If there is a more cherished memory than going up the road a good stretch, and topping a fir to use as a Christmas tree, I can’t flag it down. All of the years I taught in the local school district, our family had a ritual in place for that last work day before the break began, that would rival any other: Christmas tree hunting.
Regardless of which day of the week the break began, it was always a total of sixteen days: two work weeks with three weekends mixed in. The last day of school was always a minimum day, which meant we would be back up on the mountain no later than three, and then the fun would begin.
We would load all five of us into the old ’72 Chevy half-ton, and drive up between five and seven miles from our spot, where we would have our choice of native firs, none of them particularly attractive, compared to the perfect replicas you get on the Christmas tree lots in town.
No, our trees were not specifically labeled “Charlie Brown Specials,” but make no mistake, there was simply nowhere near enough light filtering down through the forrest of firs, to allow the little dudes on the bottom to get fat and sassy.
Nonetheless, a fir is legitimate, even if it is sparse and especially if it is ten feet tall. Lest you think my tree a couple of feet too tall, creating some awkwardness, allow me to assure you the room into which the tree was going, had ten foot high ceilings.
Upon our return from the annual tree adventure, Gluten-Free Mama would complete the assembling of our Yule Tree feast, which consisted of finger-foods. That way, we could munch our way through a steady parade of seasonal delicacies, while decorating the tree. As if eating and decorating the tree were not enough, we would have a film going at the same time, along the lines of “Home Alone.”
The entire ensemble kicked off not only the Holiday Season itself, in our household, but those sixteen glorious days off. Not being on the grid included having no television reception, whatsoever, so we relied on our trusty VHS machine.
Over at the big house, Mama had accumulated quite an expansive collection of Holiday fare, and we used to go check out an assortment of favorites, to be viewed, returned and exchanged for more. It was a nice system.
The year I blew out my left ACL on Friday, December 13th, we ended up making the journey up The Bell in a heavy snowfall. Our two-wheel-drive truck was chained-up, of course, or else we would never have had the traction to make it up to the Christmas tree “farm,” but it was still an adventure for the ages.
I was on crutches, there were already a few inches of the white stuff on the road when we started out, and we were going up the ridge. The snow was rapidly piling up. Two-wheel-drive, even with chains, is only good until you hit six inches or so, and even at that the road had better be broken already.
And just when we thought we had it nailed, logistics reared an ugly head: Pray tell, exactly how do you know what any of the trees really looks like, when all you can see is mushroom-topped mounds of marshmallow cream?
Or how about the year we headed back up an iced-over Bell Springs Road, in eighteen-degree-weather, with a howling wind? Why we were not chained-up is beyond me, but just past Orange-Marker Road, while rounding a bend, the rear of the Chevy kept on a chooglin’ on off the road. There we were, perpendicular to The Bell, nose pointing outward, with no chance of going anywhere without a tow-chain.
Was I worried about the truck? Let’s take stock: GF Mama, six-year-old SmallBoy, eight-year-old Ben-Jam-In, nine-year-old HeadSodBuster and I, were stranded on an ice-encrusted road four miles from home. The wind was swirling, the temperature was in the teens, and the youngest of the three boys was still young enough that after a short ways, I carried him piggyback.
What truck would that be?
As we straggled along, out of nowhere Corky was coming up on us, driving a fearless four-wheel-driven truck, and easing up alongside.
“You folks need to pile in before you freeze to death,” he hollered, and no one argued. Normally, he would have turned left on Green-Gate Road, but insisted on delivering us to the front doorstep of The Big House.
|I took this photo yesterday, from SmallBoy's spot.|
You can see the Big House in the distance.
We were so frozen that I dared not have him take us home to a freezing house. We defrosted at Mama’s and never considered leaving until the next day.
We still had our Christmas tree party that year, but just not on the original date it was scheduled.
This year, not having a vehicle any longer, Gluten-Free Mama asked that nice HeadSodBuster to pick us up a tree from town. When I tried to reimburse him for it, he would have none of it. I must admit it feels good.
I don’t miss going up the road for our tree because it is not an experience that can be duplicated. Oh, sure, we could get a tree and do the finger feast, but it’s not the same. I don’t want it to be, because I want the boys to be able to establish their own traditions.
“Memories, they can’t be boughten, they can’t be won at carnivals for free,” sang John Prine.
I agree, and what’s more, they can’t be duplicated. You can make new memories, but you can’t “paint a “Starry Night” again, as Joni Mitchell sang, in reference to being hounded to play a certain song during a live performance.
I have also devoted a great deal of time and attention to Ellie Mae, our sweetheart of a hound, so that she does not have the energy or inclination, to be curious about the new tree.
Without warning, it suddenly appeared in a remote corner of the dining room, formerly relegated to Ellie Mae as a timeout spot, for the exceptionally rare instances when this tactic was deemed necessary.
Ah ha! Maybe that explains why Ellie Mae leaves the tree alone: guilt by association.