2020 Christmas Story:
It Has To Be Balsam, by Michel Filion.

Ottawa, Dec. 16, 2011.

Ernie, thank you for the Christmas stories you've been sending. I found it a great way for me to both stay in touch with Northern Ontario, and learn about the generation before me. Thinking I have no interesting stories, I was not going to participate in sharing any of them until just a few minutes ago while telling a co-worker how we used to acquire our Christmas tree growing up in Hearst. Quite different than going to Home Depot and getting a spruce tree for $25.

Anyway, this led me to my first genuine Christmas tree living in Ottawa experience. Of course as a student I used to decorate my cactus every year, but the Grinch-like Christmas tree did not cut it when I first moved in with my new girlfriend. I wonder to this day why she eventually agreed to marry me. You'll see what I mean after reading this. My wife Sophie, who is a very down-to-earth Ottawa girl, highly contrasts with my adventurous quests and Northern mentality (maybe even sometimes lack of judgement).

It was 1994; our first Christmas living together in this Parkdale area apartment in Ottawa. We were both fresh out of college, and I had yet to adapt to the big city. We both agreed that we should get a tree and both had our criteria. Hers was that it needed to be green, mine was that it had to be a Balsam fir, harvested by ourselves, and free. Her aunt and uncle, who live East of Ottawa, agreed to let us steal a tree from their property. So I went out to buy a buck saw. My wife found this to be a useless purchase considering we lived in an apartment and her uncle could lend us one. But I believe a real man should not have to borrow a buck saw to cut down a Christmas tree. I should mention by now that I was in my early twenties and still had to define myself as a real man.

So as we're walking over her aunt and uncle's property, I'm noticing everything on the ground is looking quite pathetic. The tree tops on the other hand! So with my saw hanging over my shoulder, I climbed to the top of this 40+ foot tree. I safely took down the top of the tree. As I watch its descent slowed down by the branches of the still standing part of the tree, I was reminded of my childhood and the many hours of fun we had climbing this huge spruce tree on Pivabiska Lake, to then jump off. The first ten feet or so was always a fast descent, but we gradually slowed down as the branches got bigger near the bottom. So I decided to show my wife how it's done. I proceeded to jump off. Everything went as planned until the last branch, located at about 8 feet from the ground, took the "control" out of my "controlled descent". This made me land sideways, quite hard on the ground, twisting my ankle. I was in pain but would certainly not admit to it. So I limped back to the car dragging the tree. This is where I have to brag about how good this tree looked. But prior to throwing it on the car, I needed to make it shorter. My wife argued with me that we should wait before doing any trimming. She wasn't convinced it was much longer than what we needed even though the tree was almost as long as the Sunbird I was driving. The one thing we did agree with was that the top couple feet wasn't the nicest part of the tree. We bundled it in a blanket and strapped it to the top of the car.

Back at the apartment, we chopped off the top, then the bottom to keep the nicest part intact. We secured it in the stand, and when we released the branches . . . . It must've been about 6 feet wide. Way too large for our small apartment. So I proceeded to trim the ends off all branches. It was . . . . perfect. (I thought; lol).

It was incredibly warm in the apartment, so I had decided to decorate the tree shirtless. Something you can get away with when in your early 20s. But I soon realized the freshly cut branch ends in our warm apartment were getting quite sappy and leaving sticky marks all over my chest. This was quite annoying, and with my limp and ankle now swelled up to the size of a watermelon, I opted to take a break before heading for a shower. But what to do with the sticky part of my chest meanwhile? When growing up in Hearst, I used to rub dirt on sappy skin when out playing in the bush, but what to use in an apartment? So I looked in the cupboard, and found Nesquik. What I did not think of is that Nesquik melts when in contact with moisture. If I wasn't sticky before this, now I really was.

Discouraged, I limped to the couch to rest, grabbed a candy cane and . . . . As I snappped off a piece with my teeth, there went a part of my front tooth. Limping, sticky, filthy, and missing part of my front tooth . . . . Merry Christmas to me!

That year like most years, we ended up driving up to Hearst for Christmas. The holidays were great with no more mishaps . . . . Until we returned to the apartmennt that is. We found our tree with no needles left on it, but a green powder covering the carpet. The tree was crawling with little black larvae that must've thawed and hatched in the tree when it was brought indoors.

For the following years, we became good clients of Home Depot. This until the birth of our first child. Then the tradition to cut our own tree was resurrected. I have adapted nicely to the city culture by going to a cut-your-own tree farm. But haven't forgotten my dad's advice: "It has to be a Balsam".

I still can't believe I'm sharing this story. Merry Christmas and thanks again for all the wonderful stories.

Can you provide corrections or comments?

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