Waving goodbye to family, I imagine the emptiness awaiting Manny and me in the house.
He says, “Tess, you have mud on your loafer.”
I brush the sole of my shoe along the bristles of a fake porcupine—a Lillian Vernon find of Manny’s.
In the kitchen—which is a conglomeration of breakfast dishes from this morning and Thanksgiving paraphernalia from the last three days—I butter a biscuit while visions of Christmas boxes loom over my head.
“I was thinking,” Manny says. “Let’s downsize decorating this year.”
“Hey, you’ve read my mind.” I hand him a piece of bacon. “I’m not looking forward to a Christmas without kids.”
“Let’s not even get a tree.” Hmmm. The tree is a sticking point. For thirty years I’ve wanted a white pine. I love the way the long needles feather and that fresh woodsy scent reminds me of the winter I spent in Vermont with my Aunt Sally on my first alone trip.
But every year Manny treks to the tree farm and searches out the stiffest Colorado blue spruce he can find. Needle retention, he declares is the most important factor for reducing debris. He forgets our children had to wear protective armor when decorating.
“Okay,” I agree. “No tree.”
It’s getting late as I’m driving home the day after our “tree-tise,” when I notice the Boy Scouts have set up their tree-selling enterprise. A white pine graces the center of the lot. I believe in scouting. One year my brother was a Webelo. A purchase is made.
I stop at our neighbor’s house and ask Porter if he can help me unload a Christmas tree. In less than thirty seconds, he’s zipping across our yard. Oh, to be sixteen. A quick peek into the garage tells me Manny’s beaten me home. I opt for boldness.
“Porter, I’m going in to get the stand while you unload the tree, okay?”
“Sure, Mrs. Ferguson.”
I enter the side door, hoping Manny’s in his office. Nope—he’s in the family room setting up a Colorado spruce.
“What! I thought we weren’t getting a tree?”
“You seemed ambivalent.”
“I was not.”
“Well, you seemed it.”
A knock on the screen door: “Mrs. Ferguson? Should I bring it in?”
“Bring what in?” asks Manny.
“Come on in, Porter.”
He squeezes the fragrant evergreen through the doorframe, needles spraying. When he gets to the center of the kitchen, he stops and looks from Manny to me.
“Son,” says Manny, taking off his work gloves. “You can take that right back outside and if your family hasn’t bought a tree yet, you’re welcome to it.”
“And then, Porter,” I add. “Come back and get this other one. You can take it to the nursing home.”
That poor boy pivots himself and the tree one hundred eighty degrees and exits.
“Fine,” says Manny. “No tree.”
But the next day, I donate another twenty-five dollars to the Boy Scouts, and they tie the evidence of my rebellion onto the top of my car. Porter looks at me dubiously when I again request his assistance. This time I’m ahead of Manny, who comes home minutes later with his own second endeavor to break our agreement.
On the third day, I pick Porter up before procuring tree number three—I think the scouts are beginning to talk.
“But Mrs. Ferguson, you guys keep saying no trees—I don’t get it.”
“Don’t judge us, Porter—not till you’ve been married thirty years.”
“You guys just seemed like one of the few, good, sane couples.”
“Sanity is overrated.” I sound so cavalier.
Manny’s Toyota is parked in the driveway. I hand Porter my driving gloves and head to the door. There’s a scattering of long pine needles on the threshold and I follow them through the kitchen to the end of the family room where a frothy white pine stands over a huge moat-like structure. Manny jumps out from behind it all and surprises me with the softest, messiest kiss I can remember in years.
A knock on the screen door.
“Come in,” we call.
Porter shoves the spruce through the door, mumbling at the needles poking him. He sees the pine and drops his shoulders. “Marriage. . . insane . . . hear the rec center needs a tree.” He and the fir about-face without waiting for a response.
“It’s just you and me,” Manny says.
“Kiss me, again,” I say--anticipation alive once more.
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