3:00 p.m. Today. I was in a foul mood. This particular Western New York morning started with a heavy bout of freezing rain. As a result, I was late to church after spending fifteen minutes chipping unusually stubborn ice off of my windshield. After church I had to go to the store to have a difficult conversation with an employee who conveniently only works four hours a week on Sunday mornings, when I am usually not working. As the universe would have it, I had an irritating amount of time between activities—just enough that it would be wasteful to sit idle, but not enough to justify driving back to my apartment and then back out toward work. Undecided about what to do, I ventured reluctantly into the rain and out of habit, drove toward work.
I ended up putting in about two hours worth of work (on my day off), a frustration that I tried to counteract by visiting my two darling pseudo-nephews (first cousins once removed if we want to get technical). I spent the next two hours “tuggling” (read: snuggling) with a toddler and his brother, who is just over the threshold of boyhood. Both were full of giggles and were eager to tell me all about their letters to Santa and to show me the Christmas tree that had been freshly erected in the living room. It was, of course, the Christmas tree that triggered the grumpiness.
Christmas trees are a big deal in my family. Our family home has a large great room with vaulted ceilings that can accommodate a tree of formidable height. Driven by Dad’s relentless idealism and grandiose imagination, we endeavored to reach that ceiling, and every year, the tree got taller. At our most ambitious, we raised a twenty-one foot tree that actually hit the ceiling and curved over, making the addition of a star pointless. I remember being immensely satisfied at having reached the extreme of something. The Kellys don’t just celebrate Christmas, we dominate it.
Having been raised in this competitive, achievement-oriented Christmas tree culture, I felt a great deal of pressure when I got my first apartment after college. I felt compelled to continue the tradition of extremism and was pleased to find myself in an apartment with a generous twelve-foot vault in the living room. My tree brushed the ceiling perfectly, and I felt perfectly satisfied at having bettered everyone I knew (in a game that no one else seemed to know we were playing).
This year, however, presented fresh challenges, and as so many of us are apt to do, I chose to fixate on those and to wallow in my impotence. Among all of the challenges that I imagined were standing between me and a tree, allow me to share some of my favorites:
1. I didn’t have a pickup truck to use and I hate doing the drive of shame with a tree tied on top of my car.
2. My Carhartt jacket was on loan to someone else, meaning that I couldn’t put my rural roots on display while I competed with sweet suburban families in the hunt for a perfect tree.
3. My still-struggling body lacked the stamina to tread through rows of trees and to drag one back to the barn to be baled and drilled.
4. I didn’t have any friends contracted to help me and had myself convinced that no one would be available to help if I asked at this late hour.
And so, stuck in the problems, I stayed stuck in my mood. Until…
Until I decided to just go buy the damn Christmas tree. And it wasn’t perfect in the way I imagine the perfect tree fetching to be. I got to the tree farm just before closing. I chose a modest tree from a selection of pre-cut fraser firs. I asked a helpful employee to carry it to the baler for me, and then allowed him to secure it, yes, to the top of my car. I didn’t try to look tough. I didn’t try to play lumberjack. I asked for help, and I got my tree in a way, and at a time, and in a size that fits this year, and this Christmas.
I just finished decorating and my apartment is full of that glorious scent that comes so magically with a fresh tree. Here in my armchair, with a mug of peppermint hot chocolate in hand, I am struck by how often we allow our visions of the ideal to rob from us the joy of our reality. I very nearly talked myself into spending this dreadfully grey evening doing dishes and poring over my budget for the week. And why? Because I didn’t want to be seen on a farm without my Carhartt? Silliness. I hope that you’ll find ways this week to rebel against your reasons “why not” to do things that bring joy to the world, that you’ll find the spunk to buy the damn Christmas tree.
Ansley Kelly (‘16) is a Department Manager at Wegmans in Buffalo, New York. She is passionate about her work as a leader and often describes her job as “creating environments for talented people to be successful.” In the summer you can find her training as the bowperson on a competitive sailing team, and in the winter she volunteers as a member of the National Ski Patrol. After both of those activities you can find her sipping bourbon (neat, of course) and working on puzzles.