The Lowly Christmas Tree
I just came in from cutting our Christmas tree. My Wife and I picked it out a month ago. We went out and looked at the trees and decided on the one for us. We marked it by hanging a Veterans Poppy in the branches.
There was not a lot of fanfare with it. We only have the two of us here so the decision was easy. However, the emotions the act of cutting a tree had on me were profound. My wife and I bought the farm I grew up on a few years ago from my Siblings. I must be in a reflective mood to have the simple act of cutting a tree affect me so.
I started thinking back over the years and what a Christmas Tree meant to me. Not in the terms of religion or my faith, but to me personally. I grew up in the 50's. That makes me ancient to many of you, but my memories of the Christmas Tree seem so very recent to me. My Dad had Polio when I was a baby. It left him crippled and unable to walk for a few years, when he did regain the walk it was never normal. Walking was never easy for him. But he continued to farm. We never went on welfare or assistance. My Dad was too proud to do so. He farmed the sand here as best he could.
He would plant the normal crops of corn, beans, clover and rye. Where he differed was the pine trees we planted every year. Planting “Christmas Trees” was a family affair. The first years we planted them we planted them by hand. I was 4 the first time I remember planting trees. I doubt I did much more than get in the way, but I carried my little bucket of seedlings and and small shovel and spade them into the ground. I was told not to plant them too close to another tree. We were replanting an existing stand.
The farm I own was owned by my Grandpa then passed to my Dad. Grandpa had started planting trees in the 30's. We always had 20-30 acres of pine trees in rows for windbreaks or in small 4-5 acre patches around the farm. Back in those days the farm was quite large, even if small by today' standards. My Grandpa owned about 600 acres with almost 2 miles of high river frontage. Had gotten some of the land from his Dad, my Great-Grandpa. The rest he had purchased just before he went off to France in WWI. Grandpa was born in 1887 from Swedish immigrants. He was 42 before my Dad was born.
The first trees planted in our county by machine are still standing and I look at them out my window everyday. I think Dad said these were planted in 1935 as he was a kid and watched them be planted. Every few years Grandpa would plant more trees. Never may but an acre or two. My Grandpa last his wife when my Aunt was born in 1932. He would call them “Grandma's trees” when he would talk to me about them as we were trapping. We trapped gophers in the spring and summer to allow the corn to grow. We do not have the cute striped gophers you see on TV shows. We have the rat like pocket gopher that burrows underground and is never seen except when pulled out of the ground in a trap. These gophers could kill acres of pine trees in a year. Part of what we replanted each year were gopher kills.
In the fall and winter we would trap fur bearing animals. Back then trapping was not the horrible deed it is today. We needed the money to survive. By the time I was 8 I was setting my own traps and had my own trapline that ran interspersed with my Grandpa's. He would talk to me as he drove his old 49 international pickup from site to site. We discussed the trees. How good they were for the farm. They held the sand in place. They stopped the erosion. They gave the deer a place to live. The Pheasants would hang in them in them during the storms. And finally how much my Grandma loved the trees. He would tell me how they reminded her of eternal life and how he would see her in Heaven when his day came. He would also tell me things I cannot say on this forum. I had my first drink of Blackberry Brandy on that trapline in those pine trees.
It was a cold morning and Grandpa took a sip and said he needed it to warm him up. He then offered me the bottle. I remember being shocked. Our family was quite religious and alcohol was nearly as evil as theft or laziness. I was about 10-12. He handed me the bottle and I just looked at it. He said “Go ahead, it will warm you up”.
When I hesitated he said, “ I won't tell your Mom or Dad if you don't”.
I remember him saying Alcohol is not evil, over using it is. Just take a little sip and put it away.
I took my sip and it burned all the way down. I think that was the last sip I took for 10 years! In retrospect I have to wonder if he wasn't teaching me to leave the booze alone. If he was it worked. When my friends in High School went to field parties, I went to the movies or bowling.
Grandpa had one drink a day. He lived in town ( all of 250 people back then) he would walk to the liquor store and have a beer before supper every night. It was a whole 2 blocks away. Dad always told me he needed it for his digestion. That might have been a white lie.
Back to the trees. We would sell the trees in December for extra money for Christmas presents. People would come from the cities to cut their own trees. I remember being 8-9 years old and my folks would have me jump in a strangers car and ride with them to the Christmas tree patch. We had different patches depending on the species they wanted. White, Norway, Scotch, Balsam, Spruce, Blue Spruce each tree had its own place, and each patch had various size trees.
Back then it was perfectly safe to jump in the strangers car and take them to the trees. At 8 I felt pretty grown up to be wheeling and dealing to sell a tree. My Brother would go with some people as would my Mom and Grandpa. Selling was a family affair too. We would sell 500-600 trees a year. The people would come all the ways from the cities to buy them.
We were told to sell them for 75 cents to $1.50 a tree. We each had a “swede” saw with us to cut the trees. Some we cut, some the customer cut. We had to ask them if they wanted to cut them or have us do it. Cutting a tree was a big thing for some families. Once they cut the tree we would get the money. We were also told if the family looked poor or did not look like they could afford it drop the money on the back seat when we got out. We were given a lot of latitude on the price of the trees. Some people we would only charge a quarter for the tree. Dad would tell us what families as he was on the township board and knew who was in need. Dad would never let us give the tree away. He said a person needs there self worth/pride and giving them the tree takes that from them. But accidental dropping the money in the backseat was ok.... Hmmmm
Our own Christmas tree cutting was an event for us. We would all go out and pick through the trees a week before Christmas. Trying to find the perfect tree. One would be too big, One was too nice and could be sold next year, one was too small. Finally we all got the tree we wanted. When I say family affair I mean just that, my Grandpa, and Helen (my step grandma), my aunt and uncle and all the kids.
All of this came to an end in 1969 when most of the farm was taken from us under threat of eminent domain to make a “goose refuge”. We were told tales of how there would be millions of geese here. We are still waiting for the geese to show up 50 years later. But that is in the past and I am not going to dwell on the theft of our land and ruin the great nostalgia given to me by cutting the Christmas tree this morning with the reminder of the promise of everlasting life it gives us..
I cannot help but wonder, what kind of memories an artificial tree will leave the next generations.
Thanks for reading sorry I droned on so long
Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!