Child looking at Christmas tree

Castle on Whidbey || Ugly Betty

Posted in Feature, Humor, More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
December 21, 2016

I walked into the studio of Island Art Glass here on Whidbey Island. I had with me all three pieces of my previously gorgeous, amber, twisty, corkscrew lawn ornament. Sitting in a director’s chair, sporting his trademark snappy beret and sly smile, was Rob Adamson, the artist.

Island Art Glass (Photo by David Welton)

“Hi, I’m just curious, can something like this be fixed?” I asked.


Simple answer, but really all that was necessary.

“I have an idea,” I offered. “If I can tell you how I broke this, and you laugh out loud, will you give me a discount on a new one?”
He folded his arms across his chest, looked over my shoulder to a buddy of his, and again with his sly smile, said, “Sure. Why not? Give it a try, man.”

This is what I shared:

Laura and I always go to the Shults Tree Farm here on Whidbey and cut our own tree. It’s a fun little tradition that has included Laura nursing the baby in the car while I trudged around in the snow to, years later, having the two boys join us to look at every tree on the property.

I am always the final decider on the tree because Laura has this great adage: “He who cares the most, wins.”

I definitely care the most. I don’t know why, or what childhood memory or disaster instilled this in me, but I want to choose the tree. The perfect tree.

Family with Christmas tree

Wilson, Laura, Carter, and Cam Castle with a keeper (Photo courtesy of Cam Castle)

The interesting thing about this tree farm on our island, one that has been around for about for 75 years, is that all the trees are growing out of the stumps of very large trees that have been cut. Doesn’t matter much, except for two things: the trunks often resemble candy canes and have to be cut in such a way as to deal with that. But more importantly, the trees are sometimes growing five feet off the ground out of the side of the large stump. It forces one’s depth perception to come into play. In simpler terms, sometimes the tree looks smaller starting out five feet in the air than it really is.

So, the year before, I, on my own, chose, chopped and dragged the perfect tree to the parking lot to peals of laughter from Laura and some other fellow customers.

“Are you kidding?” Laura asked.

“No. Why?”

“How tall is that?”

Then a guy next to her, waiting while his tree was being tied to the top of his car, offered, “How high are your ceilings?”

“Eight feet.”

“Then what are you going to do with that twelve-foot tree?”

Much laughter.

But I did it. I trimmed and clipped and stuffed that glorious tree in the corner of our living room. And it was awesome. We do still have the pine tar streak across our ceiling, but I made it fit.

The next year, stung by my spatial blunder of the year before, combined with the sweet, yet plaintive request by Laura of, “Can we get a smaller tree this year?” I marched off determined.

I found a lovely tree. Round, plump, full. Again, starting its reach for the sky five feet in the air. But this time, I was wiser. I calculated how much bigger it actually would be once slain and on the ground. I sawed with confidence and brought the tree rather effortlessly to the parking lot.

“That’s smaller. Nice and round,” Laura said, with what I now hear in my memory banks as an attempt to grasp for positives.

“Want us to tie that to your car?”

“Yes, please.”

The perennial employee grabbed it with one hand, plopped it on the roof of our Honda CRV, and swiftly tied it down.

“Looks pretty round, doesn’t it, Laura. Is it too small?”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be just fine when we get it in the stand.” I love this woman.

In the stand, it stood barely five feet tall. I propped it up with a big cardboard box. That looked ridiculous.

“Laura, why did I pick this tree? It’s round. It’s small. It is . . .”

“Let’s call her Ugly Betty.”

Child looking at Christmas tree

Three-year-old Carter Castle is not so sure about Ugly Betty. (Photo by Laura Castle)

“Laura, this tree is stupid. I need to do something.” I grabbed it out of the stand, carried it to the deck with one hand, and dropped it in a bucket. “I am going back to the tree farm.”

I pulled into the parking area, stepped out, and said to the guy who had, less than an hour earlier, tied Ugly Betty to our Honda, “Do you give discounts to really stupid people? That tree I picked was ridiculous.”

“Yes, we do. We do have a discount program for really stupid people. Follow me. I kinda figured you guys wouldn’t be happy with that tree. Do you mind a pre-cut one?”


“This one was just cut today. Nine-footer. But after you cut the trunk, it should fit fine. Nice tree. One problem. It really only has branches on one side. Is it going to go in a corner or against a wall?”


“Should work just fine then”

He reached up and took the tag that said, “$90.00,” snapped it off, crumpled it up, and put it in his pocket.

“You can just have it.”

“Wow. Thank you so much.”

He labored a bit to get it on the roof and expertly tied it down. Whereas Ugly Betty looked like a huge green beach ball tied to the roof, this fellow looked like a silhouette of a very large Alfred Hitchcock lying on the top of our car. That should have been a warning if my brain had been turned on at any time that day. But it wasn’t.

I lumbered in with the new tree, proud as a peacock. “They gave me a new tree for nothing!”

“You are kidding me?”

“No, no, a ninety-dollar tree, free! I couldn’t believe it. He just tore the tag right off and stuffed it in his pocket. One small thing — it only has branches pretty much on one side. But it’s going in the corner.”

“Well, that shouldn’t make any difference. Good job.”

“Here, help me get it in the base.”

Funny thing. The tree weighed about sixty or seventy pounds, and it turns out most of the weight was in the branches, as opposed to the air surrounding the bare other side of the tree. So, subtracting out the trunk, we pretty much had fifty pounds on one side and zero on the other. With Laura holding Alfred by the neck and struggling to keep him straight, I twisted and yanked and cranked on the four metal screw things that hold the tree in place.

“Is it straight?” I hissed.

Finally secure, I said, “Okay, Laura, let go.”

It toppled right over. Crashing past Laura to the floor. I started to think, to engineer.

I got fishing line and two eye lag screws. (Okay, so I had to Google just now as to what those things are called. Round circle things with threads.) I screwed those into the wall, tightened up the fishing line and . . . rip, rip. They exploded out of the wall, and in front of little puffs of powdered sheetrock, the tree toppled over again. Kaboom! Son-of-a-bitch.

I called my father-in-law. A wonderful man, woodworker extraordinaire, chess champion, pool shark. Any request, and he is glad to jump in and produce a result that is over-engineered and huge. Laura’s hope chest, for example, is a cedar lined masterpiece that needs its own room. (“Wow Dad, it’s amazing.” “Here, Laura, let’s put it in the bedroom.” “Okay, Dad, but we might need to take the bed out first.”) He was the perfect choice.

He showed up in a flash with a large tree stand screwed to a thick, 3-by-3 foot piece of plywood. Awesome. We stabbed the tree in, tightened it up and, “Voila!” It stood straight and tall and secure.

“Thank you so much.”

“No problem. Now, I have never had a real tree before. We’ve always had artificial trees. It doesn’t need water, does it?”

Oddly, time stood still for me for a moment. My mind and emotions had to reconfigure before I could speak. When things shuddered back a bit, I was able to say, “Ah, yes. Water. Yes. Why?”

“Oh, ‘cause that stand has holes drilled into it. Put water in that, it will leak all over the place.”

I walked out onto our back deck. I looked down, and at my feet was a small green watering can. I wanted to kick it. I wanted to smash it. I wanted to pulverize it. To punish that innocent thing in an effort to release the frustration that had welled to unmanageable levels during this four-hour-plus, joy ride to Christmas tree hell. I reared my foot back, and stopped. I paused. I said to myself, “You love that little watering can.” Amazed at my restraint, I simply took the toe of my boot and gave the can a little shove.

It scooted lazily across the icy deck and flopped off the edge, striking the rebar holding my gorgeous, amber, twisty, corkscrew lawn ornament in such a way as to make the lovely thing snap in two places and fall to the ground.


Rob gave me $40 off my new apricot, twisty, corkscrew lawn ornament, that is, as we speak, safely positioned in the flower garden.

Rob making good on his half of the deal (Photo by David Welton)

Oh, and as for Alfred, I went to the hardware store and purchased the biggest tree stand they had and screwed it, un-punctured, to the plywood. Alfred spent the holiday tall and stable, nestled tight to the wall.

As for Betty, I called my brother, who lives nearby, and asked if he was thinking of getting a tree.

“Why, yes. But we want a small one. Just a little one this year. Small and, ah . . . full.”

“How does small, round, and plump sound to you? ‘Cause, I have a deal for you.”

So Betty also spent the holiday warmly on display.

And all was well.

Merry Christmas!

Nine-month-old Wilson Castle lies under Alfred, nestled tight in the corner. (Photo by Laura Castle)

Cameron Castle is an author and a stay-at-home dad. His recently published memoir is titled, “My Mother Is Crazier than Your Mother.” He lives on Whidbey Island.


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  1. Very cute story Indeed !!!! Put a Huge smile on my face & heart !!!
    Many of my Fused & Multi – Layered Copperfoiled , Garden Art Stakes &
    Many other glass art pieces Have stories , as well !!
    Mele Kaliakimaka Everyone !! ?. ?. ?. ?. ?. ?. ?. ?

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