The Watering of the Decorative Tree


I overheard some friends at my house one night, saying, “Her tree looks more real than ours.” Why was this innocent remark, even compliment, so upsetting? Why did it keep me awake that night?


About six months ago, my husband and I decided we needed an indoor tree for decorative value and to clean the air.

We went to the nursery and picked out a leafy, oxygen-exchanging machine, which according to directions, ‘would thrive in conditions of semi-light with weekly watering, at which time, the tree should be turned.’ We rented a van, large enough to bring the tree home unscathed and religiously turned and watered the tree.


The morning after our party, when the aforementioned conversation took place, I carefully studied our tree for the first time. It had a rich earthy odor, which as it happens, was not the odor of earth but the odor of rotting, watered straw. It didn’t turn toward the sun because its trunk was formed around a plastic tube and the intriguing web-like filaments hanging from the leaves were, in fact, just threads.

When my husband came into the room, I said,

“Please ask our neighbors not to water our tree, after all.” (We were soon to leave on an extended trip.)

“Why?” he asked.

“Because,” I said with the shaking voice of one is who uttering a repressed and shameful truth, “Our tree is a fake.”

I threw on some yukky-don’t-care-about clothes, drained the smelly pooled water, found the directions on How to Care for Your Tree, stuffed everything irreverently into my compact car, and drove back to the nursery from whence it all came.


I sought out the customer service clerk and with controlled indignation declared, “This tree is fake.”

The clerk, a young man of about 25, replied all too readily, “That’s obvious. And what is the problem?”

I replied, “It was represented as being real. Look at these directions that were stuck in the…”

I wanted to use the word ‘soil’ but settled for ‘bottom.’

He read them and laughed, “It is obvious,” he used the word obvious for the second time, “Someone had just stuck these directions in it. And what would you like us to do?”

“It is obvious,” I replied, “that I want you to take this tree, I mean take this thing, back. I don’t deal in forgeries and I have the receipt.”

He studied the receipt. “You bought this six months ago. Why didn’t you bring it back sooner? We don’t stock these decorative trees in the summer time. Besides,” he argued, “This decorative tree smells like mildew. It’s damaged. What happened?”


My indignation was turning to mortification.

“It smells like mildew because it has rotted. It has rotted because my husband watered it. He watered it because the directions said to water it. He watered it once a week. And we didn’t bring it back sooner, because we just discovered your deception.”

The young clerk was stumped. Eventually, he turned on the public address intercom and summoned the store manager, “We have a lady here who has been watering a fake tree once a week for six months and wants a refund.” This broadcast not only brought the manager. It brought the owner, his advertising director, and some cashiers.

To his credit, the clerk retained a serious demeanor as he retold my story to his boss and the owner and the director of advertising, the cashiers, and now, a gathering crowd of customers. “This woman and her husband,” he related, “bought this decorative tree in January. It contained a set of instructions someone had inadvertently stuck in. So, following these instructions, her husband has been watering the tree every week.” Studying the instructions further, the clerk turned to me and asked, “Have you been turning the tree, too?”

“Yes,” I replied, trying to maintain a steady voice.

“She’s been turning the tree, too,” he repeated to the manager, the owner, and the ad manager, etc., all of whom were standing right there. “The straw has mildewed because it has been watered,” the young clerk explained proudly to all his bosses, “which explains its putrid smell.”

The owner turned to me and in a steady, slow, solicitous, undertaker kind of voice said, “I will give you a container of Fresh Scent. When you get home, I want you to put this tree outside in the sunlight, so it can dry. Then I want you to spray Fresh Scent on the base, being sure to point the nozzle down at the straw. Hold the can about six inches away. Would you like me to write these directions down?”

Instead of telling the owner what he should do to himself, I said meekly, “no,” and the retinue escorted me and the smelly ‘tree’ and the free container of Fresh Scent to my car.

As we approached the vehicle, the ad director was overcome with an attack of creativity. “Would you be willing to do a T.V. testimonial for our fakes,” she asked and eyeing my impromptu clothing whispered, “You could keep the classy outfit we’d provide.”