Suspension of disbelief, encouraged by four glasses of high-octane eggnog, is a sine qua non of holiday enjoyment. Finger-to-nose antigravity chimney travel? Nine-foot lagomorphs with baskets of chicken embryos? Still, I find those stories easier to accept than a certain oft-quoted parable about a cherry tree.
Here’s what I’ve been told:
(1) Father Washington (whose given name was “Augustine”) observes downed cherry tree, asks George how it came about.
(2) George says: “Father, I cannot tell a lie; I chopped it down with my little hatchet.”
(3) Father thinks: Possums in the pondwater, I really don’t want this kid commanding a relatively untrained yet highly mobile force of irregulars against superior numbers of well-armed redcoats with rolling artillery.
Now my opinion of the child who would one day write the whole Gettysburg Address on the back of a silver dollar and throw it up San Juan Hill is too high for me to accept this story as traditionally recited. While not wishing to be untruthful, surely George would understand the concept of a preemptive strike. Instead of waiting until the ex-tree comes into full view, he thinks ahead.
George: Father, it appeareth me that fierce lightning from the sky may have severed the trunks of many of our smaller trees, especially those of cherryish types.
Father: Many moons have I smoked teepee beneath the Great Wampum of sky, yet never, nada, nichts, I am having seen such a thing. And this ‘-eth’ dialect I should be listening to? Sure an’ it’s Song of Solomon you’ve been readin’ again, me ickle bairn?
George: Yet Father, may not the Beaver wend hither from yon lowlands to harvest young cherry trees for its fantastical yet ingenious submarine constructions?
Father: Son, thou beest one boulder short of a monument. Saplings there grow in profligate abundance throughout the lowlands, and the meshugeneh beaver up here should be coming? Plus you dad-gum blasted all the darn beavers with the blunderbuss, or don’t you recall?
George: And Father, oft have I seen great tree limbs destroyed by wild and capricious meteors from the great heavens, especially in--
Father: George, getteth a grip. Boy with hatchet here, tree stump with hatchet marks over there. Nobody else around got no hatchet. Why, son? Why?
George: Dear Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet. It seemed to me that as the cherries appear on the branches in late summer, or October in higher latitudes, so they must travel from a universal source within the trunk, and that one might obtain the succulence of the cherry from within the trunk itself, without attending this ghostly transport through the eldritch vessels of the noble tree.
Father (slapping forehead): Holy Osmosis. There goes my dream of being supported in my old age by a biotech billionaire. Only politics remain, but thou needest a better punchline. Think carefully, George--why didst thou and thy little hatchet do it?”
George: Uh--because we could?