Everybody has their traditions, especially around Christmas. We had lots of baking, sewing, decorating, and making construction paper chains; and of course, getting the Christmas tree. I’m not sure where we got our Christmas tree when I was really little, but I sure have a lot of memories of cutting down our own; right out in the field on our farm.
Dad had a good friend from work named Don. I was never allowed to call him Don, ‘cuz that’s disrespectful, and I had to respect my elders. There’s no commandment about elders, just parents. Still, my parents said I had to, so if I didn’t, it was still a sin against honoring mothers and fathers. Anyways, I called Dad’s friend, Mr. B, cuz that’s respectful, the same thing for his wife, too, only she was Mrs. B, of course. Anyways, Mr. and Mrs. B bought some land from Dad and built a house, and became our neighbors. They had a son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.
Scott’s dad and mine got a grand idea to have a Christmas tree farm. They hoped to sell Christmas trees someday and make a whole lot of money, then they could say, ‘money grows on trees.’ But that never happened. For one thing, it takes a long time to grow trees, and they sorta lost interest. For another thing, it takes a lot of tending to get good-looking Christmas trees: pruning and training the branches to grow straight, and those two dads were way too busy working overtime for Ma Bell, to be out in the field babying Christmas trees. In the meantime, Scott got asthma from drinking drain cleaner he found under the kitchen sink, and the whole family moved to Arizona where the air was easier to breathe and Mrs. B’s hair stayed as straight as a pin and never got frizzy like it did in the summer when she was our neighbor. Those are stories for a different day. This story is about Christmas trees.
Every year, Dad hooked a toboggan on to the back of the trailer and we all got on board and headed out to pick out a Christmas tree. We searched that whole grove of trees looking for just the right one. Those trees looked so little out there in the field, with no ceiling but the clear blue sky over top. Just when Dad thought we found the right tree, someone said, “Wait a minute. Here’s a better one,” and sure enough it was a better one.
At long last, Dad tied the tree to the toboggan and us kids ran in back trying to jump on and hitch a ride. Well, two kids, usually Loren-dee-dee-bopper and whatever Little Kid was along, got to ride on the tractor, the rest of us ran behind. Bonita and Vickie and I would just catch up before Dad put the gas on high and sped away from us. It’s probably a good thing we never caught up, ’cause those trees were prickery, and kinda sappy, too. Sappy clothes were impossible to get clean, which was no good. Even our barn coats smelled like Christmas for weeks on end.
Dad squeezed the tree through the door, spraying needles and the clean smell of fresh-cut wood all over Mom’s clean-for-Christmas house. That tree looked huge now, and sometimes Dad had to drag it back outside to cut some more off the bottom, ’cause the top bent over at the ceiling.
Mom stood back and told Dad to turn the tree this way and that way until the best side faced forward and the worst side was in the corner. Sometimes it took almost as long as picking out the tree, ’cause lots of times Mom had a hard time finding a really good side. Anyways, by the time the tree got screwed into the stand and situated just so, the whole place smelled like pine, and needles got spread all over the whole entire house and stuck in any bare feet that happened by, which for sure was me, ’cause I loved to go barefoot inside, even in the winter.
Mom let us kids decorate the tree just the way we wanted. My favorite part was right at the end when we got to throw the tinsel icicles. Mom said it was best to put them on one at a time and she showed us how to drape them down from one branch to another. Deanna was perfect at decorating like that. That was no fun for me. I grabbed a handful and threw it as close to the top as I could. Then Bonita did the same thing, and so did Vickie, only they never could throw as high as I could. I loved watching those icicles cascade in the air like fireworks on the 4th of July, before the stuck all over the branches. That for sure was my favorite part.
After a while those trees got so big, Dad had to climb up the tree and cut off the tip. Still, it looked so tiny out there in the wide-open space, and so huge indoors. Then Johnny came along, and he was allergic to Christmas trees and almost everything about Christmas. We got our tree from a store and kept it in the attic and only put ornaments and garland on it; no more tinsel and no more chopping down our own. Mom said she loved that tree the best of all our trees.
I asked Mom how she kept quiet during all the tinsel throwing, paper ring making, popcorn stringing and repeated singing of “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” That must have been some ugly tree when we got done: globs of tinsel, uneven distribution of the ornaments and a mish-mash of elementary school ornaments. And so much noise and confusion. She looked at me, “What do you mean? Those trees were gorgeous.”
I guess that’s what love does to the memory.