This is the first post, in of series of three, of Christmas memories from my childhood.
I didn’t know then that the yearly adventure of getting our Christmas tree would set the standard so high that getting a tree in any other way would never compare. As an adult I have bought a tree from a lot, picked one up from a store and even experimented (very briefly) with an artificial one. All of these choices seemed sad as they were overshadowed by the deeply etched memory of our childhood tradition.
It started when we decided what day we would have this adventure. The excitement built as we counted the days. On the chosen day, we (my father, mother, sister and I) all wore most of the clothes we had because we would be for sure cold and probably wet. It was good to have a warm scarf to put over your stocking cap so that it could wrap around your neck. Two pair of mittens were important and either old snow boots or rubber boots without holes over your shabby shoes and wool socks. (We only wore our new boots and fancy mittens on Sunday.)
As we piled into our car that had years of experience, Dad put the ax, saw, some rope and a couple of planks into the trunk. The planks were for us to wedge under the back wheels when we got stuck in a rut back in the woods (which we always did).
The road to the woods was not too bad. It was only after we were deep into the mostly cleared trail in the pine forest that things got tough. When we heard the back tires spinning and felt the car slip to the side we knew we either had to get the planks out or walk the rest of the way.
I can close my eyes and see it. The snow is clean and crisp; the sun is finding ways to break through with rays of beaming light, the sky has never been more blue and the trees are the deepest green with a frosting of silver. The air feels cold in your lungs but happy, too.
Dad walked ahead with the ax over his shoulder. We crunched along behind him. His eyes were fixed on the treetops as he scanned for just the right one. We didn’t stop until Dad did. When he found the tree he wanted we, my mother, sister and I, all said the same thing every year. That one won’t work. It is too big and it will be crooked.
Dad smiled and chopped a wedge out of the tree with his ax. He had already studied where he wanted it to fall and the wedge ensured that it would fall in that exact place. He then used the ax to fell the tree. Together we hoisted it to the top of the car and secured it to the fenders with the old ropes from the trunk.
Finding a place to turn around meant backing off the trail, risking rocks and ditches but we always managed to do it. When we got home Dad went to work on the tree. To our amazement, he cut off the top in such a way that when he removed a few branches to make a stem, it was exactly the right height and fit into the tree stand (a wooden cross with a hole in the middle that sat in a milk pail).
When it was placed in the corner of our living room we all said the same thing every year. Dad has done it again. This tree is perfect. As Dad started chopping the now topless tree into firewood we pondered the mystery of how he could find a perfect tree every year and then it was time to string the lights and add the popcorn and tinsel.