by Joe Bollig
Some newspapers have an annual tradition of republishing the old poem “The Night Before Christmas,” also known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” during Advent.
Here at The Leaven, we also have a tradition that, sadly, has been neglected in recent years. It’s the republishing of my 2011 column, “Whoa, Christmas Tree!!!”
Take and read, in the spirit of the season. And if you’re really good, I’ll tell you the one about “The Festivus pole that saved Christmas.”
Whoa! Christmas Tree!!!
By Joe Bollig
Christmas, our most sentimental time of the year, is awash with all kinds of uber-cute and mawkish stories on TV — stories so saccharinely sweet that after watching a few, you feel like you’ve chugged a gallon of maple syrup.
There’s the Grinch who saved Christmas, Rudolph with his nose so bright who saved Christmas, and the mouse that saved Christmas, not to mention Frosty with the happy jolly soul, and the little drummer boy with anger management issues.
And who could forget the pathetic Christmas tree that was transformed into a thing of beauty when the Peanuts kids caught the true spirit of Christmas? At which time, it must be noted, Christmas was saved yet again.
Well, have I got a Christmas tree story for you. And it isn’t pretty or cute.
I was driving my son’s car south on K-7 recently, after getting off work. It was rush hour, so naturally it was dark and cold, and a fair number of pinheads were speeding and passing recklessly, as usual.
I was just north of the Lenexa city limit when the car in front of me suddenly swerved, brake lights bright, onto the shoulder.
“A flat? Deer-strike?”
Before I could even finish this thought, an object flashed in my headlights. It was smack in the middle of the right lane — my lane — lying length-wise.
A Christmas tree. At 60 miles per hour, I was on it instantly.
The car in front of me swerved back onto the highway and disappeared into the night without so much as a “Hey, Mac, you doin’ OK back there?”
More by instinct than thought, I took my foot off the gas, hit the hazard lights, let the car coast a couple of hundred feet, turned off onto the shoulder, and gently braked to a stop.
Dash lights normal, gauges normal — good. I got out and looked.
The tree was flush with the front wheels, so I got back into the car, backed up a bit, and then got out again.
With a flashlight hanging by its strap, in my teeth, I grabbed that tree and pulled, and kicked, and uttered short, earthy words of Anglo-Saxon origin.
Few of the cars flying past slowed or moved over, even when the passing lane was clear. And none stopped to roll down a window to see what was the matter.
I finally yanked it loose, threw the tree into the ditch, and drove home with a car freshly pine-scented the honest way.
Oh, was I in a foul mood. I was mad at the clueless fool who couldn’t figure out how to tie a tree to their vehicle, and didn’t know their tree was missing. Or, if they discovered it missing, didn’t bother to backtrack — just left it in the road for me to hit.
I was mad at my lousy luck. That evening I had to drop off another car at a mechanic, and I didn’t need more car troubles, especially with my son’s car.
I was also mad because I couldn’t even listen to the soothing voice of Patrick Coffin on my favorite Catholic Radio program, because I couldn’t get a signal.
Oh, Patrick, where are you when I need you?
So as I drove to meet my wife at the mechanic’s shop, stewing and gripping the steering wheel, a thought came to me: What if this were a good thing?
What if some inexperienced kid hit the tree and panicked? What if someone instinctively swerved and hit another car, God forbid, full of kids? What if some Good Samaritan tried to drag the tree off the highway and got hit by one of those recklessly speeding cars?
I removed a hazard from the road from the safety of my car, and in the process, swept some annoying loose gravel off the road.
What, really, did I have to complain about? I had the experience to handle the situation. I was OK. The car was OK. It even smelled better.
Maybe, I thought, I shouldn’t be mad. Maybe I should say “Thank you, Lord.” So, I did.
I also told Him I was sorry for my lack of control, my lack of maturity, and my lack of faith.
God, the wise Father, gives us these opportunities so we can grow our trust in him and gain some spiritual maturity. Our pain, misfortune, inconveniences — whatever — are the ore God will refine into spiritual gold, if only we’re willing to offer it back to him with faith and trust.
There’s only one thing now that bothers me.
If I had been thinking, I could have taken home a free tree.