NO CHRISTMAS IN THIS HOUSE!
It was hot as hell and our little trailer located on the grounds of the Green Acres Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. in the Catskill Mountains was sizzling in the August heat.
I had a long relationship with the owners of Green Acres, Cissie and Larry Blumberg, ever since I was a child and spent several summer vacations with my family at the resort, which was originally in Lake Huntington, N.Y. A fire leveled it and, hence, the new address. It was the early Seventies; Janet was employed as the head bookkeeper and I performed one show a week in exchange for our room and board, which was an equitable situation.
Equitable or not, it was hot as hell and my temper was not far below the surface when the TV started blaring, "Ronco! The perfect Christmas gift!!!" Are they fucking crazy or what? It’s three hundred million fucking degrees in here and some fucking asshole is trying to sell me some kind of fucking Christmas gift; get the fuck out of my face, I’m fucking melting here, no fucking way!!
I smashed my clenched fist down hard on the dining room table and hurled the nearest object at hand, which I think was the dog, at the TV and ranted and raved that under and I mean under no circumstance would I be sucked into this commercialization of a holiday that was so far away and that I really didn’t care too much about in the first place and, damn, it was hot and how dare anyone try to sell me anything when I’m about to melt and there would be no, and I mean no Christmas in this house!
Janet took this well, considering that I was depriving her of her last, most cherished childhood ritual.
It began one August. It was now Christmas Eve. We were seated at the "family table" in the spacious dining room of the resort. What with the candles, table wreath decorations, cutouts of Santa with elves and reindeer, and a beautiful tree, plus the snow falling gently on the tall pines outside the huge picture windows, the ambience was complete. The lights dimmed and, with a faint drum roll and a blast of trumpets, the dining room’s double doors parted and a candlelit procession of three hundred, elfin-cute, costumed senior citizen folk dancers filed by our table joyously singing a carol.
As I gazed over at my wife I observed that she was stoic, dispassionate, immovable...save for one small luminescent tear slowly coursing down her face.
So much for resolve. So much for logic. I took a deep breath, leaned over and whispered in Cissie’s ear to keep Janet busy for a while with a game of Scrabble and also to lend me the keys to her red Mustang as my car was in the shop.
It was a snowblown, icy, snaky seven mile stretch of mountain road to the crossroads in Liberty, N.Y. where the Triangle Diner (famous for its Chinese roast pork sandwiches), an Exxon station, Grossingers’ Hotel, and Sullivan’s department store converged. The snow was way past the gentle stage and was whipping up into a major storm...pretty, but dangerous. I remembered seeing Christmas trees at the Exxon. I hoped they hadn’t sold them all.
They still had some trees alright, but the smallest was about 18 feet tall and the largest looked more like a redwood. I hastily picked out and paid for one of the smaller ones and had the station manager, a real Don Knotts character, set it aside for me as I darted across the slippery highway and the holiday traffic to Sullivan’s.
I grabbed rope to secure the tree to the car, tinsel, lights, every decoration left on the shelves, a couple of presents...setting some sort of shopping record... paid the bill, returned to the storm and the highway and the traffic and retrieved my tree from the Don Knotts look-alike. I tied my tree to the top of the Mustang with all the skill I learned in the Boy Scouts, which I was soon to find out wasn’t much, and headed on back to Green Acres.
Those big, fat flakes were now coming down by the millions and, with the reflection of the headlights glancing off the white stuff, my visibility was about as good as Ray Charles’ in a closet. It would be some time before the plows got out and, especially because it wasn’t my car, I was taking those slick curves pretty slow.
I guess pretty slow wasn’t slow enough, for rounding the curve by the Brown’s Hotel, as the car turned left the tree made a break for it and took off to the right. With whatever joy I had been feeling rapidly evaporating, I edged the Mustang onto the shoulder of the highway as far as I dared without getting stuck.
The headlamps of a slow-moving approaching vehicle illuminated the immediate blackness. Peering through the swirling snowflakes revealed nothing but a few scattered green needles and twigs. Where the hell was my tree? It slowly dawned on me that the slow-moving approaching Cadillac was now stopped and the doors were being opened. Out stepped an old man bundled up in a scarf and overcoat and from the passenger side emerged a woman, obviously his wife, wearing enough exotic fur to qualify as a polar Eskimo.
The man was opening the hood of the Cadi. As I drew nearer I heard the sound of tortured metal cutting through the rush of the wind...a spluttering, gnashing, crunching, ripping sort of cacophony like a million dental bits gone crazy in an infected tooth. The poor guy was staring blankly into the remains of his more than expensive motor and yet all I could think was "hmm...so that’s where my tree is!" Anyway, most of it. Who would have believed that such a large tree could be crammed and jammed into such a small space, but there it was...bummer.
The old man was just standing there sort of trance-like with his mouth gone slack, and I imagine he might still be there today if his wife hadn’t whined, "Gee, Harry, you ruined the guy’s tree!"
Not knowing exactly how to react, I mumbled something about being sorry, produced my business card and ad-libbed something about not knowing specifically if my insurance covered just such an eventuality and retreated to the Mustang.
Shit! Now I needed another tree. The Don Knotts guy stared at me really weird as I bought another tree. The smaller ones having gone to a hopefully better fate than my last one, I was now in possession of a tree that would have satisfied the needs of Rockefeller Plaza. I stopped short of welding my new purchase to the roof of the Mustang, retraced my steps and made it back without further incident to Green Acres and our little trailer.
One small problem. The interior of the trailer from floor to ceiling measured 7½ feet. The tree was good for Jack & the Beanstalk. Undaunted, I grabbed my trusty saw and, though in the middle of a blizzard, worked up a sweat that Richard Simmons would have been proud of, then worked the tree through the door and placed it in its holder. "Boy, is she gonna be surprised," I chuckled.
Damn, that tree was big! It literally filled the living room with the effect being if you entered the trailer you entered the tree. I ditched the unused portion, scattered the telltale needles and made it down the snow-covered hill to the hotel.
Janet was finishing up her Scrabble game. With a wink and a grin, I slipped the Mustang keys back to Cissie. We said our goodbyes and trudged through the now knee-deep snow to our place.
I hung back just long enough for her to get to the door first. She opened it, stood for a moment in silence and then began to laugh...and laugh...and laugh!
O.K., so what do I know? I’m Jewish, we never had one. How was I supposed to know you don’t use the bottom half of the tree?!