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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Confessions of a Christmas Tree Grinch

My husband has all but accused me of being the above when it comes to Christmas trees. Here, in my own words, is my story:

One of my favorite Christmas pastimes as a kid was going to get the tree. Depending on weather conditions and time we would either get one from the National Forest Service land a mile or two from our place, or we’d pack up and go for a long drive into the mountains.

We lived in the Pacific Northwest, on the rugged North Coast of Humboldt County. Dad would pack up the old Ford truck, a couple of us kids would pile in and off we would go, further inland, higher up into the wild. Up, up we would go until we’d break through the coastal fog layer into the sun, the fog a roiling gray sea below. And still up we would go. Eventually we’d get to Willow Creek, a town whose fame has something to do with the Bigfoot legend. I remember every year we’d see the town’s life-sized wooden statue of the furry creature, and we’d speculate on the possibility of seeing him for real that particular year. In Willow Creek there’d be a quick stop at the Forest Service office to purchase a permit to cut trees and wood, then on we would go, switching back and forth across the mountains, watching the ravines yawn deeper below us as we went.

We would drive off onto logging roads until we found a likely-looking spot. Out we would clamber and begin looking for trees. Often times others had been there before and we would find various trees already cut and abandoned. Sometimes we’d take a couple of those along with our own special tree. We’d “plant” those extras out in the front yard and decorate them as well.

I remember as a child the magic of being up in the mountains, above the world it seemed. Sometimes it was super cold, with a dusting of snow. We would walk around and Dad would show us the scratches of a bear on a tree, the hollow in the weeds where a deer had slept, often still warm from its body. The silence there was awe-inspiring, broken only by a coyote’s yip or a distant chainsaw’s rip. We would eat a bit of lunch and then head back down home.

Now that my father has been gone for many years, those memories seem so fragile and remind me how fleeting life is, and of the elusive magic of childhood.

In my early 20s I left Humboldt and forged a life in a city far north; Portland, Oregon. In the city there were no magical drives to the mountains to get a tree; one just paid an unromantic price at the nearest store and voila; a Christmas tree, either real or fake. No mythical monsters or elusive wildlife; how plebian. In the 12 years I lived there, not once did I have a Christmas tree of my own. I enjoyed them vicariously through family and friends and that was good. But somehow in that time the magic of Christmas trees wore off. My mom, I believe, sent me a few ornaments, and I would put them up, but not on a tree.

Now I have been married for 7 years, and though I am back in the country, I am in hardwood country, not coniferous country. There’s a large difference; no tall mountains…etc. I can’t recall whether my husband and I had a tree my first Christmas here or not. I was so stressed trying to deal with the newness of life in Missouri and the pain of being so far from family that I don’t really think I cared one way or the other. The other years, saving the one when I was seven months pregnant and hubby actually DID go along to cut down a Charlie Brown tree for us, I have had to venture out myself and hack down an invasive cedar with the very dull blade hubby directed me to use.

Two years ago I went and got a tree with the 4-wheeler. Year before that I just hacked the top out of a tree from across the road. Then; last year I had the idea that I would begin giving my 3 year old daughter Christmas memories.

I loaded the ’99 Ford up, bundled Ellen in a warm coat, heaved her protesting little highness into the truck and went all of ¾ mile up the road to the dry cow pen. We bumped across the pasture along the fencerow until a fine specimen of a cedar struck my eye.

Ellen refused to get out of the truck. So during the half hour while I attempted to avoid a cow pie or two, hacked ineffectively with my dull saw, crawled back and forth under a barbed-wire fence, and fought to the blood with the thorn bush that was also claiming the cedar, Ellen hollered out the truck window at the top of her lungs; “I AM COLD! I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE HOUSE! MOM, LET’S GO HOME! I AM COLD!”

When we got back, finally, hubby was there to help with the tree. He used the saw to try to level the end off. After two scrapes across it he says; “I can’t cut anything with this dull thing, let me go get a better saw!” I got a bit grinchy at this point.. This is the saw he’d sent me out to get a tree with for the past 5 years! Hrmph! I let him know.

This year things were different. Ellen was excited to go get a tree, she got out of the truck and gave lots of helpful advice whilst I was avoiding cow pies and crawling back and forth under the barbed-wire fence...etc. I had a sharp saw, too. (Thank you, hubby.) So the invasive cedar fell much faster. Ellen helped put the decorations on; the ones we both love: the half-peeled banana, the PB&J sandwich, the candy canes, the ice-cream sundae, the kitty angels, the snowmen bells. And even the ancient ones my mom had; the little stuffed cloth elves that came on dish detergent bottles back in the 50s or 60s. Ellen was enchanted with all of them. I love to watch her joy.

However….in my book; once Christmas dinner is over, Christmas is over. The magic is gone and the mess is left. So for the past 6 years, while hubby is out doing chores and milking cows, I take down the tree. He has accused me of shoving the dinner guests out the door with the tree, but I am not THAT grinchy. I wait ‘til they are in their own driveway at least. Ha ha.

This year I even took a nap before I started dismantling the tree, so it was about 5 PM when the invasive cedar hit the yard. I am improving. Merry Christmas!

2 comments:

Deb Kelley said...

Very beautiful memories of being young and growing up. I also must say very beautiful writing. Keep up the making memories with Ellen. She will appreciate them all the more as she grows.

Deb Davis said...

Thank you for the trip down memory lane, Rebecca.

Remember the first year I was married to your brother? I was so excited about the Norman Rockwell experience of trooping through the woods to find and cut our own perfect Christmas tree, since this city girl had experienced only trees that came from supermarket parking lots. I famously overestimated the height of our trailer's ceiling, and Dan could not convince me otherwise, so we ended up with a tree at least twice as tall as our living room. He'd forgotten to bring home the saw he'd borrowed from your Dad to do what he'd known would be major trimming, so he ruined my good Japanese chopping knife hacking away at that trunk.

The year Deanna was two, she helped decorate the tree by hanging the unbreakable ornaments I handed her. They were all clumped in one spot, about two feet off the floor.

Back in the city now, we invested in an artificial tree several years ago and I couldn't be happier with it. Zero mess, and scented candles and baking provide all the wonderful smells of the season. And I leave it up until New Year's, which is as long as Dan can tolerate it!

And yes, keep making those memories. When our kids go on about their memories and how they love our traditions, it is so, so sweet.