O Christmas Tree

The Cast: My Family (parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, an uncle, and aunt), Myself (mistaken)

Oh, how I love Christmas. The season, the spirit of it, the reason for it, the lights, the festivities. I love it all!

As a youth, I especially loved the tree. O Christmas tree! For many years I lived in an old pioneer home, and those homes have a propensity for tall walls, big windows, and high ceilings. Ours was like this. And it allowed for a really tall Christmas tree. I loved it. We had a whole bunch of ornaments, each child with their own collection from years past, to cover it with.

In my head, I imagine the ceiling as high as 20 feet—it seemed like that, but it was probably closer to only ten or twelve feet. Ladders were needed and lots of work, afterward however… Afterward, It was an awesome spectacle to behold. A giant tree, filled with lights, garland, and memories.

Every year—for most of my life—I (and my siblings) have received a new ornament that represented something special about that year. Or just something fun, something I would have liked. Each ornament means something special to me. A special event, a connection to my family and my past. That is what all of us had. Years of memories in ornament form. As we would decorate the tree, we would talk about the ornaments and memories. Christmas is a special time.

My home in Manti.
My house—snow added for visual effect. The Christmas tree sat in a corner so when lit, the lights would shine out a front and side window.

I do seem to be leaving out one important part of this tradition: The getting of the tree.

Because my town was at the base of a mountain, almost all the townsfolk would just go up and cut down a live tree. It was lots of fun. Each year the family (extended or not) would head up the canyon and find a good size tree and bring it back for the front room at Christmas time. So many happy memories.

Each year as we would make preparations to travel up the cold and snowy canyon I was told, “Bring your gloves, in case you need them.” So, I would. But I never needed them. It was always cold, yes. Snowy, yes. But not cold enough. Except for that one year, that year when it went below freezing.

Like I said before, I never needed gloves in years before, but I brought them along anyway but left them in our Bronco (my dad loved that vehicle) once we had parked and all got out to go tree hunt. Normally, we found the tree right away, and we did find one right off the trail. When we got closer and my mother saw it close-up, she wanted to go looking a little further along. So, we went looking a little further up. During this excursion, my hands went into and out of the snow as they dug down and around the base of a good solid tree and then began to cut the tree down. Quickly, they began to get cold. Other members of the family were helping and got the tree back to the Bronco.

As soon as my hands began to get cold, they began to feel the cold. All of it. Quickly. Down to the bone. Even inside the Bronco, my hands were not warming up. They almost seemed to be getting colder no matter what I did. Along the drive home I tried holding them near a heater vent, but the air blowing over them just kept them cooler. I tried to put my gloves on, but I couldn’t move my fingers to grip them.

As I whimpered about how much it hurt—and wasn’t getting better—I was consoled that we would soon be home and I could warm my hands up there. We could not reach it soon enough. I guess that what I was feeling then, was similar to what a person might feel before frostbite sets in. The chill was going to my bones, and my fingers would still not move.

Begging to know what I could do to warm my hands up quickly, once we were home, it was suggested that I place my hands in water. Consensus was that this was a good idea. Alright. We had the perfect sink to do that in. We had one bathroom with a wide, shallow sink and lever handles that I could rotate, even with my distortedly contorted hands.

Finally, we arrived home. I had help taking off my coat (as I couldn’t operate anything with my fingers still) and rushed to the bathroom and the soon-to-be-warmth of the bathroom water. I was about to find much needed relief, as I was certain my hands were permanently damaged by the cold. It’s a shame that sometimes, individuals assume that you just know stuff, and don’t bother to clarify the vitally important details.

Now, my understanding—at the time—was that in order to warm something up you should use warm water. So, the logic continued, if you wanted to heat something up faster, use warmer water. So I filled the sink with hot water. And it worked beautifully. For about 5 seconds.

Did you know that you can cause permanent nerve damage if you warm a cold body part up too quickly? Or that you can get serious infections? I didn’t. But I do now! Apparently, everyone else in my family knew but not me. And, nobody decided to fill me in regarding that very keen bit of vital information. According to Wikipedia: Thermal shock is a type of rapidly transient mechanical load. By definition, it is a mechanical load caused by a rapid change of temperature of a certain point. It can be also extended to the case of a thermal gradient, which makes different parts of an object expand by different amounts. This differential expansion can be more directly understood in terms of strain, than in terms of stress, as it is shown in the following. At some point, this stress can exceed the tensile strength of the material, causing a crack to form. If nothing stops this crack from propagating through the material, it will cause the object’s structure to fail. And that is what it felt like was happening in my hands!

When I turned on the hot water, I knew it would take some time to become hot, and that cold water would run out of the tap first. I also added a little cold water into the mix, so as not to burn my hands (I was thinking). As the water began to fill the bowl of the sink, water began to fill my eyes from relief. I knew in a moment that my hands were finally about to get warm.

I placed my hands into the hot water, and for about 5 seconds it felt good. Then pain began to set in. Intense pain. Horrible pain. Tremendous pain, the likes of which I have never felt again. It felt like the nerves and tissues and bones within my hands were all being crushed or ground up, in their own isolated, independent locations within what was my hands.

To compare, it was like in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (one of the best movies ever!) when Captain Kirk cries out in anger and it echos in space—an actual physics impossibility (but we all know it really did happen because, well, it’s Captain Kirk). Yeah, it was like that. And it wasn’t out of anger, it was out of pain. So, you would need to take Kirk’s anger and convert it into a physical pain, double it, and then place them in each one of my hands. That’s about what it was like. And if you haven’t seen The Wrath of Khan, shame on you. Stop reading this, go watch it—right now, then come back and finish this story. I’ll wait.

Back already? Good. Now, where were we? Oh yes, the horribly horrifically intense agony of insanely intensity—in my hands, and slowly moving up my arms.

Fortunately for me, the pain did not hit all at once, it began slowly and built up to full intensity. Over the extended period of time of a whole two seconds! At first, I began to moan, and that quickly changed into a cry of intense agony. Family rushed in to see what was happening. “My, hands! They, they hurt so bad!” Through great sobbing grunts of pain, I tried to explain what had just happened. Their response, “Why did you do that?”

“You told me to put my hands in water. I figured warm/hot water would work best.”

“Everyone knows you have to put your hands in cold water first. Because it’s still warmer than your hands. And then you slowly add warm water.” “Mmhm.” “Yup.” “That’s true.” “Yeah.”

REALLY?!?! Everyone?!?! Did you—dear reader—know?!? Hmm? Oh, I see. Well, I didn’t know.

At least they consoled me with sympathetic words like, “Well, there’s nothing we can do for you.” “That sucks.” And let’s not forget my personal favorite, “You’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Deal with it!?! How was I supposed to ‘Deal with it’?!? Well, I’ll tell you. I had to wait it out. I had to just sit while my hands found some sort of semblance of normal. That took almost two, count them, two hours! But don’t you worry, I was just fine. There was hot food prepared so when everyone got home we could warm our bellies and relax. Even though I couldn’t hold utensils, if someone could dish some up for me I could find a way. Alas, it was chili. I hate chili. I always have. So, never mind. Feel bad for me. I had to just sit there, in complete agony while my hands attempted normalcy, with the smell of warm food (that I do not like) wafting throughout the house, tears still running down my face, hands warm—but still unable to move (well I could twitch my fingers a little by now). Oh, did I mention I also had to pee? No? Well, I did. Kinda like a dam with cracks in it waiting to disgorge its contents onto the unsuspecting village below, drowning the citizens and wiping the city off the map (that scenario was about to be my family room).

Eventually, after two hours (that felt like four) of rocking in a chair—that doesn’t rock, bawling like an emotionally broken shell of a human being, I gained enough dexterity to be able to handle the toilet issue. Not without some challenges, however. Now, I’m pretty sure the events of that day contributed to the serious issues I am experiencing with my hands as an adult.

And so what’s the lesson we learned today boys and girls? That’s right, always have a spare grilled cheese sandwich stashed away so when chili is served so you don’t starve. Also, don’t stick numb body parts into hot water.

Happy Christmas everybody!

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