Wednesday, December 9, 2015

That Time 10,000 Beetles Hatched Out of My Christmas Tree

So I sort of keep wanting to rant about Donald Trump, but I figure y'all are over that by now. I will say that jihadists and terrorists are Muslim the way Westboro Baptist church members are Christian, but that's all. No, it's not. Yesterday I went to yoga. It was mostly women I already knew, and before class we were muttering about Donald Trump. A new woman came in and spread her mat next to mine. I said, "I don't care what your political beliefs are except that I hope you won't vote for Donald Trump." She said, "I'm Muslim, so no worries." Because yes, we have Muslims, right here in River City Bristol. And we all remain more likely to get killed in a car wreck headed to Food City than by terrorists.

Anyhow. This morning my friend Mary lamented the death of two of her major household appliances. I feel for her--such a pain in the rear--so in solidarity told her that one year 10,000 beetles hatched out of my Christmas tree. She said, "And now you laugh about it, RIGHT? RIGHT?"

I'll leave it to you to decide.

I think my son was eight years old, which would have made it our second Christmas in this house. We've lived in Bristol for 18 years, and we always get our tree and wreaths from the same tree sellers, who set up on Volunteer Parkway right down from our old house. (I don't blame them for the beetles.) Back then we liked white pines for our Christmas tree--long, lush, soft branches. Kind of hard to hang ornaments on, but really pretty with lights.

We buy our Christmas tree on the Saturday of Thanksgiving week and decorate it on Sunday. I won't allow it to go up any earlier, and my husband loves Christmas decorations (really, I should hire the man out. He's fantastic at Christmas decorations. Every year I get complemented on the centerpiece on my dining room table and have to confess I don't have a damn thing to do with it.) So the tree had been up, and it wasn't all that close to Christmas yet because my daughter was still at school, and my son was sick with a fever and home on the couch, listless. I was just getting him to turn off SportsCenter and take a nap--it was right around midday--and I looked up to click off the tv and saw the Christmas tree enveloped in a black cloud.

At first I thought it was smoke. I honestly thought the tree was on fire. This actually happened once in my family--when my father was small, one of my great-uncles flicked a cigar ash onto the tree and the whole house burnt down. So my first instinct was to panic, grab my boy, and get out.

Then I saw that the cloud was settling. That it was seething. That it was, in fact, alive--a cloud made up of very small black insects. When I say 10,000 of them I am not exaggerating. I am not making that number up (I wish I were making that number up!). Later--much later--being of a scientific mind, I counted the number of small black insects that died all over my handmade embroidered sequined and felted Christmas tree skirt--just before I threw that sucker, unsalvageable, into the trash--and it was over 1,000.

Not. Making. That. Up.

We put our tree up in the corner of the family room, near the wall of windows. To get it there we have to pull the couch and loveseat and end tables out of the way, which meant that to get that tree and all those insects out of my house, I had to move the furniture first. I've never moved so fast. I grabbed the tree--a huge tree, of course it was--and hoisted, and spilled the water from the tree stand all over creation--drowning insects, soaking already-wrapped gifts (yeah, I don't put gifts out that early anymore, either), heaving, tripping, probably cussing, until the tree was on the front lawn.

Still fully decorated. Trailing lights and a river of tree sap.

Meanwhile, the family room was full of small black insects dying in puddles of tree sap. Great mounds of tree sap, inordinate amounts, blobbed along the floor, making a trail to show where I'd dragged the tree, and every mound, as well as the non-sapped bits of floor in between, covered with bugs. Dying bugs, thank God--I still shudder to think of all those insects flying free inside my home--but yet bugs. Unmistakably. Ten thousand of them.

I got the vacuum. And the mop. My feverish son watched from the couch--this was better than SportsCenter. I cleaned and muttered and soaked up the spilled water and moved the sopping gifts to the porch--in addition to being wet they were covered in sap and dead insects--I got my coat and went out to the tree and started stripping ornaments--they were covered in sap and dead insects--I started doing ornament triage. We had to save George Washington, one of my husband's childhood treasures, and he's made of felt, so that involved some fairly careful cleaning. Less important ornaments, including just about every one made of paper, were condemned. You have to go with what you can. I took the battle-stained tree skirt and hung it in the garage, planning to rehab it--that sucker took me months to make--but eventually recognized the job as hopeless. (My neighbor made me a quilted tree skirt to replace it. It's lovely. I like it much better than the old felted one.)

Finally I divested the tree of lights by knocking it over, grabbing onto the end of the light strand, and kicking the tree around the yard, unrolling lights as I went. I felt a little better then.

Back in the house, the magic internet gave me to understand that the insects were some sort of beetle, that the parent beetle lays eggs beneath the bark of the tree in the fall, and that the insects should have hatched in the spring, but because of the warmth of the house hatched early--too early, which is why they all immediately died. The sap came from the bark being burst open by ten thousand beetles hatching. They were entirely harmless, except, of course, that they were ten thousand beetles hatching out of the Christmas tree.

My family remembers this as a traumatic event not because of the beetles, but because it was the year Mom Made Us Buy An Artificial Tree. I did. We went to Wal-Mart that night and bought a perfectly acceptable Christmas tree, pre-lit, large, lovely, certified bug-free, and the rest of the family spent the remaining weeks of the holiday season moaning as though I'd personally murdered Santa Claus. The fake tree still sits in the corner of our basement storage. We've never used it again.

We did switch from white pine to Scotch fir--short, prickly needles, lots of good branches for hanging, and also, beetles don't lay eggs in them. So Beetle Death is not likely to happen again. Which is a good thing. It's sort of like having the fire department come to your house on Thanksgiving. It's a funny story so long as it never happens again.