January the Second


The Christmas tree is to the holidays what the centerfold is to Playboy.
Imagine your disappointment if your tree was ripped out of your magazine.
It was shortly after our kids had all grown up, moved away and we had grandchildren, when Sven and I saw it.
The sign said, Trees for Sale.
And it was in front of a place suited for a post card. A formal white house with pillars and green shutters stood next to a red barn, all in bleached snow.
The cost was thirty-five dollars.
And they came as tall as you liked.
I liked tall.
"That one Sven," I would say and point at the grandest one I could find.
"Millie, I don't know if it's going to fit," he'd say.
"Of course it will."
Did you know that while tall and skinny trees truly are tall, they are not that skinny?
They might be slim and trim standing out there in the middle of nature.
But once you bring them into your house, they can block the path to your bathroom.
And once you have a tree that is large enough to cause a bottleneck in your home, already screwed into a stand and you are still alive, you are not about to take it back down.

Not until New Year's Day.
It's the law.
So, you will learn some sexy shimmy dance moves that will come in handy later in the evening with your Tom and Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.
"Rene!" I screamed one afternoon when our youngest son just happened by. "Help!"
You see, Sven was underneath our find of the year messing with those screws and I was hanging onto a prickly-sappy-trunk and my nose started to itch. I could feel the tree starting to lean a bit.
I'm not sure how I would have stopped the beast from going wherever it felt like going whether I did or I did not scratch my nose.
That is why I was particularly happy to see Rene, who darted in and saved the day as well as the TV and the wood burner.
Those monster trees of our past went away the same day the house on the post card house quit selling them.
It was a good run.
But as you all know size does not matter.
Ask any man.
And no matter how big or how small your prize is, it must come down.
On New Year's Day.
And then once it is gone, the holidays are over.
Because as we all know, the worst day of the upcoming year is looming, lurking and waiting for the sun to set.
Once you get past that first morning when your alarm goes off and you do that whimper crying thing and get out of bed and stand under your showerhead and get dressed and come down your stairs in the dark of night and notice that your living room is wide open and gigantic once again and you pour a cup of black coffee into your mug and you get into your car and drive one handed with that cup clenched in your other hand as you stare ahead at the moonlight on the road in front of you, until you find yourself parked in front of your building. And then somehow you manage to make it through that first twenty-hour shift, where people think that you understand and or care about whatever it is they are talking about. Because you nod in agreement. And then you drive back home in the dusk of night, and you walk through your kitchen door, and you drop your purse and the mail on the counter, and you hear a warm, crackling fire that your sweet Sven started, snapping away in the wood stove. You heat up a left-over bowl of chili. And then you take it over to the couch where you gobble it down before curling up under your favorite blanket that is there waiting and you think, "I'll start that new year's resolution tomorrow," you have made it.
The worst day of the year is over.
Everything will be brighter tomorrow.
But have you ever wondered about the unfortunate people who were born on January 2nd?
Was that doctor standing there at the end of that hospital bed of the groaning woman, completely detached as she pushes out a pink bundle of joy and he catches a sweet little thing who has no idea that she has just been born on the worst day of the year?
Have you?
Well, that pink little bundle of joy happens to be my friend Shirlee-Bunny.
And the year was 1957.
I tried once to celebrate with her on her birthday on a year when it happened to land on a Saturday.
"How bad can it be?" I thought.
She only lives down the road and around the bend from us and I was on my way home from a shopping trip.
I had a card and a bottle of wine to take to my pal.
It was warm that day for January.
And you see, warm in January in Wisconsin often translates to fog.
It's because of all the steam coming off the snow because it is more than thirty-two degrees.
And then if you add a little drizzle dripping from the sky it's a double whammy.
But that did not deter me.
Not a chance.
I put my blinker on and I drove along real slow, searching for her gravel driveway.
There it was.
I turned in.
Man, her driveway was seriously bumpy.
Driveways get that way in Wisconsin winters.
That's why we all have to get our tires realigned come spring.
But the longer I drove down her driveway the further I seemed to be veering from her house.
"Well, this is a little embarrassing," I remember thinking as I was parallel with her side window. And I could see faces pressed against it.
So I stopped.
The kitchen door flew opened.
"Who is out there?" I heard through the fog.
"It's me, Millie," I hollered back.
"Tina, go over there and get her," I heard Shirlee-Bunny command her daughter.
And Tina climbed over the barbed wire fenced.
She got to my car door and said, "Get out. I am driving."
"Hi Tina," I said.
She drove us out of the cornfield, onto the highway and into their driveway.
Which I only missed by four feet.
And then I got to meet her sister's new boyfriend who was standing out in the yard gaping.
And then Shirlee-Bunny's Emmitt invited me in for a beer.
He called up his friend Sven and said, "You might want to come and get your wife."
And then I gave Shirlee-Bunny her gift.
She opened it.
And we all sat at that kitchen table and laughed.
"How was I supposed to know there was a farmer's driveway next to your house?" I said.
"Because it's always been there."
And that there was the best gosh-darn birthday that Shirlee-Bunny has ever had.
Well, except for the time her parents took her to that Holiday on Ice show when she was five and they let her order a kiddie cocktail and lobster at that fancy restaurant on their way home.

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So, this year as your sweet Sven takes down your tree and you watch your granddaughter vacuum up your needles and put away your ornaments while you sip on a glass of wine and that sickening feeling is starting to gurgle up in your gut, because the worst day of the year is just around the corner, think of my friend Shirlee-Bunny.
Be sure to wish that pink bundle of joy a happy birthday on January the second.

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