We have a tradition around here.
We put up our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving day.
Seventeen years ago, our first Christmas together (my wife and I that is), we lived in a small townhouse in Pensacola. There wasn't much room and we managed a 2ft tall artificial tree on a table in the living room. Your basic Charlie Brown tree, but we didn't much care - it was our first Christmas and we had fun anyway.
By the following Christmas we had moved to the wilds of northern Maine and into a small ramshackle mouse-infested house on a hill overlooking the spectacular Frenchman Bay. That year we brought a small fir tree from a lot in Ellsworth for far too much money. We discovered that real trees make the house smell great. We also learned that cleaning up the gradually increasing pile of needles isn't too painful - on a hardwood floor.
The year after that, we'd moved further north to the little town of Milbridge and rented a larger and nicer place, rodent free, in the deep woods outside of town. We had a real tree that year too - and discovered that real trees are a pain. No matter what you do, they dry out. Then they become a major fire hazard. And cleaning endless piles of razor sharp and pointy needles out of carpet is a damned difficult process.
The following year we bought ourselves an artificial tree.
We had that tree for many years, and still do in a box in the basement storeroom, and enjoyed it just fine. But a couple of seasons back my wife decided it was time to upgrade. Hey, she reasoned, we already have an artificial tree, why not go all the way and get a fiber optic tree? So we did. The base uses a colored rotating filter wheel above a halogen projection light, transmitted through bundles of fiber optics to the tips of each branch. The tree slowly changes colors in rippling patterns and it's cool as all get out.
There's just one problem - at six foot tall, it's too small.
See, we do Christmas in our sunroom, where we can close the doors and lock out the cats and thus prevent feline mischief to the Christmas decorations. Next to the shop, the sunroom was one of the major reasons we bought this place. The sunroom, and the view out its windows looking down into the MatSu and across the valley at Pioneer Peak, is fully as spectacular as that first little house we lived in back in Maine.
But, see, the sunroom's ceiling is a full 25' high. On the ground floor the sunroom opens off the kitchen on one level, and off the den slightly below it on the ground level. On the second floor, the office opens out on to a balcony halfway up the sunroom's inside wall. And that little fiber optic tree is just lost in there.
We talked about getting a larger tree, but really hadn't put much effort into it. Then a couple of weeks after Christmas last year, we were wandering through the local Wasilla Fred Meyer. See, my wife is of the opinion that you can never have too many Christmas decorations, and every year since we've been married we prowl the stores in January looking for orphaned decorations at bargain basement prices.
Last year we found the tree.
It's a twelve foot tall monster - obviously designed to go in the lobby of a hotel or business, not your standard home decoration. Normally $500, it was marked way, way down. And on top of that there was sign saying that everything was 50% of the marked price. Hmmm, 50% off $500? or 50% off the sale price? My wife went to find a manager, while I sat on the one remaining box to keep other post-xmas predators away. My wife came back with the manager in tow. The manager examined the price tags and sale signs and said, nope, sorry, the price was 50% off the original price. We thanked her and decided that $250 was still a damned good price and sent our son to find a flatbed cart while I began wrestling the giant box out from under the storage rack.
The manager came back.
She said, "You know, that sign is deceptive. It says 50% off the marked price. The price on the tree is marked down. We should have been more clear. I'll give you the tree for 50% off the marked sale price."
Deal! And no mention of the fact that we were going to buy it anyway. But then it was fairly obvious that the manager was also calculating the odds of somebody else actually buying that behemoth, the cost of returning inventory from Alaska, and the advantage of getting the shelves cleared for the spring seasonal merchandise. Giving us a deal was to her advantage, and ours - and who the hell am I to argue about her motives? Especially when they coincide with mine?
Now, at this point I should also mention that Fred Meyer, at least in my experience, has always had outstanding customer service. Their employees are without exception neat, polite, and knowledgeable. The stores are always well organized, stocked, and clean - which is something I can't say about the local Alaskan favorite chain, Carrs, which I really don't like for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that their stores are always dirty.
The manager went off with my wife to make sure the cashier rang up the agreed on price and sent a stockboy to help me load the rather large box onto the cart.
And here, we (meaning me, the manager, and the stockboy) managed to overlook one critical item. Well, two, actually. We'll come back to that in a minute.
I loaded the box in the truck, collected my wife and son, and we giggled all the way home at our good fortune and in anticipation of how that monstrous tree would look in our sunroom. Yes, we literally giggled. A lot. There were grins and other such happy noises. We like deals, we do. Especially Christmas deals. We stashed the tree in the basement storeroom, next to the now pathetically small fiber optic tree that had seemed so cool and hi-tec not so long before, and the shoddy and threadbare older tree. We piled up the boxes of new ornaments and decorations (What? You buy a new giant tree, you gotta get a bunch of new decorations to cover it - that's a lot of yuletide real estate. And the decorations were on sale).
Periodically, over the last year, the subject of the "Giant Tree" would come up - and we all looked forward to Thanksgiving and the day we would put it up while the turkey was cooking per immutable Family Tradition.
A month ago we bought some LED Christmas lights. We looked for them last year, but they hadn't reached Alaska yet. This year we went early, and at the same Fred Meyer found them on sale at the beginning of November. Woohoo. We being of the opinion that you can never have enough Christmas lights. And LED lights are cool, literally, and they're bright, and they draw a lot less power and last basically forever. So yeah, we bought twelve boxes of them.
So, Thursday morning I got up early and started prepping the Turkey and making dressing (Not stuffing, I cook the bird unstuffed, dressing goes in a large casserole dish and cooks separately. I make my dressing with sausage, cooking it separately ensures that it is fully cooked without over cooking the bird into dried jerky). My wife made sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and we put things on to cook. While Becky peeled potatoes I went down to the storeroom to pull out the tree and the boxes and boxes and boxes of decorations.
We were in a high state of anticipation.
It was at that point I noticed something on the tree box. Something I probably should have noted eleven months ago.
Something I, the store manager, and the stockboy had perhaps overlooked.
Something that could, quite possibly, lead to my untimely demise.
I opened the box. There didn't seem to be enough tree parts.
As we used to say in the Navy, this was non-optimal.
Dark clouds began to gather overhead (metaphorically and literally, it snowed like a bitch all weekend).
See the end of the box says "Box 1 of 2."
But I only had one.
Seems I was missing about nine feet of tree. The upper nine feet to be precise.
Seems that I should have checked the contents of the box last year, rather than just stashing it in the the storeroom.
I really had no one to blame other than myself - and it was a pretty good bet that everybody else in the household would blame exactly the same guy.
I wandered about the storeroom aimlessly for a while, hoping that the second box would, you know, magically appear. I carried up the decorations, so as to make it appear I wasn't actually stalling for time.
The family began to grow suspicious.
I began to examine a variety of options regarding how, exactly, I would explain to my wife and son (whom I visualized with angry expressions, energy efficient LED torches, and pitchforks festively decorated like candy canes) that I somehow managed to lose nine feet of the tree. I also began to examine the option of just running for the truck and setting off into the wilderness. Better to die peacefully of exposure after the fuel ran out than to be torn apart by the angry mob. I've seen combat, I don't fear bullets or death - but I do fear my wife. Hmmm, now where did I put my truck keys?
It was not to be. She caught me, just as I was reaching for my jacket and hat. And I had to fess up.
She took it better than I expected, especially since I successfully deflected blame onto the hapless stockboy (Hey, better him than me, sacrifices have to be made and he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. Serves the bastard right for ruining Christmas).
Now, what are the odds that Fred Meyer would fix the situation? Especially considering that we no longer had the receipt and that it was at least partly my fault for not checking the boxes at the time of purchase? Which, if you remember, was last January.
Well, on the theory that it never hurts to ask, my wife went up to Fred Meyer's to talk to the manager. Now try to picture this, a strange (but awesomely beautiful) woman shows up, says she bought a Christmas tree last year from your store, she claims she didn't get all the parts, she doesn't have a receipt, and she asks the store to make good on the situation.
What are the odds that Fred Meyer would fix the situation? Pretty damned good actually. Remember what I said about customer service? Well, they're serious about it - OK, and maybe just a little terrified of my wife.
The manager did the best he could to fix it. Unfortunately, they no longer carry that 12 foot tree. Nobody ever bought them, they're just too huge and expensive. And they long ago disposed of that mysterious extra box labeled "2 of 2." So, the manager gave my wife a gift card for the full sale price and apologized for her trouble and aggravation. And seriously here folks, that's just plain outstanding considering the circumstances and the fact that he really wasn't under any obligation whatsoever other than a mandate to make his customers happy.
However, the story doesn't end there. Not quite.
See, the same store carries nine foot trees - from the same manufacturer as the aforementioned twelve foot tree. Nine feet, as you'll recall is about the amount I'm missing from the original tree. Now, I reasoned, wouldn't it make sense from a manufacturing standpoint if the components of the nine footer were the upper nine feet of the twelve footer, and the upper six feet of that were the six footer, and the upper three feet of that were the three footer? Seemed logical, doesn't it?
So, I set up the bottom part of the twelve footer, and measured across the top. Five feet. Then, we took the gift card and went back to Freddy's and checked the dimensions on the nine footer. Sure enough, the base was an exact match. They also had one set up on display, and the department manager helped me check the construction, and it sure as hell looked like I could just plug the nine footer into the pieces I had and get a twelve foot tree out of it.
So, we bought the nine footer - which was marked 25% off on a Black Friday special, which brought the price to exactly $12 above the value of the gift card.
By this time, it was late in the day and we had obligations elsewhere. So we dropped the box off at home and headed to Anchorage. Saturday morning, however, I got up early and set about assembling the tree. Six hours on a ladder later and here's what we ended up with:
Christmas is saved!
Thanks in large part to Fred Meyer, where customer service does indeed matter.
The old fiber optic tree ended up on the balcony of the sunroom (directly above my head in the above picture). All in all it's pretty spectacular in there, and very Christmasy.
Now, if we can just keep the cats out of the sunroom...