Story 8: Dinky and the Dying Tree


Me on Christmas 1980 the year we got Dinky.

Story 8/24: My dad doesn’t have a green thumb, although he really, really, wants one. He studied Horticulture at BYU Provo, and he moved us to a farm in Pleasant Grove (for a second). Still, plants don’t grow for him. So he does the next best thing and tries to keep them from dying. Christmas trees are no exception.

My dad is a Christmas tree snob; the fir has to be lush. It has to be looming, and it has to be real. He’d take us up a canyon to a Christmas tree farm where we’d choose a tree, strap it to the roof of our Caprice Classic station wagon and bring it home.

Once home, the fir was put on a tree stand that was filled with room temperature water and tighten in place by screws. Once the tree was decked out, tall and proud, my dad would check it—in the morning before work, right when he got home, and several times during the evening before he went to bed. He’d measure the water in the stand and rehydrate it when needed.

One year, after the same routine, my dad noticed that the bottom needles of our Christmas tree had turned brittle and brown. They fell on the carpet in a prickly ring.

He couldn’t understand why the tree was drying out. He unplugged the hot bubble lights—remember those? The bulb lights that had bubbles which would slide up a glass shaft, ones that after a few hours of being plugged in, would give anyone who touched it third-degree burns—yet the tree withered.

My dad noticed that the water was getting low in the tree stand. He checked to see if the water was leaking out, but the carpet beneath remained dry. He filled up the container a little higher than before, without luck. The source of why the tree was dying became my dad’s obsession, and he grew more and more suspicious of it, and anyone living in the house.

“Who’s draining out all the water?” he hollered. In which all eight siblings would look at each other and then at the ground, automatically feeling guilty for nothing.

After a few weeks, the bottom section of the fir tree hung in needless branches. My mom did her best to decorate them—wrapping the limbs in ribbon and tinsel. Still, we all knew what was under the glitz.

One evening, my dad gave up. He’d been hunkered down at the bottom of the tree for a while, circling it like an Archeologist at a dinosaur site, when he grumbled something, stood up, and collapsed on the couch with a groan.

The rest of us were sitting in groups around the family room watching television. Then our family dog, Dinky, wandered into the room.

Dinky was a Rough Collie—the same breed as the famous dog, Lassie. Only she looked like Lassie from the wrong side of the tracks—matted fur and missing her tail (without explanation). Previous owners had abused her, and she usually hid under tables or chairs or in the furthest corner of any room.

Our dog walked to the tree and began to gorge on the water. The old Collie must have thought the water the tree sat in was a special treat. No longer did she have to traipse to the kitchen for her water dish or drink from the toilet, she now had a fir-flavored water waiting for her.

“That damn dog!” my dad jumped up from the couch.

Dinky would have continued draining the tree water if she hadn’t been caught and her nose spanked. For the rest of the Christmas season, as well as any following, Dinky sat in the entrance of the family room, head bowed, eyes looking up, staring hungrily at the Christmas tree with the bubbling lights.





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