have cars moved and a path cleared. Rick jumped behind the wheel and in minutes we were out and back on the road. We were going to try for our original destination when Rick remembered another tree farm he had seen on one of his driving adventures exploring the countryside around our new apartment. We decided to give it a try before we took off on what would now be a two-hour drive to Poynette.
It turned out that the tree we were looking for was only a couple of miles down the road from where we lived. The Hanson tree farm was run by a middle-aged woman wearing a big blue parka, big black-rimmed glasses and an even bigger Wisconsin smile. She started out being very apologetic. She only had big trees. She didn’t know that was exactly what we were looking for. We got our tree and in an act of true kindness she let Emmy cut down a tree of her own. Emmy took the saw, cut down the tree and then carried it back to the trailer to join our twelve-footer. It was a lop-sided misfit all of us knew Emmy would kiss with imagination and turn from a frog into a prince.I had parked the truck on the road outside the farm not wanting to chance the backing out maneuver twice in one day. Now back in the truck, even though we were only a couple of miles from home, I drove back the long way going miles out of our way but making sure I would only have a series of right hand turns to get us back to where we wanted to be. It was a good start to making this as memorable, remarkable Christmas.