By GG Hasse
The shiny new 1974 squad car is breezing down a country road. Fallen leaves, past their prime, are swirling. A tall woman, with long hair and cutting edge transition glasses, is enjoying the breeze from the open window. She is smiling, driving fast, swerving across lanes as her shift ended on this December afternoon thinking about picking up her four-year-old daughter. The thought of her angel child brought a smile to the officer’s lips and brightened up every dark corner of her mind.
The ancient police radio, transplanted into the shiny new car, hissed out a message. “Trespasser, ssssqwak, tree, County road 49.
“10-4” She cursed her luck, did a U-turn and stepped on the gas because Road 49 was behind her and the sun was sinking. There was little to no chance of getting backup except for the direst need. The main danger was tripping around in the dark trying to find a perp doing god knows what that somebody didn’t like. She had to pick up her daughter. She didn’t have back up in that area either. She and Wendy were their own happy family. Her objective was clear: resolve the situation, whatever it was, as quickly possible with little to no report writing.
Expecting and half hoping this would be a waste of time, she slowed to turn up a small dirt road that she hoped was Road 49. She drove slowly and scanned the woods, thinking of all possible outcomes and the myriad of possible responses to those outcomes. A year and a half past her formal training, she knew enough to know what she didn’t know. She was struck by how often she felt this way. Like she didn’t know what she was doing and this dirt road seemed like a metaphor for her life.
A minute later, things became clear. A 1967 Beige Camaro materialized. It was 7 years old but in good repair. She picked up the mike. “Illinois license plate 78023, four subjects in the vehicle.”
She didn’t need her psychic abilities to know that this family was the reason for the call. A huge tree hanging out on all sides of the trunk. She had just enough clues to figure out the crime she was witnessing. A family was making their get-away with what was going to be a Scotch Pine Christmas tree.
Side-combed light brown hair framed the driver’s sheepish look. Two wide-eyed boys in the back seat and a the woman riding shotgun and slumping down pretending this wasn’t really happening.Their disbelief was exacerbated because they were shocked to see a uniformed female officer driving a squad car by herself in the woods. (or anywhere else for that matter.) Being the first female patrol officer in the state, possibly the country, prepared her for their reaction. There were so many reports that a hippie had stolen a squad car that the dispatchers were now disregarding those calls. The novelty would wear off, she hoped, but so far it hadn’t.
Asserting her authority, she asked, “Do you know why I’m stopping you?”
The driver nodded and began his explanation. He didn’t know anyone owned this property. He was just having a Christmas experience with his family. He figured there were so many trees no one would ever miss just one. Yada, yada, yada.
The officer got it and it was a cute family. She strode back to the squad car in a good mood because she wouldn’t have to write this up, and could get to her daughter in a less than an hour. She had three objectives:1. to inform the dispatcher, 2. release the family, 3. jump in the squad car and head home.
Skreeeeeeeslfjtle Tree is already cut. Where’s property owner? Any charges? SSDlfkdls
“No just wants them off the property.” Skreeeeeeeslfjtle
“10-4, letting them go with a warning.” She is thinking, “Bingo. No report. On my way home. Huzzah!”
The shift commander’s voice squawks over the radio, interrupting her Huzzah. “Take the tree.” Her impulse was to argue that the tree was already cut and just let them have it. What are we gonna do with it anyway?But any argument with her commander over the migraine-making radio would be futile. “10-4”. She sighed and approached the trunk. She hated taking this tree from the family. She knew they would just get another one. She hoped it wouldn’t be from this property.
The fragrance of the tree in the cool twilight air filled her nostrils. Bracing herself to be scratched and pricked by the stiff pine needles, she was astonished to find the needles feeling soft and silky as hair. How could that be? She realized that this tree had been alive just minutes ago and its overwhelming vitality was still pulsing through the needles. She felt bathed in its beautiful life. To her amazement, she realized that all the scratchy Christmas trees she had ever known were once alive and vital just like this one. They only became dry, brittle things because they had been murdered.
All the trees she ever had known were cut, transported, sold, dressed up in gaudy attire and then thrown out on the street to be scooped up like garbage. This tree with its cool softness and twilight smell revealed it’s innocence and the innocence of the unimaginable number of trees being slaughtered for a short celebration.
She secured the tree between the beacon lights on her shiny car. She thought it would be festive to turn on the cherry lights as she drove into the station lot, but she resisted because running red lights unnecessarily was a reprimand-able offense and she was under a lot of scrutiny.
The squad commander wanted her to bring the tree inside. She struggled getting the awkward burden through the door of the squad room, passing yet another test. A couple of officers writing reports laughed as the Squad Commander sauntered over and held the door once she was through.
“Why am I even bringing this in?” she complained, “What are we going to do with it, keep it for evidence? Am I gonna have to write a report?”
“No, The chief wants to decorate it for the office.”
Finally, off duty, she put on her Mom hat and picked up Wendy. Her spirited blonde daughter, excited about the holiday season, had been repeatedly asking her when they would put up their tree. Until the “tree experience”, the Mom had looked forward to that too. But after the experience of the vital life she felt in the woods, she could no longer think about buying a pine Christmas tree.
Every time she drove past the office, the "tree" in the window stood as a brilliant and colorful accusation that it had been murdered. To her it was “every tree” and was and indictment against a mad, mad world dismissive of other forms of life. A world that killed, dress up like a whore and then tossed away what had formerly been a beautiful, growing, fragrant, and glowing life. As the month wore, on she saw victim trees everywhere, and watched them fading while Wendy asked again and again about a tree. What could she do?
One afternoon while mulling this problem, she walked past a garage sale. Prayers are so often answered with a light, and in this case, a light caught her eye. Hark! On the ground stood an aluminum tree with a very small perfect storage box. Each branch had it’s own convenient sleeve. The tree stood about 4 feet which was bigger than 4-year-old Wendy. $5. Perfect. Sold. It would work for this year.
But, aluminum trees were out of fashion and everyone criticized her decision, offering advise about how they thought she could better solve her dilemma.
It was the “natural ’70’s”. Aluminum was so ’50’s, so artificial. There were many ways to criticize it but she and her daughter grew to love the aluminum tree and the experiences associated with it. It was easy to move. It was economical and it never died. All good things when you are a single mom.
Many Christmases later, the Mom and her daughter added a wonderful man to their family. Over the course of six years, a new son and a Siberian Husky with haunting blue eyes joined them. They moved to a home in Ashland, Ky built in 1911 by an English company. Their new home with its an attic room, pantry, and a basement was a far cry from the trailer in Illinois. The house was deliciously old fashioned and practical.
In the living room, in front of the double French doors, across from a big fireplace, was the time and place for a “living tree” in all its glory. The memory of murdered trees led to this being a live tree, which would be planted in the yard in in the spring and become part of the family’s history. And so, the real tree was acquired with oohs and aahs from all.
It ended up being smaller than she wanted, but by the time it was potted and lifted on a platform the Scotch Pine was almost 6 feet. With a tall angel at the top and lights and family ornaments adorning it, the mom thought this was going to be the best Christmas ever for her daughter and the rest of her new family.
Wendy, now 10, was an independent thinker and not as fickle as her mom. She did not believe this “living” tree was going to be the magic spell of the perfect Christmas. While cleaning the house, the Mom walked into her daughter’s room on the second floor. There, the she found the pitiful and much maligned aluminum tree glowing defiantly on top of the dresser. Wendy had adjusted the branches to make it fit.
Mom eventually recovered from her Christmas tree phobia. She began to appreciate that Christmas tree farmers need to feed their families. Trees were raised just for this purpose, like a florist and flowers.a
Faithful Wendy took the aluminum tree when she left the nest. She loved it and kept it thru many moves. To Mom’s amazement, it was her daughter’s love for that much maligned aluminum tree that showed its real spirit and beauty. Love takes many forms and love, after all, is the Christmas spirit.