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Why my mom branched out to an artificial tree
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Do not - I repeat - do not go hunting for a Christmas tree with someone who is pursuing a double major in engineering and architecture.

I learned the hard way.

My older brother Richard ended up going to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to master the two disciplines.

The Christmas when I was 8 was a clear sign of what was in store.

Engineers go for function over form while architects are more into making a statement. They have the same basic skill sets of making something structurally sound. But let an engineer design a building and it’ll look like the San Joaquin County courthouse in downtown Stockton or the mega box that holds the DMV headquarters in Sacramento. Architects create the Sistine Chapels of the world. As for engineer-architects, think of the Winchester Mystery House.

It was the first Christmas after my father had died. For whatever reason, Mom let Richard pick out the Christmas tree that year. It was the last year my Mom would ever step foot out of the house in search of a fresh-cut Christmas tree.

For six consecutive nights my Mom humored Richard as we drove from one tree lot to another. We hit every Christmas tree lot in Lincoln, Roseville, and everything to the east of the American River in Sacramento including Bob’s Christmas Tree Land at Cal Expo not once but twice.

Mom finally lost her patience when Richard took us to Bob’s Christmas Tree Land for the second time. He was told we were either leaving the lot that night with a Christmas tree or there wouldn’t be a Christmas tree. That upset me, to say the least.

Two hours later - with the folks running the lot hinting they were closing - Richard finally picked out a Douglas Fir tree that was two feet taller than our front room ceiling.

Mom thought it was ludicrous to pay for the extra footage that Richard said he was going to just cut off. A compromise was struck where Richard forked over the extra $10 for the additional length out of his own money collected from changing the marquee each week at the Lincoln Theatre. He also picked up several bundles of cut boughs.

When we got home the tree was placed on the patio.

Like any 9-year-old I wanted to get the tree in the next night and start decorating it. Richard though said it wasn’t ready.

For the next two nights after school Richard cut the bottom branches off the tree and then nailed the extra boughs into place. He’d then stand back and look at it and decided something wasn’t right. So he’d remove a few more branches- including those he had just nailed into the tree trunk and then nail other ones in place.

Of course, he had me do the honor of holding the tree for the hours upon hours this took.

I had pitch all over me. I was beginning to wish that we hadn’t gotten a tree.

Finally Richard said the tree wasn’t going to work. Mom - in language I will refrain from repeating - told him we were using that tree, period.

I wanted to bring it in to start decorating.
Richard insisted we couldn’t do anything until the weekend as he wasn’t about to let a 9-year-old ruin a tree by just putting lights and ornaments on it in a haphazard manner.

Richard typically would spend several hours just placing lights on the tree. One year when he said he was “tired” of doing the job and I put the lights on the tree, he got angry because I didn’t do it right, berated me rather loudly for being an idiot, told me to take the lights off and then he spent the next two hours “doing it right.”

This particular year, however, Richard was going to be forced to undo his “perfect” light effort.

When we brought the tree into the house on Saturday and just about 10 minutes or so after the lights were on, we started putting hooks on the ornaments when we noticed a putrid smell.

Sometime during the last two days our dog Rusty had decided to use the tree for what dogs use trees for. The central heat brought out the smell of dog urine.

Richard wanted to get another fresh tree.

That was when mom broke her vow never to have an artificial tree.