Thanks to my friend Maria, a lot of people have read about my embarrassing search for the perfect Christmas tree.

It started long enough ago that the particulars of how I came to write about the search for the perfect tree are foggy, but I know Maria was the one who made me do it — whether it was because she was editing a particular Christmas supplement for our newspapers and needed material, or because it was easier than arguing with her about it anymore.

Whatever the reason, I put together a piece about my search for the “perfect” tree. Maria thought it was hysterical and, in fact, used it during more than one Christmas. I didn’t think it was all that funny, and that some of what people were responding to was the fact that almost all of them had spent a similar amount of time trying to find their perfect tree, probably with similar results.

The real problem with the search idea was the first tree I ever bought was actually the perfect tree. Janice and I, who were married at the time, found it just outside Geneseo, N.Y., where we were both trying to finish college. We paid $5 for it. We used the price tag as an ornament. Perfect.

I don’t know if that was pure luck, or our standards were higher, but it was never that easy again.

In the interest of time, let me just cut to the most horrible part — the hunting and foraging phase. Someone decided it would be great to head into the woods to cut our own tree. I say someone, because I cannot imagine I thought this was a good idea.

So , what’s the biggest problem with the tree you get? Right. It is waaaaay too big. No matter how hard you try, you cannot get perspective when you are looking at one tree amid a forest. It can be the smallest tree for miles around and still be more appropriate for the town square than your living room.

The hunting-foraging phase peaked the year our younger daughter Alison and I went alone on a weekday afternoon to get our perfect tree. I should note that, in terms of snow, knee-deep is a relative term. What was knee-deep snow for me was shoulder-deep snow for Alison, who was about 2 1/2 years old. I’d carry her for a ways, put her down, go back to drag the giant tree, then carry her, then put her down and so on.

That got old pretty quick. Then my brain kicked in. Alison was little, the snow was solidly packed … so I simply dragged Alison across the top of the snow with one arm while dragging the tree with the other. She bounced a little bit now and then, and she did sink in a few times, but I just made a big deal about her helping Daddy with the tree and, probably, told her Santa wouldn’t like it if she complained (or told her mother).

I know. I know. It’s no wonder I have trouble sleeping at night.

Once I was single again, and the kids were with their mom most of the time, the pressure was off. I bought an artificial tree, but had trouble getting it to stand up straight. So I got a coffee can, filled it with cement, and stuck the tree in the cement. Now that, brothers and sisters, was a perfect Christmas tree.

So, you’re probably wondering, what does all of this have to do with my journey through cancer? Everything, actually, because I’m not just a cancer sufferer. I’m also the guy who dragged his young daughter across the snow when looking for a Christmas tree; who saw cement as an important part of the perfect tree and the guy who married the girl of his dreams.

I’m also the guy who has looked fear in the eye and laughed (ha, ha) and looked fear in the eye and curled up in a ball and cried; who still tears up when he thinks about Samantha, the beloved cat that we had to put sleep last year but who, a few weeks ago, was finally able to find a place amid the grief for 7-month-old MacKenzie, who helps make every sorrow we have right-sized.

I’m also the guy who can honestly say that when it comes to my life … cancer is the least of it. As noted in song by Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get, we deserve.”

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog,

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