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The search for the right Christmas tree is serious business as Rebecca and Preciosa Sanchez demonstrate.

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

The holidays started with a faux pas. The kind in which men specialize and husbands have made into performance art.

Sue decorated the house one sunny Saturday afternoon. Down came the Thanksgiving decor and up went Christmas in one seamless, fell swoop.

I walked through the front door, my head in the lofty husband clouds and missed the fresh wreath on the door, the red Christmas pillows on the sofa, the Christmas books in the red wicker basket, the solemn wooden characters in the Nativity scene, the Spode plates festively arranged in the kitchen and dining area and the stockings hung by the chimney with care. The only thing missing was Santa with his sleigh and reindeer parked out front between the Tercel and the white truck.

“I can’t believe it,” she said 15 minutes later. “I’ve decorated the entire house and you’re not going to say anything.”

I was going to say something. Something that was right on the tip of my tongue. The same sort of something I would have said when you’ve gotten your hair done and I have been rendered speechless by your beauty.

We went to look for a Christmas tree a few days later. We’ve talked about investing in the beautiful fake trees that are available, investing as if you are were installing solar and expecting it to pay for itself a few years down the line, but we never do, preferring to spend thousands of dollars over our lifetime for the pleasure of fresh, fragrant and fleeting.

The goal every year is to get a good tree and a straight one. We’ve had a lifetime of leaners. Left, right forward and back. Military in theory, civilian in execution.

We found a beautiful tree at the lot on California Avenue. We paid extra for them to attach the tree stand that holds the water. We made sure the tree stood straight in the stand. The tree looked as if it would fit inside the Jeep, which meant we didn’t have to strap it to the top of the car with loose twine.

Worse than a crooked tree is a crooked tree that flies off the top of the car and lands in the trainyard below the Oak Street overpass.

With the help of an employee at the lot, we jammed the tree in with no room to spare. The sharp edges of the wooden stand nearly tore the cream-colored headliner in the car, which would have made a $60 tree a $600 tree.

At home, I eased the tree out of the car and placed it carefully in front of the big picture window. The tree leaned west. When Sue left the room, I manhandled the tree in a bear hug, ripping it away from the centering nails in the tree stand. The tree was shaking but straight.

“It’s straight,” Sue said when she came back into the room. “How did you do it?”

You don’t want to know. It’s like hip replacement. You don’t want to be awake during surgery.

The tree is straight or as straight as it’s going to be. There are no presents yet, but the tree is dressed with lights and ornaments. The house is aglow, something I noticed right away, along with a great Christmas hair style.

•••

Children and now grandchildren complete the holiday. We read stories, which is an easy way to introduce little ones to the charm and magic of the season. “The Polar Express,” “The Night Before Christmas,” “Madeline's Christmas,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “Baby’s First Christmas.”

Far beyond the faux pas now, and Christmas awaits.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 395-7279.

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