Thursday, December 24, 2009


My parents resisted a real Christmas tree for the entire length of my childhood, claiming they were too expensive and too much of a hassle. So that meant I grew up with an artificial tree back in the days when a faux Christmas tree looked like a mass of greenish-black industrial test tube cleaner brushes - huge test tube cleaner brushes.

The year of our first real tree came as a result of the three siblings of the family saving up our own money in a shoebox wrapped in wrapping paper with a thin rectangular slit cut in the top. I think I was in eighth grade at the time. A real tree proved to be affordable and manageable, and kinda awesome. Goodbye pipe cleaner tree with color-coded sharp metal daggers at the end of each fake branch. Hello pine-scented traditional goodness.

I've mentioned my cheap father in previous blog entries and he's in rare form during the Christmas season. If the tree lights are on too long, he shuts them off to conserve energy and save money - even on Christmas day. Well, the year of the real tree caused my father to invent a wasteful situation - regarding a tree on which he didn't spend a dime. "Don't throw it out! We'll put it in the yard!" So we dug a small hole and plopped the tree into it. And there it stood for months. Like it had always been there...growing. Their home is a brick row home attached to many other brick row homes. The backyards are as small as the front yard you see in my Halloween photo galleries. The tree took up a nice percentage of the space.

Then one night in April or May, right after sunset, my father came into the house and asked me and my brother if we wanted to light the tree on fire to dispose of it. You can't ask two boys in eighth grade if they want to light something on fire. The answer can only be yes.

So there we were, standing in a small yard with a tree that was insanely dry and brittle. And my father had the matches. And we were all standing too close. I'm not sure what we were expecting, but we weren't expecting THIS:

Because that's exactly what happened. Almost before the match even touched it. I can remember leaning way back and feeling and tasting the bright white heat. Like fuel-truck exploding heat. Like running-for-your-life heat. And the flames whipped up and the wind changed direction and the fire headed for the houses. The fact that the tree was totally void of any moisture probably prevented a Christmas Tree Catastrophe. THE Christmas Tree Catastrophe. The fire only lasted about two seconds and just sort of flashed the bricks and windows with flames.

And the tree was gone, except for an ugly black spine still sticking up from the hole. We didn't say a word and we honestly have never brought it up again. My brother and I shared a bedroom growing up and I can remember laying in my bed that night and whispering across to him, "I still see the flames when I close my eyes." He replied "So do I."

We had a real tree for the years that followed, but as soon as the kids moved out, my folks bought a new artificial tree. Nicer and a little more accurate than the previous fake, and pre-strung with lights.

Spoke to my mother this week and she informed me they didn't put the tree up this year. It was too much of a hassle.


Grim said...

That is awesome! But then again, I'm a borderline pyromaniac, too.

Jon Glassett said...

I have tears in my eyes from laughing. I can't tell you how much I love the stories about your dad. Great stuff.

Johnny Love said...

What a great story and memory. Merry Christmas Rot!

NoahFentz said...

Happy Christmas Mr.Rot and Ms.Bean

Great Pumpkin curse us, Everyone!

Damian Michael AKA HalloweeNut said...

Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Rot!

Anonymous said...

I have tears running down my face and my stomach hurts from laughing! That was a great story. I wish my dad would of asked me if I wanted to burn something.

Rot said...

: )

Thanks! and Merry Christmas to all.

Enjoy the holiday!

Arcane said...

What a neat story! Have a Merry Christmas Rot!

Jeano Roid said...

One year - if I wanted a tree - my mother made me draw one on a big piece of poster board. Depressing memory. Now the wife and I have two trees in the house - one in the living room, one in the bedroom (donning Halloween ornaments including a rubber skull-bat I bought from Exene Cervenka).
Parents are f*cking weird.

Brandi McKenna said...

Loved this story Rot, you have such a way with storytelling..what a treasure from the memory stash of childhood.
Merry Christmas to you guys!

Michelle Marie said...

My parents divorced when I was little and every year as I'd visit each house on Christmas, I'd get to enjoy their fake Christmas trees. This year my boyfriend and I got a place of our own...and decorated it nicely with a fake tree from Menards.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Johnny Love said...

The fire looks like a demon man. Anyone else notice that?

The Gill-Man said...

GREAT story! Truly funny!