The Store Bought Christmas Tree Does The Job Nicely

This story first appeared in the Missoulian on December 15, 1988

One of the good things about living where we do is that you can go out and cut your own Christmas tree if you want. It is a wonderful family tradition for many.


For one family I know, however, the novelty wore off long ago. I told you their story once, and every year about this time, I get many requests to tell it again.


It’s the Cratchitt family I’m talking about, Bob and Alice and their kids Lulu and Tim. Maybe you know them. Bob swore me to secrecy when he told me about this. He hasn’t spoken to me since I blabbed, so I guess I’ve got nothing to lose by doing it again.


Bob thinks his big American sedan is the equal of any rig, in any conditions. So it would have been no surprise that December day to see the Cratchitts chugging up a logging road south of town, pushing knee-deep snow with the bumper.


“With snow tires on she’ll take any road you can give her,” Bob told me once, when I suggested that he buy a set of chains.


He was right, the sedan did handle that snowy road, on the way up anyway. Bob eased to a stop in a steep, dead-end turn-around, high above the valley. It wasn’t far to the beautiful spruce he had spotted the previous summer on a huckleberry trip. Everyone loved the tree.


When Bob lashed it to the roof of the car, nobody questioned him. In fact, he confided to me, Alice thought securing the ropes by rolling them up in the windows was “very clever.”


Then Bob discovered the big sedan wouldn’t respond when he tried to turn it around. In fact, as he gunned the engine, he felt the rear end slip a few feet and settle into the deep snow off the lower edge of the roadway.


Never one to panic, Bob got out, surveyed the situation and advised his charges to relax and enjoy the opera on public radio, which Bob told me was “coming in just beautifully,” while he set off down the hill to find some help.


Bob estimated that it was two hours before he returned, riding in the bed of a four-wheel drive pickup, with a cab filled with four wisecracking teenage boys, who seemed to sense an unfamiliar taste of power over an adult.


“Someone ought to have their head examined for driving up here in that beast,” the kid who was driving remarked when they pulled to a stop near the stranded car.


Immediately, Tim recognized some of the boys as older kids he knew, and he shrank into the corner of the back seat, trying not to be seen. But it was useless. One of them spotted him.


“Isn’t that Timmy in back?” the teenager pointed.


“Hey Timmy, I hope your dad’s brains don’t run in the family,” another chimed in.


Bob chose to ignore the remark. Eventually the boys managed to tow the Cratchitt car out of the ditch, and helped get it pointed downhill. Then with a giggly “Merry Christmas!” they were gone like Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve. By now, Lulu, who had a history of car sickness, was starting to feel some early signs. She advised her parents of this, but didn’t make it clear that something dramatic was imminent. So when Bob, now quite cheerful, slewed wildly around the first switchback on the way down, she threw up.


After taking time to clean things up a bit, and comfort the miserable Lulu, Bob once again set out for home. Now Tim sat in the front seat and Alice sat in back with Lulu.


The odor in the car was nearly unbearable.


“Roll your window down a bit, Tim,” Bob suggested as he eased the car onto the four-lanes of Highway 93 South and accelerated to keep up with the traffic on the outskirts of town.


Tim did as he was told, and went white as the rope holding the tree disappeared out the window. There was a loud “whap, whap” on the roof of the car, and Bob caught a glimpse in the mirror of the tree cartwheeling back down the highway.


Lulu moaned in agony.


Thinking quickly, Bob slammed on the brakes, sending everyone lurching forward into their seat belts. Then he jammed the car into reverse and backed up toward the tree lying in the highway, using the right outside mirror to judge the distance. He told me he ignored the little warning sign that says “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” and he was startled to feel the “thwump, thwump” of the tree underneath the tires. The mangled tree was now ahead of the car, but it had been thrown onto the other side of the highway.


Bob gathered his wits, pulled off the highway and got out to retrieve what was left. The driver of the car bearing down on the tree didn’t seem to understand what Bob was waving his arms about, and sped up slightly, just as his wheels hit the tree. Bob had to dodge pieces of splintered spruce. Then he stuffed the broken remains in the trunk.


Lulu still moaned in the back seat and Bob could see tears forming in Alice’s eyes, as she bit her lip to hold them back. In front, Tim sobbed freely.


“Dad, this is the worst day of my life,” he blubbered.


The next day, Bob went out and bought a tree. And as far as I know, that’s what they have been doing ever since.


Categories: Connections, Family, Nature, Traditions