Jacques is nothing if not efficient. The tree practically beat us back home. He must have had his crew felling it, tossing into the Christmas tree wrapping machine, and loading it on the truck as we stood in his quaint little log cabin of an office while I wrote him a check, the amount of which nearly made me black out for a moment. However, Jacques did not even have the decency to blush beneath his bushy beard when he looked me in the eye and stated the price. He waited patiently for me to write that outrageous number on the check, then he took it from me, thanked Mrs. Callington for her business, patted each child duly on the head (two pats for the girl and a hair tousle for the boy), and then gave me a peremptory glance and what I believe was a barely audible “harrumph”. He then called for “Thor”, his nearly toothless dog, and he departed the office to go off and help other shoppers find trees that were just beyond their budgets.
We had barely gotten the children home, out of their bulky winter clothing and distracted with a hearty meal from Mrs. Fournier, our chef, when a large truck pulled up outside with our tree, bound, gagged, tied down on the bed of the truck, and completely unaware of the new adventure that awaited it.
Two burly woodsmen hopped out of the cab of the truck and rang the doorbell. A very excited Mrs. Callington greeted them and showed them where in the front room she wanted the tree.
“I’d like it in front of the big window so that it will be visible from the Lane.”
“Yes, ma’am, Mrs. Callington,” said Jeff (according to the name stitched onto his work shirt). He seemed to be the ranking officer of the two woodsmen, for he was the taller and stronger-looking of the two men. Plus, he was the only one that could talk, apparently.
“But not too close to the window. I would like to be able to observe it easily from the chairs by the fireplace.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said again, and I believe he would have tipped his Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm -embroidered ball cap, but his hands were busy taking notes on the clipboard he held.
“But mind the chandelier,” said my impatient little Impatiens.
Jeff and Steve (the other chap, per the stitching on his shirt) looked up and seemed to make a mental note of the existence of the large crystal chandelier that formerly hung in Merton House in England before we picked it up for a song (and several thousand pounds) at an estate auction several years before.
“Steve,” said Jeff, still gazing upwards. “Mind the chandelier.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” said the taciturn Steve, seeming to make a mental note of the chandelier.
Jeff then gazed keenly at me. “How high is that ceiling, Mr. Callington?”
I gazed upwards at the ceiling and furrowed my brow as if calculating its height based on angles and hypotenuses and cosines and such, and then glanced at him and said, “I haven’t the foggiest. It was here when we moved in and I never felt the need to measure it. I know it is high enough to make retrieving runaway helium balloons from children’s’ birthday parties impossible. One must wait for them to come down of their own free will.”
Steve suddenly pulled something from his toolbelt and held it up for all to see. I expected him to say voilà! with a flourish, but he seemed to be the sort of chap that rarely said anything at all, especially things like voilà. He did turn slightly back and forth at the waist, holding up the gun-shaped item as if he were a magician that had just pulled a rabbit out of a hat and was holding it up for all to see. Seeming disappointed that no one ooh’d or aah’d, he pointed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. All that came out of it was a point of light on the ceiling. He then scrutinized the gun and announced, “This is a 25-foot ceiling.”
“Good heavens!” I exclaimed. “Twenty-five feet? That seems a bit excessive for a ceiling. Did you know about this, my bonny little Bellflower?”
“I knew we had a ceiling,” she said, her face revealing that she wasn’t quite sure what I was angling for. “But beyond that, I knew nothing. It came with the house.”
I gazed up at the ceiling with a new sense of wonder. “Twenty-five feet,” I murmured, almost to myself. “Who would’ve thought? It makes me wonder who changes the lightbulbs.”
“If you’ll pardon me, Mr. Callington,” said Jeff, no doubt feeling as if he should steer the conversation back towards the subject of Christmas trees. “Your tree is only 20 feet tall, so you should be just fine.”
“Well, that is certainly a blessing,” I said. “We don’t have any rooms with higher ceilings than this. At least, I hope we don’t. Frankly, I’m surprised we have this one. Wow! Twenty-five feet. I had no idea.”
“Do you want us to bring the tree in, Mr. and Mrs. Callington?” asked Jeff, always the consummate professional when it comes to Christmas trees.
“Yes. Please do,” I said. “I believe you have the coordinates from my lovely helpmeet. Deploy the tree at will.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jeff. Steve saluted. Then they departed to go out to the truck to release the tree from its bonds.
I watched them with extreme fascination (causing them to ask me politely several times to “Please step back, Mr. Callington. We would hate for you to get hurt”). They used a crane on the truck to unload it onto the drive and then they used sheer muscle (and a few moving dollies) to wrestle the beast indoors and into the great room. They freed it from its ropes and its confining net and then slowly raised it up to its final standing place (while minding the Merton House chandelier). They painstakingly leveled and plumbed the tree until it was as true as a compass needle. They secured it in the stalwart-looking tree stand, filled it with water, swept up and removed all of the bark and needles that had come loose during the tree raising ceremony, and trimmed the tree here and there so that it was more aesthetically pleasing. As they departed, I tipped them both handsomely and praised them as being the Rembrandts of tree raising ceremonies. They both thanked me, touched the brims of their Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm -embroidered ball caps, and departed, leaving only a faint smell of diesel and Grand Fir.
Alexis informed me that my mission was to top the tree. This she said blithely as she herded our brood out the door for a few hours of frenzied Christmas shopping. Pondering the logistics of getting anything at all at the top of such a towering tree, I summoned the ever-resourceful James into the Great Room for a summit meeting.
“James,” I said, mixing myself a drink, “We have a slight problem.”
“Problem, sir?” he asked. As always, he had a penchant (as the French would say) for asking pertinent questions. He inclined his head slightly as he asked it, which made a marvelous pun, but as I knew he did not speak French, I didn’t pursue it.
“Yes. A most confounding problem. Drink?” I asked him, indicating the drink trolley with a wave of my hand.
“No, thank you, Sir. I may need to drive somewhere.”
I nodded. “Very prudent. As a chauffeur, I’m sure there is always a high probability you may be called on to drive somewhere.”
“Yes, sir. It is always a distinct possibility.”
I plunked an olive into my martini and took a contemplative sip.
“You have no doubt noticed the addition of a tree to our décor.” I nodded slightly towards the towering 20-foot-tall Grand Fir that had assumed a place of prominence in the room and was casting a long shadow due to the recessed lighting in the ceiling.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Callington. I noticed it when I walked into the room.”
“It clashes somewhat with the art deco theme of the room.”
“Trees tend to be …” I waved my drink in a slow circle, searching for just the right word. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”
“I’m not sure, Sir.”
“Fauvistic.” I took a long sip of my martini, nearly finishing it off.
“I started to say impressionistic, but I think that understates the issue. A tree of this nature is too bold to be merely impressionistic. That’s why I said Fauvistic.”
“That makes sense, Sir.”
“I’m not sure it does entirely,” I said dubiously. “But be that as it may, we still have a problem. That is why I called you in here. You have a penchant for coming up with solutions to problems.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“And the problem as I see it, is this tree. Did you know this ceiling is 25 feet tall?”
“Well, it is. I have it on very good authority. There were actually lasers involved. Lasers always remove all doubt. So here is the problem. The ceiling is 25 feet tall.”
“And the tree is slightly less than that, coming in at right about 20 feet, give or take. So, you see the problem.” I took another sip of my martini and started to mix another.
James looked up at the ceiling and the treetop, and then back at me. “No, Sir. I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Well, the problem is as follows. It’s not quite as complicated as a train leaving Milwaukee at 65 miles an hour while another train leaves Chicago at 70 miles per hour, but it is darn close. I have it on good authority that the tree is 20 feet tall. Lasers and all that. The last time I visited Doctor Billingsworth, he informed me that I stood right at 6-foot 1 inch in my sock feet, though how he knew that I don’t know, because I was wearing shoes at the time. Drink?”
“No thank you, Sir.”
“So, just tossing about round numbers, twenty feet minus 6 feet is …” I gazed at him.
“Fourteen feet, Sir.”
“Well, there you go. Fourteen feet, give or take. That is without lasers, so there’s really no way to be sure. And how tall are you, James?”
“Six foot two, Sir.”
“In sock feet?”
“So even if you stood on my shoulders, we would still be … twenty … minus fourteen … plus six …” All this advanced mathematics was making my head spin. I took a soothing sip of martini.
“There would still be eight feet of tree above us, Sir.”
“Yes! Precisely. Eight feet. Now, this is where the math gets tricky.” I paused to take a sip of martini. “There is a ladder out in the shed, but it is only a 12-foot ladder. So, if we set up the ladder. And then you get on my shoulders. And then I climb up on the ladder. I forgot to ask you, can you hold a star?”
“Well, an angel, really. There was a vote. I voted for the star. But Miss Calgon … Missus Calderon … Calliope … my darling Calla Lily … she cast the deciding vote on an angel. So, my Jere Dames … dear James. I will need you to get a good solid grip on the angel. And get on my shoulders. And I will climb the afear mansioned … after motioned … aforementioned ladder. We will have this tree touched by an angel in no time.”
“Sir, I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to climb a ladder at the present time … with or without me on your shoulders.”
“You may be right,” I conceded. “There would be no one to hold the ladder for us. And that is just plain unsafe.”
“Oh, I know!” I said excitedly, for I’d just had a brilliant idea. “I could stand on the ladder … at the very top … angel in hand.” I pantomimed my idea, my martini being the understudy for the angel, who was still in her dressing room refusing to come out for the rehearsals.
“Yes, Sir?” said James, sounding a trifle dubious. But that was only because he had not heard the full plan yet.
“And then … here is the brilliant part. And then I jump .. you see … down, onto the divan and it … SPRINGS me … up … graceful arc, you see. And then, when I am near the summit … I just … spike the angel on top of the tree. Like those mountain climbing chappies with their flags.”
He was silent a moment, as if he were visualizing what I’d just said. His eyes seemed to follow my projected trajectory up into the stratosphere of the Great Room.
“Sir, if you don’t mind my saying it, I’m not entirely sure that plan will work.”
“You mean you think the ottoman would work better than the divan?”
“No, Sir. I just don’t think the plan will work regardless of the furniture we use.”
“Oh posh,” I said, waving away his doubt with my drink. “It is foolproof. What can go wrong?”
“I’m afraid lots could go wrong, Sir. For one thing, I’m not sure the divan is up to being jumped on from off the ladder.”
“Nonsense! That is pure 18th century oak. Fine craftsmanship. Solid oak. Not the fluffy bits, of course. The legs. Solid oak.”
“I may have a better solution, Sir.”
I am not too proud to admit that I was a little hurt. “Well, I fail to see how another solution could be better than the one I proposed, James; but let’s hear it. I am always ready to consider alternative solutions, no matter how harebrained they might be.”
“Well, Sir. I know a guy –”
“One of the baggage handling chaps?” I asked, squinting at him through my martini glass.
“No, Sir. This guy is a roofer.”
“But I don’t want the angel on the roof. No one would be able to see her, poor thing. Imagine her disappointment.”
“No, Sir. He is a roofer and he has a large collection of ladders. Furthermore, he is not afraid of heights. He could have the angel up on the tree within the hour.”
I considered his suggestion as I popped the olive from my latest martini into my mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Within the hour, you say?”
“Yes, Sir. Furthermore, he could also string all the lights on the tree for you.”
I visibly started. I had not considered the lights. There were two or three dozen strings of them and they would have to be wound round and round the tree. That would be nearly impossible to do while spring-boarding off of the divan.
“Very well, James. Call your chap. I am going to go to my den and recline in my recliner. I am feeling a bit woozy for some reason. No doubt all the excitement of a new tree.”
“No doubt, Sir. And, yes, Sir. I will call him right now. And shall I have him replace that burned out lightbulb on the ceiling, Sir?”
I squinted upwards to where James was pointing, though doing so made the room shimmy somewhat, no doubt due to the strong odor of Grand Fir in the room.
“Yes. By all means, James. Let there be lights.”
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow