Monday, December 5, 2011

She's a Real Beaut Clark!

This weekend the Stilp Family determined to get their Christmas Spirit on in full force.  Curt’s favorite Christmas movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. While I can’t fully endorse it because it’s crass in a few spots (our kids aren’t allowed to watch it yet), I can say that it’s hilarious and it gets funnier the more you watch it.  Curt quotes it all year round, but during Christmas the movie quotes never stop.

We live in a neighborhood that would make Clark W. Griswold (the main character) proud to be a part of.  For the second year in a row, the neighbors have planned and hosted a Lighting Ceremony where they close the two cul-de-sacs and have a big party complete with hot cocoa, Santa, and carolers. The big lighting reveal was Saturday night and neighbors have been preparing for weeks.

the kids by the tree - aren't they cute?
The exterior of the Stilp house is consistently subpar by a huge ratio.  We had a few strands of outdoor lights when we moved in but they kept dying and we didn’t bother replacing them.  Two weeks ago Curt took advantage a non-rainy day and hung up the remaining strands.  We stood in the street and laughed.  To say it was pathetic would be an understatement.  Our neighbors good-naturedly ridiculed our Charlie Brown attempt at Christmas cheer and even offered to loan us lights from their excess supply. 

We decided, in the words of George Castanza from Seinfeld, it was “time to take it up a notch!” Friday night we made a late-in-the-game 4th quarter surge and furiously began hanging the new lights we purchased and the charitable contribution lights from the neighbors.  We worked until after dark and came up with a plan to finish the outside decorating on Saturday morning AFTER we got the family Christmas tree.

family photo
We woke to a crisp, cold and foggy morning.  I put on my “Griswold Family Christmas” t-shirt in honor of going to get the tree.  Over breakfast we entertained Sarah with stories of visits to the Christmas Tree Farm gone awry and laughed about how in spite of hiccups every time, it still is an annual tradition we would never dream of giving up.  The day looked promising. 

However the problems started early.  Our kids dressed themselves like it was summer and then protested when we asked them to wear actual coats and boots.  We spent twenty minutes dealing with bad behavior and pulled out of the driveway with smoke coming from our ears and mumbling empty threats under our breath.

Just before we arrived at Jorgensen’s Tree Farm we drove out of the fog and into bright sunlight.  The normally muddy ground was still frozen and unsloppy. Curt verified the price was really $20 for any tree on the lot – no matter the size – and we set off to find THE perfect tree.  It looked like the day was about to redeem itself. 

She looked smaller in the field
Early into our search the light from heaven shone on a monster tree.  Perfectly symmetrical and round, Curt fell instantly in love.  I mentioned that it looked a little large, but Curt reassured me that she was perfect and that every tall tree comes with some girth.

He and Grant all but disappeared as they shimmied under the tree to find the stump and start sawing.  Grant was bored within sixty seconds and left to find a fort, leaving Curt by himself to cut her down.  Minutes passed.  The only sound coming from under the tree was labored breathing, the scrape of the saw against the trunk, and frequently increasing mumbling.

The girls started bickering and complaining.  Curt hollered from under the tree, “It’s all part of the experience Honey” and went back to sawing. We took an adventure walk to pass the time and give Curt some space.  When we circled back he was still sweating under the tree. I heard him mumble on more than one occasion, “This is the LAST time we’re doing this.  Next year I’m buying a tree off a lot.

never so grateful to see a chainsaw!
We were there so long the ground thawed out and it got muddy.  My offers of help were met with disapproving grunts.  Finally I whispered to Sarah, “Why don’t you go back down to the barn and ask the guys if they have another saw?  We could be here all day.”  A few minutes later our Knight in Shining Armor arrived to save the day.  He rode a four-wheeler with a trailer, carried a chain saw, and laughed when he saw the tree.  “Wow!  That’s a big one!” 

Once the tree was down, we assessed her in all her glory.  She was 17 years old, measured 12 feet tall, and had a stump diameter of 8 ½ inches! Curt, in a much better mood now that he was off the ground and out of the mud, admired his tree and declared, “She’s a real beaut Clark!”

The hired help snickered and gasped when we pulled into the baling area.  There was no hope of getting this gal through the baler!  They looked around for a pickup truck to load her into and then laughed out loud when we pointed to the van.  Those boys – all six of them – muscled our tree that weighed at least 200 pounds on top of the van.  She dwarfed the van with multiple feet of tree hanging off both the front and back.  Everyone was laughing.
who knew the shirt would be so prophetic?

front windshield view
I posed for pictures in front of the van with my Griswold Family Christmas t-shirt and paid our $20 for the tree.  We corralled our kids into the van through the only door that we could close without also capturing part of the tree.  The view out the front windshield was hilariously obstructed.  Curt slid down in his seat so he could see out the window and slowly pulled out onto the highway.  We considered turning on the hazards and driving SLOWLY home, but the old gal seemed to be holding steady, tree needles flying off as we picked up speed.  Who needs a baler?

side mirror view, and yes that's part of the
tree stuck in the door

People in cars coming the opposite direction laughed and honked, thoroughly enjoying a movie being re-enacted before their eyes.  Just as one driver gave us a big thumbs-up, the twine securing the tree to the van loosened.  We all watched in comic horror as our tree slid off the top of our van, bounced down the highway and rolled into the ditch.  Curt pulled into the nearest driveway (about an eight of a mile down the road) and we sat in disbelief.  Did that really just happen? You couldn’t write a movie script like this! 

Curt took the kids to go home and get the trailer.  Sarah and I stayed with the tree.  Our job was to somehow get the tree from the highway ditch to the driveway for safe loading into the trailer when Curt arrived.  We couldn’t stop laughing which complicated our attempt to coordinate our push-pull efforts.  I ended up on my booty on the side of the road before we figured out a system that worked.

why didn't we think of the trailer in the first place?

Our neighbors were out putting the finishing touches on their decorations as we rolled into our driveway. They all took turns gawking and laughing.  “She’s a real beaut Clark” was heard often throughout the afternoon.

The fun didn’t stop once we got home.  Our existing tree stand was way too small, so I had to go buy a new one.  Curt was 90% finished hammering the new stand into the base of the trunk when he realized it was missing a piece.  Back to the store I went. 

Getting the tree in the house was another adventure.  Our front door was much too small so Curt and I had to drag her up our side yard, wedge her through the gate in our fence, and carry her across the back yard.  We pushed, pulled, tugged, prayed, wedged, and wiggled her through the sliding glass door, lugged her down the hall, and unceremoniously dumped her in the living room.  Her tip scraped the top of the ceiling and her girth soaked up the majority of space.  It took Sarah, Curt, and I working together as a team to shimmy her back into the corner.

She's a real beaut Clark!
Somehow Curt managed to finish our exterior lighting system in time for the big party.  At the party a friend of mine overheard the story of our day and laughed.  She went on to tell me that her family had been to Jorgensen’s Tree Farm an hour after we left and chosen a large tree.  The owner commented, “That’s a big tree but not as big as the one that just left with another family.  It was one of the biggest we’ve sold this year and they put it on top of their van.  I sure hope they made it home safely.”

Curt is putting the finishing touches on our tree as I write this. (Come over if you want to see her in real life).   It smells and looks like a forest in our home.  No squirrels or chipmunks have emerged from the branches (thank God) but three very lethargic bees have flown out from the depths.  We are praying there isn’t an entire nest waiting to wake up, but only time will tell.  We may have overdone it this year, but “she’s a real beaut Clark!”


  1. This is awesome, Jodi!! I can't wait to see your tree. Your kids will NEVER forget this day. They will tell their kids and grandkids. :) Love it,

  2. Oh my goodness, I am laughing so hard! Only the Stilp's could pull this one off! Love you guys!!!

  3. I have to see this in person!! This is a very "Stilpy" story... the funniest things happen to you guys, and I'm so glad you're so gifted at telling such detailed stories.