When my dad was a kid, it was his family’s tradition to go Christmas tree hunting the first Sunday in December. Instead of simply driving a few city blocks to a makeshift tree lot outside of a grocery store, as most do today, they’d make it a day’s event: drive out to the country, find their own lot, cut down the perfect tree and hitch it onto the top of their car themselves. It was magical.
Times have changed for John. His children too have grown up and the magic has subsided. But it was this nostalgia that motivated him to cut down his very own tree at the cottage and gift it to his sister Janet a few years ago.
Janet was happy to receive the tree. It was organic and needed little care, the branches fell perfectly and John cut the stem himself so it would fit flawlessly in her front room. And it did.
Two days after the tree was up, the scent struck.
“What’s that smell?” Janet asked disgustedly.
“I think kitty peed,” Rachel said pointing to the tree. She squinted her eyes and plugged her nose to block out the pungent smell.
“Where?” Janet was already on her knees searching for puddles under the Christmas tree in her front room.
“I dunno Mom,” a nasal-sounding Rachel complained, still plugging her nose, “But it smells bad.” Rachel knelt down beside her mom and the two began rummaging under the tree, pulling out presents in search of the stinky puddle.
To a passerby outside, the tree was perfect. Its lights twinkled and its eclectic range of ornaments- from baby’s first Christmas to red and silver bulbs- signified a child lived there. To Janet, the tree brought back memories of her own childhood. It was a bona fide symbol of the Christmas spirit.
That night Rachel and Janet undressed and dressed the tree twice but couldn’t find the stench’s source.
The next morning, the room reeked even worse. Janet shared her troubling story at work.
“Is it a Cat Spruce?” her colleague asked.
“A what?” Janet reacted.
“A Cat Spruce. They’re actually White Spruces, but when they get hot and when needles are crushed, they smell like cat pee.”
Turns out that’s exactly what it was. Any real forester would know; my Dad, the lawyer, hadn’t a clue. Let’s just say his one-day stint, as a lumberjack was short-lived.
My Dad’s heartfelt gift of a tree, intended to provoke fond childhood memories from my aunt, provoked nothing more than one’s gag reflex- my aunt’s front room smelled like a giant kitty litter.
Sure, Christmas is a time for giving, a time for sharing. But learn from John and don’t give a Cat Spruce. Simply put, they smell like piss.