We haven’t had a real Christmas tree for some years. By real, I mean the fir trees you pick up in a repurposed lot.

I liked the real trees. We always had real Christmas trees when I was a kid. And picking one out made for a family outing. We’d wander through rows of cut trees. Somewhere in there was just the right tree. And when we found it, we went for something less expensive.

I think we had real trees on Guam. I was there from the late ’50s to early ’60s, grades two through five. Fir trees weren’t exactly native to the island. But they were probably brought in by boat. Santa, as I understood it then, had a global operation. So he must have visited. It was the tropics, so he probably changed into Bermuda shorts for the run.

Rudolph wore sunglasses.

Years later in Phoenix, my dad bought a live fir tree. After Christmas, he planted it in the backyard. Years after that, it grew to 30 feet. And years after that, it died and my dad had it cut down.

Nobody seemed to mind. The tree had a good run. The olive tree was a different story. The canopy extended over the driveway and shaded the cars. My mom even harvested the olives one year and canned them.

They would never go bad. They had enough salt in them to brine a buffalo.

My dad, it happens, never liked the tree. But he knew how much my mom did. So he waited until she was out shopping to cut it down.

She was upset, to say the least.

Years after that, I moved to south Phoenix, with wife Cindy and daughter Sarah. We bought a live Christmas tree. It wasn’t traditional, in the fir-tree sense. It was a citrus tree, still in the planter. We put it up in the living room and decorated it. An angel sat atop. Below, we had Santas, a string of sparkly stars and decorative bulbs. One said, “Baby’s 1st Christmas.”

It wasn’t really her first Christmas, by then. But we liked the ornament.

Presents circled the tree. After Christmas, I planted it in the backyard. I thought it was a grapefruit tree. It produced oranges instead. Not many of them. And the tree never thrived. I should have watered it more.

I probably needed a longer hose.

One Christmas, we had a velvet mesquite tree. We worked around the thorns as we hung ornaments. It was just a baby tree. Now it’s in the front yard, fully grown.

A Christmas or two later we went artificial.

At first, assembly was easy. In the box, the branches were arranged by size. You fixed them to the trunk, a metal post. Little ones on the treetop. Big ones at the bottom. When we took them down, we tossed them all in a big plastic bin. With each Christmas, they became more mixed up.

Placing them became a guessing game. This branch goes here. That branch goes there. Over time, the tree started to look kind of lumpy.

Last December, we pulled out the bin, opened it up and stared into the churned-up heap of branches. We told ourselves: “No mas.”

We headed to the nursery to pick out a live tree. A worker steered us to a small bottlebrush. Just the right size. It fit in the Prius. We took it home and set it up. The brush-like blossoms went well with the decorations.

After Christmas, I planted it in the front yard. In a large pot. It thrived, until summer. I think bottlebrushes are drought tolerant. But last summer’s record heat put drought tolerant to the test. Our bottlebrush didn’t make it.

Next time, I thought, I should get a rock. Rocks are drought tolerant.

We didn’t go that route. You can’t put presents under a rock. Last week, we went to the nursery for another live tree. We came home with a native shrub, an Arizona yellow bell. It’s in the front yard now, still in the plastic planter.

We already have a few presents to put under it. They’re scattered about the living room floor. Unwrapped.

No surprises there, in any case. Cindy bought what she wanted. I bought what I wanted.

But presents have to be wrapped. So we’ll still wrap them.

On Christmas morning, I’ll rip into mine like a third grader. And when I open the box, I’ll be so excited. “Wow, just what I always wanted! A new pair of running shoes in my favorite color of running shoes!”

Cindy will open hers: “Just what I always wanted. Yarn in the color I love for that set of towels I already have the pattern for. You shouldn’t have!”

“It was nothing.”

A few days before Christmas, we’ll make room for the shrub, our new Christmas tree. It’ll sit in front of the picture window. It’s already decorated, with clusters of yellow blooms. Nothing more is needed. We’ll leave the ornaments in the box.

Except for our sentimental favorite: “Baby’s 1st Christmas.”


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.