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Mortimer Snert and the Xmas Tree

It was a gangling day in the neighbourhood when Mortimer Snert received a phone call from his lovely mother. She was just wondering if he might, by some quirk, be interested in helping her put up the Xmas tree. These words were enough to send icicles up and down Mort’s normally warm-blooded spine. They ranked right up there with “Help me take the cooler out of grandma’s window,” and “We need to stretch a cow.” Now Mort, not being a big fan of xmas anyhow, was even less of a fan of xmas trees, much less live ones, and since his parents had never sprung for a plastic one, this was what he was faced with. Mort’s dad had always selected the xmas trees when Mort was a kid, and he had picked some real winners. Mort had been with him on several occasions to select trees, and their values differed greatly. Mort always looked for the tree that had the best shape, and one that wasn’t brown, and didn’t smell bad. His dad, on the other hand, would pull up to the xmas tree store and tell the guy that he wanted the cheapest tree they had. Invariably, they would come home with some stunted foul smelling thing that looked like it had been hit by lightning and eaten by termites and sawed down by beavers and smelt like it had been peed on by every cat within 10 miles. Then came the fun part. The bottom of the tree had to be sawed off at just the correct angle, one that had been pre-determined since before the dawn of civilization, and which was done for some unknown and unexplained reason. Then the string had to be cut off, (they always tied up the branches so you couldn’t see how pathetic it was) and bounced on the ground to shake off all the loose pine needles. Then the remains of the thing were stood in a bucket of water and sand for 2 days for some unknown reason, and then the thing was ready to go. Then came the real fun part. The first thing they had to do was find where they had stowed the xmas tree stand. Usually it was up in the attic, buried under a stack of boxes. Or it could be in the storage barn along with the broken flower pots, or maybe behind the lawnmower in the garage, or hanging on a nail somewhere, or in the bottom drawer of the workbench. It was never in the same place 2 years in a row. Once the stand was located, the tree was then hauled inside, causing half the remaining needles to fall off. Then the furniture had to be moved. And since they had moved the furniture, something which occurred only once a year, his mother had to clean behind everything. After that was over with, the tree took it’s traditional place in front of the big window. Next, the tree had to be turned so the bad side wouldn’t show. Since one side could be seen from the street, and one side could be seen as you came in the door, and one side could be seen from the couch and one side could be seen from the chair, that didn’t leave too many sides that couldn’t be seen from somewhere, so it was a matter of the lesser of several evils as to which side of the tree faced where. Having semi-successfully accomplished that, then it was time to find where the decorations were. Now for as long as Mort could remember, his family had never stowed things in logical places, nor were the same kinds of things stowed together. The good china might be stored with the electric blankets and the silver might be in with the flower seeds. Mort, who was a logical person, could never understand this, and it drove him crazy. Moreover, the same things weren’t in the same places from one year to the next. Usually it took the entire day to get everything rounded up, with Mort crawling the walls the whole time. Once everything was out, then they had to find which box had the lights. The xmas tree lights outdated Mort by several years and the wires were so old that the insulation fell off them if you even looked at them wrong. Instead of buying new lights, they bought rolls of electrical tape and covered all the bare wires with it. Then they plugged the lights in to see how many bulbs were burnt out. The xmas light box had hundreds of extra bulbs in the bottom, but the problem was since they never threw anything away, most of the bulbs were burnt out already but they saved them because the light bulb fairy might have visited and resurrected some of them, or because “That was a great colour, and they don’t make those any more” or something similar. So several hours were sure to be spent trying out bulbs to see if they worked or not, then the electrical tape had to come back out to replace the insulation which had broken off in the process of changing bulbs. Then they were finally ready to put the lights on the tree. The lights always had to go around the tree clockwise, and there was a certain order to the way the strings were hooked together. They had to be positioned just right, far enough out so you could see them, but not so far out that the weight of them would break off the scrawny branches. Invariably, in the process, some bulb would get broken or some more insulation would come off, and the box of bulbs and the roll of electrical tape would come into play again. Once the lights were up and going, the next thing was the tinsel. This also went on clockwise, and had to be positioned so that it didn’t foul the light bulbs. There were two colours of tinsel, chrome and red. These had to be put on in such a fashion as that they didn’t cross over each other, and had to be spaced so that they both started at the bottom of the tree and ended at the top and were evenly spaced between. After all that was done, the next things were the ornaments. Most of these were so old that the paint had quite gone off them, but it was the thought that counted. There were boxes and boxes of these things, and usually by the time these were installed, the tree was about to collapse from the weight of it all. Last were the icicles. Since Mort could remember, they had recycled the icicles from one year to the next. This meant that before you could put the things on you had to untangle them all and shake out all the dead pine needles and such likes. After this was all done, the vacuum cleaner was trotted out to suck up the remaining needled off the floor, and it was done for another year. There were several years that the tree looked so bad from the outside that they kept the curtain closed, but the one thing that Mort remembers was the day his sisters siamese, which was an outdoor cat, met the xmas tree. It was quite a sight to behold. The cat, who was as cross eyed as they come, came in from his adventures in the neighbourhood, and got about halfway across the room before he noticed the tree. Immediately his tail swelled up three sizes and he hit the floor, growling loudly. No amount of coaxing or prodding could dislodge him from the spot, and one didn’t dare pick him up and move him for obvious reasons. So there he stayed, for several hours, making some of the most god-awful siamese noises ever heard by mankind. After a while, everyone ignored him and went on about their business. The cat soon decided that the thing, whatever it was, was not going to go away, so he decided to investigate. He got close enough to it to smell its lovely cat pee smell, which offended him greatly, and triggered some primal urge to mark the thing as his own. Turning his back on the thing, he peed directly on the only piece of uninsulated wire on the whole thing and got the crap shocked right out of himself. He let out a howl the likes of which have probably never been heard by civilized man, turned on his attacker all teeth and claws, took a flying leap, and started clawing his way to the top. By the time he got almost to the top, the thing collapsed, and came crashing down in a shower of sparks and a rain of broken glass. The cat, having been gotten the best of, disappeared to some unknown hiding place, not to be seen again for about a week. Boy, thought Mort, now we get to get rid of some of this junk, get a new tree, some new lights, maybe some new ornaments. Boy was he ever wrong. The tree, which had stood less than 24 hours, was carefully un-decorated, the broken trunk sawed off, and re decorated with the remains of the junk that was left and some new electrical tape. After that, Mort would have nothing to do with xmas trees or anything associated with them. Mort’s mother, being the wise person that she was, knew how badly Mort hated the whole xmas tree thing, and it was all she could do to work up the nerve to ask him to do this, but the grandkids were coming and she wanted to have a decent xmas tree. The first thing that Mort asked (after he stopped twitching) was if they had a tree yet. No they didn’t. Was his dad helping out. No he wasn’t. Could they get a decent tree? Yes they could. Did they have new decorations? Yes they did. Mort decided that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. So one fine day, armed with the trusty subaru wagon, they went to the xmas tree store. His mother, it seems, had already located some trees, so to save some time and frustration, she told him where the most likely place for trees would be. Arriving at the xmas tree store, they looked at the kind of trees Mort had dreamed of having since he was a pup. Finally they found one that would work perfectly. Paying the nice man for the tree, they jammed it in the back of the wagon and headed home. Arriving at the farm, they carefully extracted it from the car. We need to saw the bottom off, said his mother. Why? Mort asked, rolling his eyes almost to the point of losing both contact lenses. They seal the bottom with this junk so the sap doesn’t get out, explained his mother. So that was the age old secret to sawing the bottom off the xmas tree. This was obviously a carefully guarded secret, one that could not be told to anyone under 35 years of age. What about the angle? asked Mort. It was his mother’s turn to roll her eyes. Cut it off straight, she said. The angle was something some unknown relative had come up with eons ago, and since we always did it that way, by god, that was the way it was going to be done and you better not ask why because I said so. So while Mort was busy getting the chainsaw out to whack the bottom off the tree, his mother was busy preparing the secret bucket of sand and water. Having accomplished all this, they stood the tree in the corner outside and went on to other things. For some silly reason, since they had moved to the farm, Mort’s mother had become painfully organized, and she knew exactly where everything was, and whipped it out in a matter of minutes. Opening the boxes, Mort spied the famous electrical tape xmas lights. We’re not using those are we? asked Mort. No, we just keep them so your dad won’t get upset. We have some new ones, she said as she produced a box of never-been-opened-energy-effficient-no-electrical-tape-allowed-lights. Mort put these on the tree counterclockwise. Next was the tinsel. It went on top to bottom, right to left. Next was a box of new ornaments. And last were several boxes of new icicles. It was truly an xmas tree the likes of which his family had never seen before. Everyone liked it, and Mort lost just a little of his scroogeishness that year.