A Hoptown Chronicle advent story

A perfect Christmas tree prank pulled on a big sister

Every year the story was the same – her dad and her big sister turned down her ideas for the most beautiful tree and picked one they liked instead. Then her big sister wasn't home to select the tree one year, and an idea developed for a wonderful prank.

My sister, Dee, is 10 years older than me. That age difference led to an interesting combination of hero worship and sibling rivalry. These conflicting feelings were well illustrated one Christmas when I was about 12.

Martha White

Up until that time, my sister and my dad were responsible for choosing our family Christmas tree. It was a thing – a big thing. The whole family would go to several tree lots in Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee. We would check out the one at the gas station on the corner of Cedar Lane and Broadway, the one at the Kroger and even the expensive one at the local nursery.

And every year, the story was the same.

“Look at this one,” I would exclaim, sure that I had found the perfect tree.

“No, it has a hole at the top,” my sister would say.

“How about this one?” I would ask, certain that she and dad could find no fault with the beauty I had just pointed out.

“It leans to the left,” Dad would explain, as I began to drag along behind them.

Invariably we would go to all the lots, look at all the trees and eventually go back to one of the earlier lots and settle on the most expensive, most perfectly formed tree, chosen exclusively by my sister and dad.

Until I turned 12.

That year my sister was 22 and had recently moved to St. Louis. She intended to come home for Christmas but would not be home for the traditional tree-hunting ritual.

Ha! It was my turn! Finally!

Of course, I knew that any tree I found would not measure up to my sister’s standards. What could I do? How could I pick a tree that my sister wouldn’t nit-pick to death? My mom, devious and always ready for a prank, suggested the perfect solution.

I can still feel the shiver of excitement I felt when Mom and I took a saw to the woods out behind our house and walked around until we found the exact opposite of a perfect tree. It had to look like we thought it might actually work. It could not look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree – that would be too obvious. It had to be as tall as a regular tree. It had to have some decent branches, had to look almost like what a normal person might pick out. But instead of our traditional Frasier Fir, Noble Fir or, in a good year, a Blue Spruce, it would be (shudder) a cedar. It should also have a few holes here and there and preferably lean a bit to the right. It did not take long to find the perfect, imperfect tree.

I will NEVER forget the look on my sister’s face when she turned the corner into the family room and saw that year’s Christmas tree offering. There in the corner, where once had stood decades of perfect trees – with family ornaments obsessively placed with largest on the bottom to smallest at the top, tinsel carefully hung, strand by individual strand, and colored lights arranged so that no two bulbs close to each other were the same color – was the skinny, scraggly, leaning tree of Pisa that my mom and I had found. We decorated it, sort of – after all it had to look like we had made an effort.

Dee looked at Dad and her mouth fell open. My sister, speechless! The beginning of a tear in her eye …

Dad carefully took her arm and tugged her out onto the newly enclosed porch, which we called “the music room,” to see the real one – the practically perfect tree, decorated within an inch of its life and looking as good, if not better, than any of the trees my sister and dad had ever picked out. She was so relieved that she never said a word about the tree I had picked out with Dad that year, except to say that is was one of the best trees ever! 

(Martha White is a writing tutor and library assistant at Hopkinsville Community College, and along with her husband, David Martin, they own Free Range Flowers at Martin Farm where they grow all the flowers they sell at the Downtown Hopkinsville Farmers Market and use when they design for weddings during the growing season. Check out their website at www.freerangeflowers.net. Reach Martha at bkwmn57@yahoo.com.)