Last year, at the beginning of December, I was very pregnant with Sam. Although I wanted to find a Christmas tree farm and head out with Charlotte and Jeff to cut down our tree since this was the first time we had space for one (our apartment in Athens was too small), in the end we got a tree from the Morning Optimists Club in the Hy-Vee parking lot. The tree, I recall, was a little under six feet tall, and cost $25. I remember this, because Jeff thought that was pretty expensive. (Foreshadowing!)
This year, I really wanted the full-on Holiday Tree-Sawing Extravaganza! So we headed out to what seemed to be the only nearby tree farm, Strawberry Hill. I had attempted ahead of time to find out their pricing info from their website, and when that failed, sent out a friendly email of inquiry, to no avail. Well, no problem. I was sure the pricing would be posted at the farm to help us make a selection within our budget.
When I mentioned to Charlotte last night that we'd be going to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut down our tree the next day, you'd have though I'd told her we were going to Fluffy Puppies and Unlimited Candy Farm or something by her reaction. She wouldn't shut up about about the Christmas Tree Farm. She even mentioned it, loudly, during the children's sermon at church today.*
So, the anticipation had built up to quite a boiling point before we headed out today. We got all bundled up and grabbed our hacksaws (just kidding, we don't have any) and hit the road. The place wasn't far from our church/C's preschool, and it didn't take long to get there.
When we arrived, I could see that this wasn't the most high-class operation. Sure, they had a ton of employees (mostly college-aged guys) wearing their company's embroidered shirts, but it all seemed kind of run-down and tacky. Whatever. Charlotte didn't care. I also noticed that there weren't any prices posted where I could see them. Huh.
So we headed out, sizing up trees, looking for the perfect one. I wanted a smaller tree, not too huge, but we ended up (after being kicked out of the wrong field...sorry, guys, they looked like trees to me) picking a decent, only slightly crooked six-footer. We posed for the obligatory family picture in front of the tree, then hopped on the FREE hayride back to the shed where we'd pay as they packaged our tree up.
An interlude: I love the thing where they stick the tree to violently shake all the dead needles off it. I get a strange sense of calm watching the tree shaken brutally.
So, we headed into the "gift shop" to pay our bill. This "gift shop," and want to use that term even more loosely than the quotes imply, was a metal shack with a tiny, labyrinthine path that meandered through the tables and shelves of random, holiday-themed crap. Just the kind of environment I wanted to be cramped into with my three-year-old and kicky 11-month-old in a backpack! But the promise of cookies and hot cider lured us on. Plus, we had to pay.
The cookies, we found once we reached the bowels of this horrid junk shanty, were slightly stale off-brand Hydrox sandwich cookies, and the tiny dixie cups for the hot cider held just enough to convince you it was too hot to drink by the time you'd thrown back the shot. This was unsatisfying, but even more unsatisfying was the price that rang up on the cash register when the ancient crone behind the desk tabulated our cost.
Jeff turned to me with a look in his eyes first of disbelief, then of horror. A vein in his forehead began to pulse. We carried on one of those side-of-the-mouth, tense muttering conversations. "Is that right?" he hissed. "I guess it is," I whispered back. His eyes widened so that I could see the whites all the way around the irises. I expected them to pop out in the manner of that Nazi in front of the ark of the covenant in Indiana Jones. At the very least, I thought his flesh would melt. "That...it can't...I..." he sputtered. "Just pay," I whispered. "We can't do anything about it now."
So we did. But the afternoon was a bit colored by this unexpected expenditure. I mean, when you go into a venture expecting to pay $X, and end up paying $XXX, it feels a bit obscene. Those of you who know Jeff, and know his extremely frugal, Dutch penny-pinching nature, know that for him, the day was ruined. I managed to pull it together and have a fun time decorating the tree (which, of course, is totally lopsided) with Charlotte.
I'm also chagrined to find that our XXX amount is not really as horrible and vulgar as I had thought. I posted a brief version of our experience on facebook, and mentioned the amount when others asked. Well, not only do most people not think twice about paying XXX, several had paid XXXX and even XXXXX for a tree. A tree! A tree, made of tree materials, and not of, say, gold, or puppies and candy even.
Needless to say, next year, we're going to the Optimists Club again. I myself am optimistic my husband won't have a coronary event in response to Holiday Sticker Shock, and we'll all be merrier as a result.
*I just love it when kids do this during the children's message--belt out random, sometimes inappropriate things. Mrs. Jane was talking about Christmas trees, and she said, "Maybe some of you went out to get a Christmas tree this weekend," when suddenly a tiny little voice chirped out "We're getting OUR Christmas tree TODAY!" Guess who!