The cry was weak, plaintive and urgent.
It was coming from downstairs. It was coming from my wife, Shona.
And that meant trouble.
For far too long, in the leadup to this Christmas, she has been sick. Suffering from a bad bout of bronchitis, wracked by a nasty sounding cough, raspy and inordinately tired.
And now she was crying for help, and I was running.
Just moments before she had been resting comfortably on the couch, swaddled in blankets while admiring our magnificent four-metre-tall Christmas tree.
“What the heck could have happened now?” I thought.
Shona, you see, absolutely loves Christmas, but Christmas doesn’t always agree with Shona.
Too often, the season is filled with misadventure.
There was the heartbreaking Crash of ‘99, which saw our huge tree topple over in our living room, rendering dozens of irreplaceable family heirlooms little more than shattered glass. That calamity haunts us today, and explains the parachute chord I use to tie the tree to the upper bannister.
Once, we learned Shona was seriously allergic to an exotic nut after she ate a seafood lasagne on Christmas Eve. She still insists my brother was trying to poison her.
Then there was the time, while picking up gifts at a bus terminal on Christmas Eve, that she was run over by a Nigerian cab driver.
You can’t make this stuff up.
In fact, looking back I sometimes wonder why I waste my time stringing lights on the house. Instead, I should probably put the time into decorating the hospital’s emergency ward.
And, right on schedule, my sick wife was calling for help.
I girded myself and ran.
But even 18 years of marriage could not have prepared me for what I was to find this year ….
Since moving to the Yukon, the Christmas tree expedition has always been Shona’s premier event of the season.
And the fruits of our labours often stretch far beyond Christmas.
One year, while whacking our way through the bush, we found a dog. A shaggy, unruly monster.
We named him Timber.
He’s still with us, shedding on my carpets, eating my compost and, like all spaniels, aggressively nosing my hand in search of pats, which is fine except he’s got a knack for doing it while I’m holding a mug full of tea. Damn dog.
But, as much as the tree-finding expedition is a fun-filled adventure, I always find it tiring.
For some reason, Shona’s perspective is out of whack — she sees large things and believes them smaller than they actually are.
For a guy, this can be a bad thing.
But, it is most annoying when you’re huffing and puffing through waist-deep snow in the bone-freezing Yukon winter looking for a Christmas tree.
“Oooh, that one looks nice,” Shona will say.
“It’s 60 feet tall,” I say.
“No it’s not.”
“Yes, it is”
“Prove it,” she’ll say.
So I’ll wade into the drifts, my boots filling with snow as I whack and pull myself through the brush and, occasionally, pick my way across creeks until I reach the tree she’s chosen.
It’s often a kilometre, or more, away.
Then, in our time-honoured tradition, I’ll stand before the majestic tree, hold my arms straight out and tip my head back, looking up. Way up.
“Sixty feet at least,” I’ll mutter to myself.
“BOY, THAT IS A BIG ONE, ISN’T IT,” Shona will shout across the snow-covered fen.
“OK, HOW ABOUT THAT ONE OVER THERE…”
She’ll gesture to another monster 800 metres from where I’m standing.
“SHONA, IT’S THE SAME SIZE.”
“NO, IT’S PERFECT.”
“IT’S TOO BIG.”
And, once again, I’ll trudge through the snow….
That’s usually how it goes.
This year was easier.
Shona was sick, so I drove down towards Teslin, found a decent-sized tree and brought it home.
It had its faults, but I loaded it with a stupid number of lights and it passed muster.
Shona loves to sit on the couch and admire the ornaments she’s collected over the decades, each having its own story.
They represent a timeline, really, a chronicle of her life, and ours, as seen through Christmas.
That’s what she was doing last week, resting and recovering from her illness.
Then came the feeble yet insistent cry, “Help!”
“What’s wrong,” I said, leaping out of the upstairs room to the landing at the top of the stairs. (To see what was the matter.)
“Come quick,” she said, weakly.
“Shona, what’s wrong?”
I skidded to a stop.
“My head’s stuck in the Christmas tree.”
“You’re head is stuck … in the Christmas tree.”
“Yes, come quickly.”
By this time, my son Thomas had heard the commotion and had joined me at the top of the stairs.
“What’s going on,” he said.
“Mum’s got her head stuck in the Christmas tree.”
“In the tree?”
We looked at each other. Then we started to laugh.
And we rocketed downstairs.
We found Shona bent over double, with her hair tangled in a particularly complex ornament.
She didn’t look happy.
“Don’t move,” I said. “This is serious.
“Stay with her, Tom.”
Then I ran down the hall to the bedroom, grabbed the camera and dashed back.
“You’re not going to cut my hair,” she said.
“No,” I said. “I’m going to take your picture.”
“No you’re not.”
“Yeah, I am. What are you going to do about it? You’re stuck in the tree.”
I took a few shots. For posterity.
And then I released my little dryad, led her over to the couch and tucked her back in.
“Stay put,” I said.
“By the way,” I asked. “What in God’s name were you doing under the tree?”
She looked me straight in the eye, bold as brass.
“I saw a present.”
“Yes … it looked interesting. I went to examine it.”
“I told you that can get you in trouble.”
“You want to know about trouble — if you publish that picture, I’ll sue you.”
“Push over…” I said joining her on the couch.
I threw my arm around her shoulders and together we looked at the tree. It was freezing outside, but the room was cozy. The glass icicles spun on their threads, catching the light.
“I love sitting here looking at the tree,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
Have a merry Christmas.