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Nothing launches you full bore into the newborn day like piercing your big toe with a Christmas tree needle. The fuzziness of night dissipates with the suddenness of a flash-bang grenade. No matter how glorious the sunrise, it cannot compete with the galvanizing effect of the transdermal introduction of wood products into this or that little piggie. You obtain absolute focus. Exercise, also, as you drop like you’ve been shot, grabbing your socked foot on the way down, tuck-and-rolling off to moan in the half-light beside the couch like some lumpy Olympic tumbler who overshot the pommel horse, and, for that matter, the mat. If you are lucky, you will not be carrying coffee.

Every year we swear we will water the Christmas tree daily, and every year we do so for at least one day in a row. There are also the nefarious cats, who, despite two designated water bowls and a toilet, linger thirstily about the base of yon Tannenbaum, waiting until you do remember to top off the receptacle within the stand, at which point they leap in to lap it all up, apparently preferring water infused with the flavor of a cheap gas station air freshener. It isn’t that cats are evil, it is that they are evil in so many ways.

The watering process is its own sort of gauntlet, similar to those exercises where soldiers wriggle under barbed wire, only without the live fire — although getting drilled in the earhole by the pipe-cleaner halo of a fallen corn cob angel seems a relevant subcategory. Among the sounds of Christmas our children will harbor forever in their hearts are those emanating from the invisible top half of whoever’s legs those are sticking out from beneath the boughs. From somewhere in there near the stump region arise curses, whimpers, trickles, spills and splashes, visible anger fumes, and sometimes a request for Band-Aids. Watering the Christmas tree is the No. 1 dread holiday chore, but because we are a close-knit family we take turns avoiding it.

The result? Medical-grade needles with all the pliability of titanium stalactites, and a shed rate that puts those cats to shame. It’s like an organic acupuncturist has been seeing clients carelessly in the living room. Cross the room socked or barefooted and you are advised to strap on twin tweezer holsters.

When the tree — minus half its needles — is finally lugged to the fire pit, I’ll miss it. We will shake out the skirt, return the stand to its box in the garage, and then we will vacuum and vacuum and vacuum. But the needles are profuse and the carpet is tenacious, and based on previous experience, I know there will come a morning —perhaps as late as next July — when I will shuffle bleary-eyed into the fresh dawn only to lurch airward in the manner of a break-dancing musk ox, and as I crash to the floor while clutching my foot, declare in all the spirit of the season, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a @#$% …”

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An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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