Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We Cut the Tree

We Cut the Tree
L. Theil ã 1984
We started cutting our own Christmas trees in 1978, the year that Ben was born. That was the year after Dad brought home a tree so dry it shed needles when you touched it. By the time we took it out of the house after the holidays, that tree was down to bare branches.
The next year our neighbor said that he got fresh cut trees at a farm up the road in Zelie. It sounded like a good idea to us. My mom was real glad to stay home with the baby that year because she liked the quiet time for her and Ben.
She went with us the next year, though; and we all went every year after that. Tree cutting is somewhere three boys and a girl and a mom and dad can go with very little aggravation. We didn’t need special clothes or a fat wallet.
If my mom had her way we would have spent a bundle on big pine wreaths and yards and yards of pine garland. Dad always said, “Not this year.”
The tree-farmer displayed the greens in the barn where he sold perfect pre-cut trees. There was a pot-bellied stove for heat. Those greens looked so nice and fresh and natural on the barn siding walls. Mom wanted some every year, but she was always so mellow from being with the trees that she didn't let waiting until next year bother her.
Another reason we liked to go together to cut down our tree was that if my little brothers, Paul and Ben, decided to take a screaming fit, nobody cared. There aren’t too many places that you can go where a screaming kid won’t be an embarrassment. But there wasn’t much for Ben and Paul to carry-on about at the tree farm. A kid’s got a lot of freedom in a field full of pine trees.
We dressed in boots and socks and scarves and long underwear and sweaters and knitted hats and mittens. Mom wore jeans that she filled too-well with high cordovan boots and her old band jacket. She loved that jacket; she said it was very warm. Alisa, my older sister, thought Mom looked like a refugee from a class reunion with "Neville Band" written in big gold letters on her back.
Alisa looked more stylish in her not-so-stuffed jeans and her matching mittens and cap. Paul and Ben wore everything in the closet. Mom took an extra hat for Dad. She had a fear of frostbite, with good reason. Tree hunting is cold work.
At the farm we climbed out of our warm car in front of a big barn where a parade of tractor-pulled wagons hauled tree-hunters into the fields.
We got to pick our own bow-shaped saw from a rack in front of the barn. Those saws were sharp and could cut a tree fast. After choosing a saw of a color acceptable to everyone, we piled onto the hay bales of a departing wagon. Off we went with the wind stinging our faces, hearts singing.
We had to scrunch together to give all the tree hunters room. I liked that because it was warmer. Ben and Paul had a fight about who would carry the saw. My mom was in favor of my dad carrying it.  But my dad had a better idea; he let me carry it.
We were pulled across the road and onto rutted lanes of frozen mud dusted with snow. the tractor stopped often to disgorge tree-cutters. We debated whether to get off at each stop. Close to the end of the loop around the field, Dad said, “This is it,” and we all hopped off and started wandering around.
Mom immediately went into a trance communing with the trees. Alisa and Dad and I made an honest effort to find a perfect tree. From past experience we knew that a perfect tree would have a straight trunk that was no bigger than the hole in our tree stand. One year Dad had to cut twelve inches off our tree before the trunk was small enough to fit into our tree-holder.
Paul and Ben searched for little trees for their bedroom. Paul found a little one that he mooned over adoringly. Dad said, “Next year.”
When one of us found a promising tree everyone gathered for a consultation. Even if it was close to perfect, we never cut the first tree. Mom said, “We’ll come back to it.” But we never could find it when we came back. I though of marking the trees we liked with toilet paper. I was daunted by visions of a whole forest of trees festooned in white.
We wandered around until none of us could feel our toes and then we found a tree quick. It was always perfect.
Paul adopted a branch that he insisted on taking with him for his room. The kid never gave up. We caught the next wagon passing by and hugged our tree all the way back to the barn.
Dad paid for the tree by the foot. He had it wrapped in twine by an ingenious machine that looked like a cone with a wire-whip inside. The farmer hooked the trunk of the tree with a chain that mechanically pulled the tree backwards  through the cone. Our tree came out the other end wrapped up tight in twine, ready for transport. It was a neat trick.
Paul asked the farmer to twine-up his branch for him. With a line of serious tree-buyers waiting for his services, the farmer took the time to run Paul’s bough through the machine. That kid was a charmer. Mom’s eyes were misty when Paul showed her his wrapped-up twig.
Dad put our tree on top of the car rack and everyone grabbed a spider-leg. The spider was an eight-legged elastic tie with a hook on the end of each leg.
Everyone helped.
Everyone pulled.
Everyone yelled.
“Get in the car,” Dad growled.
Mom hustled the little kids in and Alisa and I continued to argue over the spider with Dad.
“Do you think it will blow off?” Mom asked.
“No,” Dad answered as we drove off.
“Can we put the tree in a bucket” Can we have cocoa? Can we have cookies? Can we set up the train?” Paul and Ben looked forward to the next events on the agenda.
“Shut up,” said Alisa.
“We’ll see,” said Mom.
"Merry Christmas," said Dad.


UPDATE Dec. 28, 2016: Free ebook of "We Cut the Tree" available from Blurb.

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