Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Best Christmas Tree

It was the winter of 1983. We were young and poor with two small children to feed and not a lot of money for Christmas. We lived in Connecticut then, off a road in Killingly called Squaw Rock Road. The roads in Connecticut always have such picturesque names. I didn’t know it then, having lived there all my life, I kind of took it for granted. Once I moved out west, however, with their longitude and latitude street addresses of 1625 East 2550 North, I really started to appreciate the color and flavor of the street names in New England.

We needed a Christmas tree for our small family, but with little money to buy one, we weren’t sure what to do. In our family we always had a live tree and going out to hunt for one in a snow covered field always made the experience special. Back then there were numerous tree farms where one could pay $10 to $15 for just such a chance. But even that small amount of money seemed impossible this year, yet with hope against hope we piled into our old yellow van and headed out for a drive to see what we could see.

The day was gray and overcast. Tatters of clouds drifted over the sky. I don’t know what prompted us to head towards Willimantic, but we did. The roads of New England wind up and down and around hills. Around each new corner another picturesque scene is revealed. Though the scenes may have a similar New England flavor, they are never the same. The topography of the land prohibits repetition. So, while one old white farm house may set on a hill with a red barn nearby, the next one down the road will be slightly different, with a varied arrangement to the house and barn, perhaps with different trees or a stone wall defining the driveway, or cows in nearby pasture, grazing on winter brown grass.

Today the air had the edge of ice in it as we drove past a bog on the right. Across the road a pasture widened out and beyond it a small farm house sat on a knoll. At the far edge of the pasture a wide ribbon of evergreen caught our eyes. We slowed the van, then pulled off the road and opened the doors. Though this was not a Christmas Tree Farm, a stand of white pines of just the right size called to us from across the snow covered field. We wondered if the farmer would let us cut just one to bring home as our Christmas tree. A door opened on the farm house and a man walked out. We jumped back into the van and drove forward, pulling into the driveway. Gus hopped out and held a brief conversation with the farmer. I saw him offer the man the few dollars that we had, then I saw the farmer shake his head, declining the proffered money. With the farmer’s approval we drove our vehicle just a short way back towards the trees, pulled as far off the road as we could, and got out.

Now it may seem strange that we came equipped with our own saw, but back in those days it was not unusual for people to cut down small evergreens or even cedar trees from pasture land for Christmas trees. My own grandfather used to own a farm in Colchester where we often cut a cedar tree for our Christmas tree. While they smell delightful in the house, filling the rooms with their cedar perfume, they are awfully painful to decorate as each tiny flat needled end is covered in stiff hairy spines. You paid for the fragrance with blood. Now we stood at the edge of the field with our goal in sight.

The smoky gray clouds drifted overhead and I heard the honking of Canadian geese calling from beyond the clouds. The wild call stirred something inside me, a prevalent longing for something else. I wanted to mount on wings myself and fly away to someplace wild with the flock. The clouds briefly parted revealing the black, gray and white arrow formation flying through the leaden skies. Just then a snow flurry passed over making the air sparkle with wonder.

We trudged across the snow covered grasses towards the evergreen edge. The trees were much larger than they looked from the road, and now the challenge became finding one small enough to fit in the van and the house. The long flexible limbs of the white pines brushed against us as we finally choose our tree. Gus lay down in the snow to get at the trunk and sawed through in short order. As the saw broke through the tender flesh the scent of pine and sawdust filled the silver air.

Though the tree was bulky, it was also lightweight. We dragged it to the van, opened up the back, and pulled it inside. Our two young boys giggled with delight as the tree filled the interior of the van. This tree would fill our living room with its four foot girth of bows. I’d be hard pressed to find enough ornaments to cover the branches, but that mattered little now, for the tree had already produced the best gift of all, the memory of finding it in a snow covered pasture, the kindness of the farmer who let us cut it down, and the wild geese flying overhead serenading the season in wild tones.

Merry Christmas!

Blogger's Note: The painting is a detail of Christmas in the Mouse House by Kathie. See the complete painting with poem here.


Gaelyn said...

That's a beautiful story Kathie. What a wonderful story to share with us, and your family.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Oman said...

nicely written kathie. anyways, have a joyful christmas to you and your love ones... from my islands to yours.

Vickie said...

Lovely memory and story. It is the relationships and the experience that seals the love in our hearts. I love your painting! Merry Christmas!

Chrissy said...

A beautiful story. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

What a special memory and it is os special that you have chosen to shaer it with all of us on the blog.I just bet that your family never had a better tree than this one.
Blessings at Christmas and through-out the New Year,Ruth

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

That's a wonderful story Kathie.

Merry Christmas to you and Gus.

Jackie said...

Thanks for sharing your Christmas Tree story. Memories like that one are very sweet.

I've had assorted unorthodox trees over the years, not from lack of money, but from not wanting to kill a tree. I've often taken branches, tied them together and stuck them in a bucket to make a bit of greenery to decorate.

Doug Taron said...

Thanks for sharing your delightful Christmas tree story. I hope that you, Gus, and the rest of your family are having a wonderful Christmas day.

Kathryn said...

Kathie, thanks for the memory of when my dad and I would go out to our farm to look for a cedar Christmas tree. Some of the best times with my Daddy. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Love, Kathryn

Its Time to Live said...

Merry Christmas!

TR Ryan said...

Beautiful story. Merry Christmas to you and Gus and your whole family!

Kyle said...

What a wonderful story, Kathie! Christmas memories like that are the stars that shine from year to year, handed down with love from generation to generation, and are much more precious than wreaths or ornaments. Thanks for sharing it with us all!

Mary said...

I enjoyed this story so much!

Merry Christmas, Kathie!


Larry said...

I love that story Kathie.-I grew up somewhat poor too (although I didn't know it at the time). I remember my father trying to find trees-sometimes with animals in them.I'm amazed at how much detail you remember. Great story!