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I'm not a grinch just because I don't have a Christmas tree

In some small part because there's a pile of yet-unlaundered deer hunting clothes piled where it would normally sit, I do not have a Christmas tree this year. In much larger part, because I'm kinda Scrooge-ish and the $40 will buy me about seven more 12-packs of diet soda, yeah, now that's the real reason.

Now before you label me a low-brow, spiritsquashing, anti-Christmas grinch with a beer belly -- What's that? Too late, you already have? -- let me explain that my modest abode will go treeless this year mostly because there is no one there to share it with me. I live alone, you see, just me and my cat, and we took a vote some time ago about whether or not we should decorate a pine this season. He was leaning toward yes, until I explained it might mean less catnip. It was unanimous then.

My youngest son lived with me yet last year, but he's moved on now, so to me, killing a beautiful blue spruce or a fine Frasier fir just so my living room can smell piney instead of like wet dirty socks and burnt scrambled eggs (I buy Fabreze by the pallet) seems a shame. I like Christmas trees, I do, I enjoy viewing them in others' picture windows in all their LED-strung glory, but it seems to me a waste of a healthy living organism to chop it down and stick it behind my couch. Plus, you have to go and get it, carry it in, set it up, decorate it, water it, take it down, and then vacuum needles out of your carpet until Memorial Day. That's called work. I don't like it. End of story.

You might guess -- but you'd be as wrong as Bernie Sanders is about free college tuition -- that perhaps I grew up in a household that forbade Christmas, where gifts were prohibited, decorated trees were outlawed, and cookies baked during the last week of a calendar year were meant to celebrate the Green Bay Packers making the playoffs. No, actually, we always had a real tree, although I can't really remember anyone going to get them, and they were heavily cloaked in traditional family glass ornaments and enough silver tinsel to smother one of those Budweiser Clydesdales in the holiday TV commercials. One year, a few days after the holiday, while me and Mom and my sister were sitting at the table eating lunch, the tree just up and crashed down. Just like that, no warning, just a swoosh and a thud and the sound of the glass balls that hadn't shattered rolling on the linoleum floor. And you say I don't have any happy childhood Christmas memories.

If I recall correctly, we vacillated in our tree preference between those with long needles and those with prickly points. I'm not sure if it was an odd-numbered/even-numbered year thing, or something selected through a democratic family process, or just whatever dad could ram into the trunk without snapping too many branches, but I distinctly remember each variety of tree in our living room.

I always enjoyed the short-needled trees better, as they made for a more neat triangular presentation. The long-needled pines were shaggy, with gaps between limbs, so Mom would toss another few pounds of tinsel over the holes to make it look smooth. Some years, our tree looked like a tall silvery Cousin It with a star on the tip of his head. No matter, if it had space underneath for enough gifts to fill a medium sized U-Haul, it sufficed.

As I aged into adulthood -- officially at 18, but in practicality, my early 30s -- I continued to get a tree for wherever it was I was residing. Me and some college roommates had a Charlie Brown style pine decorated with empty Old Milwaukee cans one year, or now that I think about, that may have been at somebody else's place and I just helped prepare the ornaments. Either way, I distinctly recall having an inordinate amount of pine pitch stuck in my eyebrows. Ah, those college days, brief spurts of higher education interrupted by weekends, Thursday pitcher nights, and, well, I don't remember much else.

One year, as a young married fellow with a little boy toddling around a rented house, money was tight so I decided to harvest a family Christmas tree the way my forefathers must have. I grabbed an axe, wandered out into the county forest, and cut our own special tree. Oh, it was special alright, as even though it looked rather full and lush in its natural habitat, at home in the light of the living room it looked more like it had come out of the backside of a wood chipper. It was scrawny, lopsided, and had branches barely strong enough to hold up the paper ornament my boy had made at day care, but it was ours. Or so I kept telling my then-wife. And, yes, I do see the connection.

Anyway, this story gets better. I had gone to the woods to, well, 'steal' the tree from county forest land, if that's how you must describe the unlawful taking of public property, and on the following Monday morning, as I was preparing to leave for work, there came a knock at the kitchen door. I went to answer it, and there, standing on the stoop, was none other than the county forester. Nope, no kiddin.' I froze. He smiled. My mind raced to how it would look to my innocent son as Daddy spent Christmas day in a jail cell for swiping the damn tree, and how sparse the gift presentation would be because I was instead paying off a circuit court forfeiture. My next thought -- all this, mind you, before the forester had even had a chance to say hello -- was 'Just how in the name of the Messiah did you know I poached a pine?' I mean, this was like 1988. There was no Facebook on which to publicly post your stupid deeds. Well, turns out he didn't, he was at my door that morning simply to let me know the private woods adjacent to our house was going to be logged soon so there would be some activity in the area in the coming days. I doubt that forester before or since never saw anyone so relieved to hear that news.

That's the last time I ever stole a tree, 'cuz, well, you know, the holiday season is not really about theft, lying, deceit, cover-ups or potential jail time, at least not where I'm from. No, I grew up in a happy holiday home, we always had a nice tree, and even though I secretly said, 'Whoa, that was sssooo freakin’ cool' after the tree crashed that one year, the evergreen symbol was always special in our lives.

So, don't think of me as a Scrooge, or a grinch, or a Nancy Pelosi supporter just because there is no tree in my home this year. Think of it rather as a gift to nature, to allow her to keep one more beautiful tree next summer for a small family of birds to build their nest.

And that $40 bucks I'm saving? Factor in the cost of lights, ornaments and the extra electricity to juice the LED bulbs, heck, I might have enough for an extra gift for myself, er, I mean somebody else.