Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
The occasion: We’re going to get our tree today. Which means a little visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past (not the one who points the creepy finger).
My first Christmas tree memories are of stealing them. I’ll explain.
I guess the mind plays tricks on you when you hit 35 or so and are trying to remember your youth. But I remember it always being kind of snowy when I was growing up and we’d go to pick out our tree.
Of course, I remember it being snowier then anyway. (Kind of a contrast of the way Harper Lee remembers times being hotter in To Kill a Mockingbird: Somehow it was hotter then … Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. But I remember it snowing two or three times or more a winter.
When it did, my brother and I would take the sleds out – he always got the long, cool one – and find a hill, usually with our friends Harry and Eddie and whomever else showed up. We’d stay until we were too wet and cold and then some, then trudge back to the house, where we’d shed all our boots and wet stuff in the basement. (Strange, I don’t ever remember picking that stuff up. Wonder what happened to it?) Once we’d warm up some, my mom would make some snow cream. (As an aside, I wouldn’t eat snow cream today, because I’d be scared it was acid snow cream.)
Anyway, on the day we’d go to pick a tree, we didn’t pile into the car. Not usually, anyway. We’d put on our snow stuff and go trudging through the woods. People did that, in those days. Now it’s called trespassing – and not very advisable.
But it was a different time back then. My friend Mike and I would go exploring in the woods all the time. DIdn’t matter whose property we were on. But we walked all around in every direction. Our moms had no idea where we were or how to get in touch with us. Ever. And if we were thirsty and ran across a stream or brook in the woods, we’d drink from it. Can you imagine drinking surface water these days? I can’t. Not even on a bet.
Back to trespassing through woods on a snowy evening. Or afternoon. My mom and my brother and sister and I would put the snow gear on and take the long sled out through the woods. We’d check out trees until we found one that would suit our house. Not too tall or too wide or anything else. I forgot to mention we took an ax and a saw, too. When we picked The One, we’d chop/saw/pull it down, tie it to the sled and head home, where we’d hang those giant lights and glass balls and tinsel and sometimes spray it with artificial snow. And then we’d wait for presents to appear under it. My mom was kinda sneaky about that. She’d wait a long time before putting any packages under the tree. Or she’d put some under there with no names. Yes, she tortured us that way.
It was great.
Through the years, Karen and I have embraced the fresh tree thing, though not the trespassing. For a while, we even did the cut your own tree thing at lots out in the country. When we lived in Gastonia, the Hellmouth of Weird, we’d drive down to Clover, S.C., to get our trees. Except for this one year. It was 1994 …
We were pregnant, or Karen was. Very pregnant. The OB put us on anytime notice, probably pretty foolishly. Because as it would turn out, it didn’t happen until early morning Jan. 5. We didn’t know that then.
So we decided it would be a good thing to try a new Christmas tree lot. In Lincoln County. Near Vale. Wherever the hell that is. And keep in mind, I’ve been there.
Anyway, the night we decided to go, it started sleeting. Not terribly, but not so great, either. Here’s how long ago it was: We were using MapQuest directions. And of course we couldn’t see any street or road signs. Even if there had been street or road signs. We got lost. Real lost. In the sleet. With a 17 month pregnant person in the car. Probably not my shining moment as a husband.
We did finally find the lot. And picked out a tree in the dark. And cut it. And found our way back home. Safely. And still childless (sort of).
That tree, as it turned out, was one of the prettiest we had. But the best present wasn’t under it. We didn’t get it a few days later.
These days we still get natural trees. But we don’t cut them. There’s a great little lot around the corner from our house. The family that runs it is from the mountains. They tie the tree to your car for you. They’d probably follow you home and take it off the car and into your house for you.
We likely won’t decorate it until tomorrow. And who knows when the presents will go under it? But I can say one thing for certain. The BEST one won’t be under it.
“I don’t want expensive gifts; I don’t want to be bought. I have everything I want. I just want someone to be there for me, to make me feel safe and secure.”
_ Princess Diana