Christmas trees?  Don't talk to me about Christmas trees.

In the past, when we go to pick out a tree, we've gone the ultra rustic route, where you pay eight dollars for the privilege of choosing a rusty bowsaw off the side of a shed and wandering in gladness through glittering fields of snow, until, maybe forty minutes later, you finally find the perfect tree -- and by "perfect," I mean that it's the one that everybody hated, rather than the one that one person hated and everyone else liked, or the one that everyone hated, except for one person who would rather die than not come home with this particular tree. And yes, when we got home, that particular tree rained melting snow for six hours, and there turned out to be a mouse living in it.

(That's not why it cost eight dollars. It cost eight dollars because it was a really ugly tree.)

Then one year we went the Guaranteed Heartwarming Childhood Experience route, where a defeated looking Santa took us on his sleigh to a pre-determined quadrant of unclaimed trees.  We stuck our noses out of our hoods long enough to chatter "That one."  Santa tagged it, hustled us back to the Ye Olde Barn and pointed out the complimentary hot chocolate dispenser.  The best part was when the baling machine that wrapped the trees for easy transport almost ate Santa's beard.

This year, our first possible chance to get a tree came on a weekday afternoon, after school, after drama club, after catechism, when it was already getting dark. 

This sounds like a minor problem, but you are imagining that we live one of those charmed lives where you can see out of your vehicle windows even when it is dark.  But in our case, the van heater decided about a month ago that life would be more exciting if it only worked for about four minutes per 60 miles of driving.  So we're driving along, and how cold is it? Well, there is frost forming on the inside of the plastic window that covers the speedometer.  And there are four children loudly singing parodies of Jingle Bells and four loudly shrieking for each other to shut up already, and one just plain shrieking. 

Here's the math:  below zero outside + hot jungle breath inside + no interior temp controls = I might as well have been driving a shipping container down the road, for all I could see where I was going.

So we had a few choices as we barreled along.  We could stop at the nearest tree lot outside the Sad Sad Motel, and spend a fortune. Or we could support our local nursery, where there was a big sign proclaiming "FRESH TREES $25," and where there may or may not have been any trees, but there would certainly have been a nursery owner who was simultaneously very worried about his business model, and very stoned.

Or, we could go to the hardware store, where there were lots of cheap, nice trees right out front.  Maybe it was the dark or maybe it was the shrieking, but I didn't hesitate (and I'd like to apologize to the woman in the little Hyundai whom I frightened so terribly when I didn't hesitate.  Sorry, ma'am.  I just didn't see you.  Fog. Shrieking.  Shrieky fog).

This particular hardware store is run by three neat, quiet men who part their hair on the side and wear flannel shirts tucked into their jeans.  They work their 8.5 hours and go home, where they finish the day by touching up the painted tool silhouettes on their tool peg boards in their freshly swept garages.  They keep their store spic and span and, as far as I know, free of shrieking.

Until today.  In we tumbled, stomping and howling with glee over the warmth.  The boys flew to the chainsaw display, the girls to the paint chips.  And the four-year-old simply left, perhaps to answer the siren song of a wood chipper in the back (yes, we got her back).  The cashier asked if he could help us.  At that moment, probably because of the effect on my brain of such a swift temperature shift, I turned into Aunt Loweezy, and shouted, "We want to buy one of them thar trees!" 

The fellow asked which tree we would like to purchase.  Which tree?  Which tree?  The one that will allow me to go home, Jughaid!  Now step outen my way so I can sweep these fish bones off the porch!  Instead, I said, "Can't I just, like, pay you now and then we just get one and, like, like, take it?"  My tongue was cold.

He made some halting attempt to explain that the ones with the red tags were frasiers and the ones with blue were balsams, but the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be Ruined whispered in his ear, "Are you nuts? Forget tracking inventory.  Just get them out of here before they tear the place up!"

So we got a tree and shoved it in the back of the van and barreled home and had chicken nuggets for supper and heaved the tree out of the back and hacked two feet off the top and set it up in the living room. It fell over, but we set it up again.  And everyone said it was the nicest tree we ever had.  And it didn't have any mice in it.