The perfect tree - for Paul Bunyan

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Christmas Tree has to be just right, like the porridge Goldilocks was after. For me, "just right" is a spindly tree with distinct branches so the ornaments can hang freely. Some might call it a "Charlie Brown" tree because it's transformed into a vision of beauty once you put on the ornaments and lights.

Next, consider how many sides of the tree have to be presentable. If it's going in a corner, only three sides are important. If the back is bald, only you and the wall will know.

The real challenge is when all sides are viewable and open to criticism. A straight trunk is important, too. Why is it you never notice the tree is leaning like the Tower of Pisa when it's in the middle of a field, but it's more than obvious in the confines of your living room?

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Ceiling height is important when choosing a tree. You don't want a tree that's taller than the ceiling is high. Makes it hard to put that star on top. But what if you have no ceiling? What if you have a cathedral ceiling where the sky's the limit on tree height? You must get a really tall tree.

The first year in our cathedral-ceilinged home, we went wild: a 19-footer. We couldn't help it. There were no parents handy to tell us, "Don't be ridiculous!" But, although we went wild on height, we were conservative on width. That tree was skinny. It was pretty much the same width at the bottom as it was at the top.

The second year, the tree was not so tall and a bit wider. Not especially memorable or eccentric. Not "just right."

Last year we wanted the best tree ever. My husband, Bob, and I journeyed to the local Christmas-tree-cutting place. From field to field we traveled afar, until we saw it. It was perfect. Symmetrical on all sides, wide, tall. Massive. I called over the saw guy. I warned him: It's a bit big.

He approached our tree with a mixture of awe and amusement. Steadying his saw, he cut our beauty down, then walked on to the next customer. Lying on the ground, the tree looked enormous. My beloved and I each grabbed hold of a branch to haul it out into the open.

We couldn't budge it.

We tried again and, with all our might, we finally dragged it out to where we could be picked up by the tractor guy and taken back to our car.

On the first pass, the tractor guy had other customers with sensible trees perched smartly on the trailer he was hauling. He passed us with a look of concern, but came back shortly with an empty rig. Tractor guy, saw guy, Bob, and I managed to lift the tree onto the trailer.

As we passed other customers, I began to notice their stares. They were amazed. They were stunned. They were laughing. Children were pointing

The owner of the place must have seen it all before, because he took everything in stride. He helped us place it on top of our four-wheel-drive vehicle that had never looked so small before. He even offered to cut off the branches that hung down over the windshield. And the tree cost the same as one half its size. Such a deal.

My husband had never driven so carefully. We were an oversize load, lacking only a chase car with flashing yellow lights.

Still, we made it home without incident, parking near a sliding-glass door between the house and the bird feeder. Without missing a beat, the birds started landing in our tree's branches. "Aren't those people nice!" they must have thought. "Not only do they give us birdseed, now they've provided a tree close by to rest in on our way to dinner!"

Shooing the birds out of the tree, we hauled it into the house, collapsing its branches like a closing umbrella as we pulled it through the door. They sprang back out, no problem. It took a couple tries and much groaning to get it upright. I was supposed to keep it in place as Bob hoisted it up.

The tree filled the room. You couldn't see it all at once. It was like sitting too close to the screen in a movie. Now what? We couldn't walk around it without pressing close to the walls. We tried cutting the bottom branches off. Bob would cut one, and I'd drag it across the yard to the refuse pile. Still too big. We'd have to cut some off the bottom. Like five feet.

Since Bob didn't want to have to hoist it upright again, he came up with a plan: Hang the tree from the ceiling. My husband has always been ingenious when it comes to solving problems. He's my very own MacGyver. A steel pole I'd never seen before was placed across the second-story rafters, complete with rigging and climbing rope. Soon our tree was swinging from the rope. Off came the bottom, and the tree was lowered back to earth.

It was still too wide.

At this point, I confess, I was ready to give up. I thought it was the ugliest tree ever. I thought we had been rash. I thought we'd made a big mistake.

"Wait," Bob said. "I can make the bottom branches shorter."

"But it'll look terrible!" I said. "You'll see the white cuts on the ends!"

Oh, ye of little faith. Elmer's Glue was probably never used like this before.

Bob shortened the bottom branches and glued little sprigs of green onto the cut ends. We adorned it with lights. We placed ornaments on its boughs. And do you know what?

It was just right. This was the best tree ever.

Then I thought: How are we going to get it back out of here? Oh, Boo-ooob!

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