(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 12/13/2013)
Ever since the calendar flipped into December, there has been a singular goal on my spouse’s mind.
Selecting our Christmas conifer from offerings of the “40 and 8” – a club associated with the American Legion – was a tradition born many years ago, when my not-yet spouse, a Registered Nurse, discovered the club used its profits to fund scholarships for student nurses.
Alas, the “40 and 8” begins selling on the first weekend in December. The first day of the month fell on Sunday, so that weekend didn’t count. The following Saturday morning came the quiet query: “Papa John (a title bestowed by a granddaughter some years ago), can I have a Christmas tree?”
Immediately after Thanksgiving, She Who Must Be Loved had moved the furniture and opened the place for our Christmas tree, then brought down the ornaments and a super-duty stand we found one year to replace one reduced to a loose formation of rust. Thus had begun the not-so-patient period of waiting for the designated weekend.
We picked a Frazier Fir. They smell nice and hold their needles well. Passersby may observe it through the window, bedecked with LED lights because they use less electricity than the old lights, and adorned with souvenirs of our so far more than 12 years traveling together.
There is a glass bust of “Phantom of the Opera;” we saw that play on Broadway the year we were engaged. Other ornaments mark some of our stops, at Jamaica, Cape Henry lighthouse, the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. There also are pictures of grandkids, and crafts by kids and grandkids.
It’s tradition, and this is a time of year for tradition. Familiarity with the trail we’ve left is how we discover where we want to go. And tradition demands a real tree. There is too much plastic in Christmas these days, and it seems to get worse every year; Black Friday moved to Black Wednesday this year.
We select the tree together, and together we make it stand straight in the living room. Then I install the lights, usually according to her guidance, and she hangs the ornaments.
When I was a lad, my brother and I, on Christmas Eve afternoon, went with Dad into the surrounding forest to find the perfect specimen. We three debated at length the merits of one tree over another – too full, too tall, too lopsided, too many dead branches. And farther from the house always was better. A tree wasn’t worth cutting and dragging if you could find it within 100 yards of the back door.
The first task on reaching home would be to cut a foot or three from the butt – a tree of the right height in the woods always became too tall when dragged into the house. I think they stretch from all the dragging.
We kids went to bed, most years after attending Midnight Mass to welcome The Child. When we were judged to be soundly sleeping, Santa decorated the tree and piled the presents. What a guy!
After Dad was gone, and when I was home from the Navy, I took my youngest sister, Lillian, on Christmas tree hunting expeditions. Her memory being a dozen years younger than mine, she recalls one tree I cut down into the electric power lines along our driveway. The whole town was out for most of a day. She says. I defer.
I carry with me also another image, of leading my own offspring on the annual quest, the young people doing most of the dragging, while I, being the elder, carried the handsaw. And of their mother venturing into the woods to find a scrawny, limbless as possible, Charlie Brown tree – her statement that everything in the world is not perfect, but everything is valuable.
We are embarked on a marvelous time of renewal, warmed by images of hand-drug Christmas trees, Yule logs and warm memories as the planet tips and spins its way toward spring.
Merry Christmas – and Happy Traditions – to all.