FROM: Lisa Love
TO: Percy Baxter, President, HOA of Gestapo Gardens Subdivision
RE: Fines can be Levied for Noncompliance of HOA Tenets
July 20, 2015 10:32 A.M.

Dear Percy,

This email is to confirm that this morning I received your HOA letter regarding my Christmas tree. Needless to say, I was taken aback to think that my tree could cause you and the Association such consternation. Honestly, I’m confused as to the nature of my infraction—is it that my tree is still prominently displayed in my living room window in July? Or is your grievance that some of the twinkle lights aren’t twinkling anymore, and my tree is only half lit (which truly, I suspected you might’ve been when you composed your letter)? Of all the issues, large and small, plaguing our subdivision (such as the front entrance sprinkler system routinely malfunctioning and spewing geysers of water hundreds of feet into the air), I find it rather bemusing that my tree is Number 1 on your hit list of “Things to Be Addressed at the Next HOA Meeting.”

Nonetheless, I respect your authority as president of the association, so I would like to take this opportunity to give you the background 411, just in case there’s a plan to haul me before Judge Judy. After hearing the rest of the story, you too might come to appreciate “The Artificial Tree That Would Not Die.”

First, I blame this predicament on my delight—no, my fanciful obsession—with twinkle lights! Yes, dancing, sparkly twinkly Christmas lights NEVER fail to brighten my mood and plaster a huge grin on my face! How ’bout you, Percy? Not so much, I take it. And in July, you ask? Let me try to explain.

Last year as the holidays approached, I told myself that Christmas 2014 was going to be different. It really was! My hope? A peaceful, organized, joy-filled Christmas. My heart’s desire was a simpler celebration where the true meaning—Christ’s birth—was not going to be shoved aside like the Nativity under the tree where it would become overshadowed by the mountain of gifts surrounding it. Nope, I said, Jesus was to be honored, and I was not to go crazy.  Well, it was a nice thought, anyway.

My strategy? First, put to death the accusatory voice of Martha Stewart that usually rings in my ears. Her evil chants of, “DO MORE, DO IT BIGGER, ALL HOMEMADE” typically steals my Christmas joy faster than big city rioter nabbing a 55-inch flat screen! Mind you, “Millionaire Martha” has a staff of thousands at her beck and call to manufacture those visions of candied sugarplums that dance crazily in her “it’s a good thing” head. I have a somewhat smaller staff of one, so I was determined to boycott her Christmas specials AND her holiday magazine issues this year. Truthfully, I thought I might be just three signatures away from being involuntarily committed to a 12-Step Program for “Crazy Expectations and Christmas Chaos Withdrawals.”

You know the recipe for Christmas chaos, don’t ya?  Take one people pleaser (ME!), add unrealistic expectations bombarding you from the media (thank you, MARTHA!), fold in an already hectic work schedule, blend in office parties, mandatory Secret Santa gift exchanges and choir practice for the Christmas program. Sprinkle liberally with broken ornaments, last-minute dashes to the mall and hemorrhaging bank accounts. Add splashes of weariness and disappointment and simmer with one bickering family (MINE!). Finally, bring all those dream-dashing ingredients to a rolling boil! Merry Christmas? Bah, humbug!

So...what was my prayer for Christmas 2013? Keep a tight lid on chaos, clutter and commercialism.  This year, the focus would be on Jesus!

This focus, however, was quickly blurred by the 2013 HOLIDAY DEBACLE. “What DEBACLE?” you ask? Oh, surely you heard all about it from the neighbors. Around here, we took to calling it “The Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia”! But hey, from the smoldering Holiday ashes rose a Phoenix in the shape of a brand-spanking-new ten-foot Colorado spruce with 1200 twinkly lights. Expensive, yes—but I got to order it online, it was delivered in less than four days and when it arrived, the delivery guy even took the huge box down to my basement for me! Thank you, Target and uber helpful UPS man. You helped me start my journey to a more stress-free Christmas! 

But I digress…back to the aforementioned DEBACLE. What exactly was the straw that broke the Christmas camel’s back? Honey, not just the camel, but the sheep, and anyone else standing guard over the baby Jesus. I remember it like it was—well—like it was last year! One evening, while enjoying the glow of the tree—filled with enough twinkly lights to cause retinal damage—I glanced down at the Nativity and noticed that there was getting to be quite a bit more “room in the inn,” so to speak. Wow, can you say “All Points Bulletin” for Nativity figurines? Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the camels and sheep had been forcibly relocated (as per the tell-tale bite marks). Maybe I should have noticed sooner, but work and “Christmas-ing” had kept me preoccupied!  However, while I may have taken slight notice of the disappearance of the livestock, it was the systematic beheading of two of the three wise men that really grabbed my attention. And trust me, You don’t EVEN want to know what atrocity was visited upon sweet Joseph.

Searching the living room, I found mangled, headless bodies unceremoniously buried in a ficus tree plant and under sofa cushions. The Evil Doer? It appeared that Buddy, my black terrier, had declared the Mother of all Jihads against my manger; yes, he was waging the ultimate War on Christmas.

I felt betrayed, obviously, Buddy had lulled me into a false sense of security; it had been a while since he had gone on a “chewing spree”—I really thought the incident in which he “bridge-jacked” my elderly aunt’s false teeth had been a dramatic end to his canine crime ( But, apparently he had taken a turn for the worse, turning from a terrier into a holy terrier-ist.

It may have taken me a while to catch on to his doggy carnage, but it was his brazen disregard for Christmas and all things holy that finally pushed me over the edge. My living room became Ground Zero the night the furry Jihadist dropped a chewed-up baby Jesus at my feet.

“Oh no, you didn’t!” I screamed at Buddy. This mangled figurine before me was the equivalent to waking up with a horse’s head in my bed. YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE BABY JESUS, Devil Dog!  As I attempted to snatch it up to safety, Buddy—as if carrying out the wishes of King Herod himself—clamped his jaws around the babe and made a dash for the tree.  Within the safe confines of the low-hanging branches, he turned to stare at me, eyes defiant as he chomped on the figurine with the same fervor he chomped on the expensive deer antlers I got him from PetSmart.

That did it. MY war on HIS terror had taken an ominous turn. I angrily stomped toward Buddy, which just made him dive further under the tree with rebellious abandon. I shimmied on my stomach under the tree to wrestle the baby Jesus from the drooling locked jaws of the furry felon, but he eluded my grasp once more. I slithered in further under the tree, and once I cornered the wild eyed beast, I popped him on the nose with a rather gaily wrapped Christmas gift.  Momentarily stunned, he dropped the figurine, and high tailed it from under the tree, as he let out a growl that sounded a lot like “Ali Akbark,  WOOF, WOOF.”  I stretched out my trembling arm and grasped the slobbered-on Christmas child! I saved Jesus, I saved Jesus, my heart sang.

However, my exuberant joy was short lived. As Buddy had made his hurried retreat, the extension cord to the tree lights had gotten wrapped around one of his hind legs. Clutching the baby Jesus figure to my chest, I swear I heard it before I felt it. Yep, T-I-M-B-E-R! Before I could slide out from under the tree, it toppled. On my stomach, prostrate, I was surrounded by shattered glass ornaments—many that had belonged to my Nana—and twinkly lights that were no longer happily twinkling, but were sparking and hissing. Are you kidding me?  Was I really going to get electrocuted for trying to save baby Jesus?

I started to whimper, but I was only allowed to wallow in my despair for a moment, as the power started to flicker, then total darkness descended.  (hence, the afore-mentioned reference to “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” Percy). Obviously, the shorting-out twinkle lights had tripped my circuit breaker. Thankfully, I’d gotten a stay of execution, and my demise was put on hold.  However, still trapped under a toppled ten-foot tree in the dark, surrounded by shards of glass, I resumed crying while I pitifully assessed my situation.  I could scream, but, home alone, no one would hear me. I started wishing I had trained Buddy better; he could at least have notified the neighbors—Lassie style—that I was trapped under a tree. Hmmm, wasn’t gonna happen. And then the thought occurred to me. Where are those Jehovah Witnesses when you need them?  Any other time, there’s a least three of them camped out on my doorstep, pamphlets in hand.  Please.  I’ll promise to read one of the brochures if you’d just CALL 911!

An hour later—and no sign of religious zealots coming to help—I finally managed to overcome my paralyzing fear of shattered glass and the mind-numbing darkness surrounding me enough to crawl out from under the prickly-needled tree to freedom. I was bruised, cut up and shaken, but alive. After tripping the breaker back on, I swept up the glass around the fallen tree and gauged the extent of the damage to it.  Limbs were broken, most of my beloved twinkle lights stubbornly refused to twinkle, and the top of the tree was bent at a horrifying 90-degree angle. Yep, it was a goner.  Right after I found Buddy and told him about his new family in Turkey (Ali Akbark, indeed, Hell Hound!), I hauled that once-gorgeous tree out to my garage, sliding it across the floor one inch at a time. Whew!

The next morning, I ordered a brand new Christmas tree from Target’s website (it was so lush and sparkling in the online ad!), and began the L-O-N-G tedious journey of the disposing of the felled sacrificial yule log that was once my beautiful tree.

As in all things “Lisa” however, nothing is EVER as easy as it should be. Trying to find the old tree a new home was just as difficult as rehoming Buddy (Turkey rejected his Visa application!). Although the old tree had certainly seen better days, it had been a great tree to my family for years, and I thought perhaps it could still bring joy to another family.  With that in mind, I called my friend Beth and cajoled her into helping me take the tree on a little ride to the Salvation Army on Main Street. Since, the tree was ten feet tall and my SUV wasn’t, we decided to tether it to the top of my car. Don’t even ask! To this day, I’m still surprised Beth even talks to me.  FINALLY, after one hour of lifting, straining, precariously balanced on tippy toes, trying to stretch and fasten 15 narrow bungee cords across one wide tree, we decided that sucker wasn’t going anywhere!

We drove ever so cautiously to the donation site, taking the turns slowly and smoothly. Careful driving aside, we still sang (screeched) at the top of our lungs to the Christmas carols on the radio, occasionally smiling at each other, enjoying our Holiday Thelma-and-Louise bond of benevolence. Because of our collective hernias—hoisting that tree onto the SUV almost killed us—some deserving family was going to have a more joyful Christmas. I guess on the ride there—with my heart filled with goodwill and cheer—I’d actually forgotten the sorry state of the Charlie Brown tree that was precariously sliding down onto the driver’s side windshield as it made its journey to a new home. NOT SO FAST! As I pulled into its parking lot, the receiving guy from the Salvation Army snapped me out of my delusional reverie; he came out, climbed onto my running boards to give my tree the once over. Curtly, he knocked the wind right out of my charitable sails; THEY DID NOT WANT MY TREE! No way, no how! He said they wouldn’t even let me throw it away there (I suspected he thought I was trying to use them as a dump. No-o-o-o, I wanted to share her with a family for Christmas!). I knew the tree had been through the ringer—the twinkly lights refused to twinkle and the limbs were all cockeyed—but couldn’t someone else see the beauty left in it to love?  Hmmm, he said “No, they could not.” Embarrassed to have my worldly goods shunned by the Salvation Army, I skulked back to my car—but not before he could tear at my last thread of dignity by shouting at us as we pulled out of the parking lot, “And we don’t accept old tube televisions, either!” Thanks, let me write that down.

With a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment, we made our way back to the house. A cold rain started to fall; I turned on the windshield wipers. The rejected Charlie Brown tree’s overhanging branch on my windshield repeatedly brought the wipers to a screeching halt. Over and over.  Screech, thud, screech, thud.  Beth and I looked at each other and started to giggle.  Then all out belly laughing—to the point where we couldn’t breathe.  We were wheezing.  Beth, through tears, got out, “Only you, Lisa. Only you!” 

She managed to squeak out that last year, her grandmother had donated an ancient sofa that had an unmistakable aroma—a mixture of old lady and cheese—and they GLADLY took it. BUT NOT MY TREE! With tears of mirth covering our faces and cascades of rain pouring down the windshield, I pulled into the driveway and pushed the remote’s button to open the garage door. I giggled out loud one more time. “Beth, The Salvation Army DISSED me BIG TIME! THEY DISSED ME! Oh Lord, it IS ME?!” 

I pulled into the garage. BAM! BAM!! BAM!!! Thunder? No. A ground jolting thud shook my SUV. Beth and I, upon impact, were thrown forward, straining against our seat belts. The car came to an abrupt halt, as did our hearts.  WHAT WAS THAT? Scrambling from the car into the rain, we immediately saw the problem. Brain dead, I tell ya, Percy. I was officially brain dead! I had tried to drive into the garage COMPLETELY FORGETTING THE CHARLIE BROWN TREE WAS TETHERED TO THE TOP OF MY SUV!!! The tree had totally slammed head first, so to speak, into the wall above my garage door, busted loose from the cords and flown backwards into the grass! Hearing the hullabaloo, my next door neighbor, Greg rushed over to see if we were okay. I actually smiled to myself as he approached us. “Out on my lawn there arose such a clatter; my neighbor sprang from his house to see what was the matter.” (Oh Percy, fun with words is one of the few things that keep me from TOTALLY cracking up).

After finding out we were only emotionally scarred, Greg asked if he could help us bring the tree inside.  “NO!” we screamed in unison. Quickly explaining our morning’s “No-Good-Deed-Goes-Unpunished” escapade, he told me he could drag it to the curb for trash pick-up. Funny, it actually hurt my heart a bit to just toss it.  The rain was now torrential, and we were getting soaked to the bone as we encircled the tree. Greg dragged the Charlie Brown tree to the curb, and we all held hands and said a few words over it (nah, just wanted to see if you were still reading).

I patiently waited for trash day. And waited. And waited. Three rainy days later, pick-up day came and went—BUT Charlie Brown did not.  Incensed, I called the sanitation service, and I was informed that they no longer picked up bulk items. When did this happen?  Remember when trash men PICKED UP YOUR TRASH—ALL OF IT??? Those were the days, my friend!  Am I waxing nostalgic ’bout the good old days of garbage collection? Heaven help me!  It was official—my search for the perfect needy home for the imperfect needy tree was over. I. GAVE. UP.  I called Greg and asked if he would just drag it around back and lay it in my basement. Rest in Pieces, Charlie Brown Tree. We called the time of death—5:22 PM.

Well, the months flew by, but memories of The Debacle never dimmed. I became a woman on a mission.  The goal? A simple, well-planned Holiday! December 2014’s mantra: “NO PROCRASTINATION” (Actually, that was Christmas 2013’s mantra, but it repeatedly got put on hold, then scrapped all together). The Christmas 2014 ground plan—aided by lists, organization and pre-buying from the previous year—started with the new tree and its pared down decorations being assembled and put up early.  Christmas cards—from a pared-down list—mailed in a timely manner this year (as opposed to after Valentine’s Day!) And cookies (Pillsbury pre-sliced—Martha Stewart just fainted!) baked for the annual cookie exchange party at my house—a gathering with a seriously pared-down guest list. Call it “A Partridge in a Pared Down Tree” kinda Christmas—sweet and simple!

Percy, you know the saying “Man plans, God laughs”? As soon as November rolled around, I was once again drowning in a vortex of work, family, holiday planning and parties; in football they call it piling on. In my life, they call it Welcome to the Holidays, Girlfriend! I had the sneaky suspicion that Operation Christmas Calm had already been driven off into a ditch. There was no way I could get all the cleaning, decorating and cooking checked off my already-busting-at-the-seams to do list.

Already at the breaking point, one more responsibility was added to my plate. My sister, Debbie, and I are very involved in a Christian Ministry that builds up leaders for Christ in the communities and local churches.  Every three months, we all gather at a dinner—a feast, really—to share music, fellowship, food and faith! Debbie and I (with tons of help) oversee the production for the evening’s festivities—including emceeing. Well, this one was scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving, and we planned a glorious Holiday-themed extravaganza.  This event takes weeks of planning, buying, prepping centerpieces and deciding on a menu. It’s work galore, but we always have the time of our lives—as do all that attend. However, needless to say, with all my time and energy divided between work and this banquet, my own household decorating for Christmas was put on hold. There’s always next year, I thought to myself as we unloaded our bins of decorations, dinnerware and centerpieces after pulling up to the venue that chilly fall day.  Thank the Lord for all those that gathered with us to roll up their sleeves and help us knock it out; we worked tirelessly for hours getting all the finishing touches just right.  About thirty minutes before the program began, I went into an empty stall in the ladies room to change clothes, fix my hair and refresh my makeup.  I also tried to gather my thoughts and calm down a bit—public speaking scares the pudding out of me—and every time I have to do this, I’m a quivering pillar of Jello!  Talking to the Lord the entire time, I started to change my clothes from the ragged t-shirt and yoga pants (in which I’d worked up quite a sweat) into a fancier, CLEAN outfit!  Hurriedly, I pulled out my blazer and top and hung them over the stall door. I went back to the hanger to get my dress pants. No, no, no!  Where were my dress pants?  They sure as shooting weren’t in the stall with me. I was standing in my underwear in a handicapable stall! Well, wasn’t that special? Using my cell, I sent out an urgent SOS, begging my girlfriends to come help me...PRONTO!  One minute later, I had a search party combing the venue, my car, the parking lot...every inch of that place. I wanted—NO, NEEDED—MY DRESS PANTS!!! My friend Ellen thought this was the PERFECT time to remind me of a dream I’d shared with her weeks before. Knowing I dreaded speaking in front a large crowd, I shared with her that I’d had a dream where I was up on the stage, holding the my underwear. Oh great. Turns out, I have the gift of prophecy (insert sarcastic smiley-face here)! Debbie came into the bathroom and tried to pry me down off the ledge—or in this case out of the stall. She, Ellen and my other friends convinced me that my sweaty, nasty yoga pants would look just MARVELOUS. Sure! I’d be up on stage, and from that distance, along with complementing them with my blazer and jewelry, no one would be the wiser. Right! I resisted for a few minutes, but the clock was our enemy, the crowds had arrived and, as they say, the show must go on. Reluctantly, I put the sweaty yoga pants back on. Ellen did a wonderful job with my makeup and hair (I had started to sweat like a working girl in church!)  The evening did go on and it was a smashing success (Debbie, myself and our great team put the ho, ho, ho back in hostessing). No one (but my inner circle) knew about the pants that had gone mysteriously MIA! I just prayed everyone stayed downwind of me!

After dinner, worship and communion, the night ended; then the real fun began. Although I was asleep on my feet at that point, it was time to dismantle this shindig and pack up. Once again though, many hands made light work; everyone was moving, folding, cleaning and sweeping. Others loaded all the bins back into my SUV.  At 10:30 pm, I shuffled to my car on crying feet! Debbie came to hug me goodnight and as she did, she whispered in my ear, “I’m not supposed to say anything to you, but there’s a surprise waiting for you at home. A little elf told me so!” No fair, who are the elves? I asked her. She smiled and said Heather and Adam (my niece and her son, my great nephew) had put up my tree for me. I could have burst out crying, I was so touched.  And so exhausted. As I climbed in the car, she added,” By the way, burn those yoga pants!” Yes ma’am, older, wiser sister!

As weary as I was, the anticipation thrilled me. I couldn’t wait to see my new tree in all of its twinkly light glory.  Whoo, HOO. Percy, did I mention, I like surprises and I love Christmas?

Finally home, I put the car in park and hopped out. What the heck? What was that? IMMEDIATELY I recognized my pants on the garage floor. Friends had been literally COMBING the venue in a grid formation looking for these pants! But, I was too tired to care; I snatched them off the dirty floor. At that point in the saga, my pants and I entered a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Though it had been a long and tiring night, I was still filled with anticipation of seeing my new tree in all its glory.  Thanking God for my wonderful giving family, I closed my eyes and opened the door to the living room. Deep breath and then WHAT??? I rubbed my eyes, and tried to refocus my eyes.  Surely they were deceiving me. Suddenly, I had the same sick feeling I had earlier that night when I couldn’t find my pants. MY DISAPPOINTMENT WAS PALPABLE! Before me stood a crooked tree, listing to the right with remarkably few twinkle lights twinkling. It wasn’t lush like the online ad had depicted; it was pitiful and sad—as was I. I tiptoed closer. My heart sank. The tree was so sparse; there were ghastly gaps between the branches—canyons of vast emptiness.  Green cords woven in and out created an electrical superhighway all through the tree. Sadness turned to anger. I had paid a fortune for this? 

Though the hour was late, I called my niece. Before I could ask her about this monstrosity in my living room, she began to talk; her words tumbling out like a waterfall. So excited and pleased, she asked me, “Aunt Wisi, do you love it”? I let out the breath I’d been holding since I first laid eyes on the tree. And I listened. Really listened. She said they had worked on it all afternoon until late into the night; the tree had given them fits. The stand was bent and only half the twinkle lights would stay on. Investigating the cause, they changed all the fuses in the tree and tested each little bulb to try and find the problem. When that had failed—after two hours of trying—they had trekked to the Dollar Tree and bought 20 strands of lights (’cause they knew how much I loved lights).  She went on to say that the tree looked kinda bare in spots, so they had gotten tiny branches from my backyard and stuck them in the tree here and there to fill in the empty spaces. And with pride in her voice, she said that she and Adam had rummaged through my Christmas bins and found the few remaining precious ornaments of Nana’s that weren’t destroyed last year—in the DEBACLE.

“Wisi, we wanted to surprise you and make it pretty!” As she talked, I looked at the ugly tree with new eyes; no, it didn’t look ONE BIT like the picture in the ad or on the box. But love had put this tree up and decorated it for me.  My family, knowing how jam-packed my schedule was and how tired I had been, gave me a gift money couldn’t buy. They spent an entire evening putting together and decorating a tree for me (and trust me, that has never been their forte in the least!) SO it was definitely a labor of love. As she talked, I calmed my breathing and decided it wasn’t that bad.  My mama used to say, “People first, things Second.” The tree didn’t make Christmas; love and family did.  I thanked her—a real thanks from my heart—and hung up. My heart feeling warm, I got up from the chair; hmmm, what was that I saw? Light was reflecting off something above the tree top.  I got closer. Was that fishing line coming down from my ceiling?  By golly it was. Fishing line was tied to the top of the tree and hung from a little hook in my ceiling.  Lord help me, I was gonna kill ’em!

I could barely sleep all night, tossing, turning while my thoughts—and stomach— churned. I looked at the time on my cell repeatedly,  just waiting until 9:00 AM to call Target’s Customer Service 800 number and give them a piece of my mind—a piece I could ill afford to part with at that point. Before dawn, I gave up trying to sleep and rummaged through my office files to find my receipt for the tree.  Thank goodness I’m an EXCELLENT record keeper—ohhh, that makes the men swoon, I’m sure. I found not only the receipt, but the owner’s manual and the warranty, as well. I went downstairs and brewed some coffee; a major caffeine jolt was needed for this mission. Walking past the tree on the way to the kitchen, I thought, MAYBE it wasn’t as bad as I remembered—I mean I’d been so tired, right? I plugged in the cord to the tree and stepped back to gaze at it. Yep. Hideous.

Coffee in hand, I got on the phone to Target. After letting her know my predicament— crooked tree, lights didn’t work, stand broken, branches missing—in my usual sweet, dulcet Southern tones, “Snippy Customer Service Girl” interrupted me to say there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING they could do for me, because I’d bought the tree last year. It was out of warranty, and it was too late for either a store credit or a cash refund. I tried to remain calm as I explained the reason I hadn’t known the tree was UBER DEFECTIVE was that I bought it to use THIS Christmas, so when it was delivered, the nice UPS man put the unopened box in the basement to be stored until NOW!  “Sorry,” she said (she didn’t sound sorry one bit!). I was finished trying Southern charm; it was time to bring out the big guns. I told her in no uncertain terms that I had all day to sit on the phone with her, her supervisor, his supervisor and his supervisor’s supervisor. I said I didn’t plunk this kind of money down for a tree that needed to be on life support—heck, it was being held up by fishing line, for goodness sakes—straight out of the box.  I told her to put her feet up and buckle her seatbelt, ’cause this was going to be a bumpy ride! I then demanded her customer service I.D. number and her email address, because I was going to snap a pic of my receipt and this pathetic excuse for a tree; the pic was going to be emailed to her and forwarded to her boss and all the local Atlanta news channels.

“Won’t this be a great human interest story for Christmas time?” I purred into her ear. I sent the pic of the “Little Tree that Couldn’t” to her email and waited for her to open it. She put me on hold. In my experience with customer service, I have found that the longer you keep them talking, eventually they will do the right thing—if no other reason than to make you hang up the dang phone and leave them in peace. I don’t care. A win is a win. Twenty-seven minutes later (I knew she’d thought I’d hang up, oh silly girl!), she said that after conferring with her boss and showing him the tree’s mug shot (she didn’t say that!), he had decided to give me a complete refund to my credit card for my trouble. Gracious in victory, I thanked her and asked if they wanted me to return the tree. I swear I heard a snicker as she said, “Lord no, we could never resell that pitiful excuse for a tree. Keep it, ma’am.” I hung up pleased; it’s true, the customer IS always right, ya know!

Well, almost. I tried to make the best of an ugly tree. My friend Ellen came over and made beautiful rose-colored silk bows to fill the empty cavities between the drooping branches. She wove the same ribbon in and out around the tree’s trunk to try and add color, while simultaneously hiding all those green twinkle-light cords. Friends and family took to bringing an ornament with them every visit to hang on the tree to add to my collection and distract me from its GLARING imperfections. But life is short, and there are way more important things to worry about than this tree. Why was I complaining?  I’d gotten a full refund and really, considering all the time, love and energy that had been put into the ugly tree by friends and family, it actually started to grow on me. Ya know, so ugly that its kinda cute.  Like Jay Leno.

Three weeks after the ugly tree and I had made peace, I went down to the basement to get the bins I use to store my gift wrapping accessories—yes, I was way late getting around to wrapping Christmas gifts!  I made my way down the stairs, flipped on the light and turned the corner to my storage area. Grabbing two of the bins—one with paper and bows, the other holding decorative gift bags—I thought I’d give the basement a quick tidying up. Not a cleaning, just straightening boxes and papers.  As I made my way to the back corner of the basement, I saw the box that my new Christmas tree had come it. Ugh, the picture on the outside of it once again taunted me with LIES! It didn’t look anything like that Pristine Winter Wonderland Beauty. Getting closer, I got angry all over again at the blatant false advertising. It would have been SO LOVELY!!  Now closer to the box, I bent down to read what all it was supposed to have been like when I noticed something. The box was totally taped up. Why did Heather and Adam tape up the empty box?  I kicked at it. OUCH! Oh Lord, it wasn’t empty. THE BOX WAS TAPED UP AND IT WASN’T EMPTY!!! My mind was whirling. I couldn’t process this. THE BOX IS TAPED UP AND IT ISN’T EMPTY! Think Lisa, think! Wait a minute. It hit me. Where was that Charlie Brown Tree? The tree Buddy had helped to topple? The sad tree that Salvation Army wouldn’t even take. Where was the tree that had hit the wall of my house with blunt force trauma from the top of my car? The tree I couldn’t even get the trash man to haul away?  The tree that Greg had dragged out of a three-day rain and dumped it in this very same basement?  WHERE WAS THE CHARLIE BROWN TREE? Frantically, I looked all over the basement.  But I knew.  Yes, I knew where the Charlie Brown tree was…  IT WAS IN MY LIVING ROOM.  They had brought up the CHARLIE BROWN TREE!!!

Oh my word!  Time to call Target. (Insert embarrassed face here!)

Percy, I feel sure that you probably quit reading this email ’bout halfway through it— probably around the wise men beheadings. Just let me say, I’ve grown to love and admire this tenacious little half-lit tree; a tree hanging on by a thread (literally), that embodies my life’s motto—never quit. Never surrender! So my tree, in all its faded glory has had hearts on it for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Paddy’s and Easter eggs to celebrate the Resurrection at Easter! Each holiday that passes, more lights quit twinkling and more needles fall. As I write this to you, my ugly little tree is covered in tiny American flags, ever so proudly, crookedly listing to one side in front of my living room window. Percy, this tree is going nowhere; not till it falls over on its own (and that fishing line is pretty darn tough!).

But respecting the authority of you and the HOA, tonight, under cover of darkness, I will drive by your house and slip the check covering my fine into your mailbox. My bank account’s loss is freedom’s gain! In the time-honored fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of Individual Decorating Preferences, I stand unbowed and more determined than ever!

And around midnight tonight—if you listen closely—you just might hear me exclaim as I drive out of sight; MERRY 4th of July to all and to all, TWINKLE LIGHTS!!!

Lisa Love, a talented and insightful writer with a skewed sense of humor, looks for, and often finds the absurd masquerading as the mundane.

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