As The Tree?Tilts

The holiday season always provides me with a unique opportunity to look at myself.

My tendency to procrastinate, to overspend and to paint the season with a list of overreaching tasks comes into sharp focus starting each November.

I’m like a Christmas layout in McCall’s magazine waiting to implode.

This morning, I called my husband to ask him where the Christmas tree stand is hiding this year. (Attic? Basement? Still on last year’s tree – now rotting in the woods?)

“Why don’t you wait to put it up when I get home tomorrow?” he asked.

My husband is a smart man. He was envisioning the Lucy-like mess I’d make of trying to put a tree up by myself: missing tree limbs; a trail of pine needles from the porch to the car; a tilting tree that would never point toward heaven.

But he’s also smart enough to know when I’m on a mission. He could already see the state of our house in his mind’s eye: baking tins strewn across the counters, chocolate sauce on the floor, a light coat of flour dusting my eyelids.

But if there’s one thing I do with logic and exactitude this time of year, it’s picking out a Christmas tree.

I am the tree whisperer, and I can pull up to any lot from here to Texas and walk right up to the prettiest tree and have it strapped to my car roof in no time.

Every family needs someone with this talent.

The thing about this tree is that it required six layers of clothes to get within a foot of its porcupine needles, which made it no easy task to actually put it in a stand. By the time it was standing straight (mostly), I had thrown on a winter coat, two sets of oven mitts and a hat, just so I could maneuver around it.

I’d never wrestled a tree into a stand before, since my husband has always been the foreman. Usually I just stand there holding it upright, twirling it around for 20 minutes, rolling my eyes while he fusses with the trunk and yells, “No, no! More to the right! Now to the left!”

Sometime, in the midst of digging through ornaments in the attic, I realized that I’d yet to make four dishes of varying complexity, hadn’t run my three requisite trips to Wegmans for forgotten items and hadn’t yet looked under the couch for more forks.

Off track, wandering around in some holiday haze, I decided all those women’s magazines should have a spread on what the holidays really look like in our homes: tilting trees; dry turkeys; kitchens that trudge through the storms of our preparations.

I want to see a picture of a young dad’s face when he discovers squirrels have eaten through the Christmas decorations in the attic; the snowman’s suit with a half-melted candy cane stuck to its fur; cookies with burned edges that no longer resemble Rudolph.

Because holidays – like our lives – can be messy things. Think of those little imprints of our children’s hands made in grade school: It is the imperfection that we cherish when we see it 20 years later in the box in the basement.

Tonight I made Pommes Anna for our holiday dinner – which are supposed to look like delicate stacks of paper thin potato slices piled on top of one another.

Mine do not, however, resemble anything French and would not make the editor’s cut in a holiday magazine.

But I’ll serve them anyway.

I picture my daughter – here from Boston – sitting near the tilting tree and eating her stack of potatoes.

And that might be as close to perfect as anything could ever be.