Reprise: Oh!! Christmas Tree!!

A reprise post for the season, from my original milblog, 2004.
It really takes a gift to find yourself on a soggy-wet mountainside on a Sunday afternoon in December, 1981, with a fine drizzle coagulating out of the fog in the higher altitudes, slipping and sliding on a muddy deer track with a tree saw in one hand, and leading a sniffling and wet (inside and out) toddler with the other.

Yep, it’s a gift all right, born of spontaneous optimism and an assumption based on the map on the back page of the Sacra-Tomato bloody-f#$*%^g Bee newspaper, and a promise to Mom. Said map made the %$#*ing Christmas tree farm look like it was a couple of blocks, a mere hop-skip-and-jump from the back gate of Mather AFB’s housing area, an easy jaunt on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, a lovely and traditional Christmas pastime, choosing your own tree from the place they were growing in!

I was taking leave the next day, and driving home to Hilltop House from Sacramento, and my job in the Public Affairs office. It would only be the second Christmas I had spent at home with Mom and Dad since going on active duty (and it would be the last one for ten years). And Mom had made a confession: “I haven’t gotten the tree yet. The ones at the lot look horrible, all but dead.”

“I’ll buy one here and bring it down,” I said spontaneously. “There was a bit in the paper this morning about a local Christmas tree farm. I can tie it to the roof rack.” My car of the moment was a VW station wagon with an immaculate interior and a very useful roof rack. If it didn’t fit into the back, like the unfinished chest of drawers I had bought for my daughter’s room, it went up on top, lashed about with bungee cords and rope. I had brought home a lot of stuff that way.
“Perfect,” said Mom. “Stick the trunk end in a bucket of water overnight, so it won’t dry out on the way down.”

We set out bravely enough, early in the afternoon, my daughter strapped into her car seat, and the map from the newspaper open on the passenger seat, where I could refer to it, easily. Past the housing area BX shopette and gas station, out the gate, a couple of turns, and there we were, tooling along a pleasant country road in the mild winter sunshine. On the map it looked as if I would stay on this road for a couple of miles, until it intersected with another road, one with a couple of wiggles in it… into hills, perhaps? It looked as if the tree farm were out in the country and fairly easy to find, not hidden in a jumble of other businesses, intersections and traffic. Soon, empty fields and meadows opened up around us… stood to reason a Christmas Tree farm would be out in the country. Maybe the next mile or two would bring me to the turn-off, the road with a couple of wiggles in it…

Fifteen minutes… twenty minutes… half an hour, still no intersection. Forty-five minutes, and it was very clear that the map was deceptive about the distances. I had gassed up in anticipation of the long drive the next day, so that was not a problem, but if I had not already told Mom I would come home bearing a fresh-cut Christmas tree, I would have turned around and gone back. An hour went by, and the road began to climb. Good heavens, we were nearly to the gentle dun-colored foothills, where the clouds had begun to pile up against distant jagged blue mountains of the Sierra Nevada. At last— an intersection ahead! I slowed down to verify against the map. Yes, the right one. Pretty soon, it began to climb, looping farther and higher into the hills, up into the cloud layer. I ran the wipers to clear away condensation, hoping that the distance along this new road was not as deceptively mapped. I had definitely not counted on two hours there and back.

This had better be worth it.

There was a sign, at least… a sign, a gap in the undergrowth, a dirt road leading up into the trees, but the condensation had become a drizzle by the time I pulled into a parking lot, which was merely a couple of cars haphazardly stopped in a roughly mown field around a plain red-painted shed with a deep overhanging roof. The door was open, there were people there, but not as many as there were cars.

“Here,” said a teenaged girl at the cashbox. She handed me a tree saw, and a mimeographed sheet with sketches of the various types of trees with attention to their needles, and a list of prices— so many dollars per foot of tree. “Just cut down the one you want, bring it back here and we’ll figure the price.”

I took the saw, stuffed the sheet in my shoulder bag, and looked around.

“Where are the trees?”

She pointed out the door, where the dirt road continued up to the top of the hill.

“Up there. They’re all over. Just find one you like.”

My daughter began to lag, halfway up the hill. I looped the tree saw over my arm, and picked her up. The ground was very wet, either sloppy mud, or slippery grass. We had at least come away from the house with coats, but my light-weight tennis shoes were soon saturated. Coming down the slope on the far side, I skidded and sat down rather heavily. Great, now I was wet and muddy to the waist, as well as my daughter. The trees were scattered, not in neat, easily accessed rows, among taller trees and long thickets of grass. It began to rain. I had to put my daughter down and let her walk, but she was not happy about that, and began to sob, quietly.

We would have to find a tree, soon… and close enough that I could drag it… and the saw… and my poor daughter back to the shed. The most convenient trees were either too large, or the more expensive varieties.

There… there was a tree, with the long graceful bunches of needles. It sat on a slope, but it was just a little taller than me. I sat my daughter down, and put my purse in her lap— “Here, watch this, for Mummy,” and picked a place on the tree’s trunk, about four inches above the clay and clinging soil, put the saw to it and went to work. Mercifully, it only took a few vigorously-expended minutes. I slung my purse and the saw over my arms, picked up the tree and my daughter, and began the long, unhappy, sodden forced-march up over the top of the hill and down towards the sales hut. Some Christmas excursion— wet, pissed-off, on a soggy mountainside with a lopsided Christmas tree, a wet and wailing toddler, and a hour-plus drive, and a longer one in the morning… oh, Christmas tree!

I did soak the trunk of it in a bucket of water, before lashing it to the luggage rack for the drive south the next morning, though that may not have made much difference.

“It’s so fresh!” Mom said, rapturously. “It smells marvelous! Never mind about the flat place, we’ll put that against the wall, and no one will ever know… really, I wonder how long it’s been since the ones in the lot have been cut! I really wonder about that, now.”

“You probably don’t really want to know,” I said. “Merry Christmas… and you owe me $10.”

“Is that all?” Mom said.

“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “That’s all. Merry Christmas.”

7 thoughts on “Reprise: Oh!! Christmas Tree!!”

  1. Do they even grow Christmas trees that don’t have a flat spot? We finally caved in and bought an artificial tree that looks very real, it doesn’t have a flat spot nor does it shed. The down sides are the storage issue and lack of the living tree’s woodsy oder. It is also in sections so the height can be adjusted for size and handling by folks with declining strength.

    Thanks, Mom.

  2. A Christmas to remember is a gift from the gods, and yours said “Here. Remember this.”
    Have a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  3. Thanks, Woody and all – it’s really rather funny now, to know that the Christmases I remember the best were the ones that I spent overseas, especially the Christmas in Greenland, and in Korea. All the rest kind of blend into one very pleasant, traditional blur!

  4. We used to cut our Christmas trees up there, Thanksgiving weekend – Sacto being home base for all the Grandparents. Fond memories of tramping about the damp and misty woods hunting the perfect tree, and of a ten foot tree strapped to the roof of the ol’ Toyota wagon going down I-5.

    But we knew what we were getting into, and it was a group effort, though I think I was a bit confused the first time, finding out that the “farm” was just a big patch of forest.

  5. Christmas first year we were married, I told my wife, “If God wants us to have a tree, he’ll give us a tree.” Both students, we had little $ to spare.

    That evening, as I walked to our car after a night class, there it was. On the side of the road. A 6 foot plus pine. Figured it had blown off a car carrying it from a tree lot about half a mile away. I looked it over, saw that it had a couple of lower branches broken. Happened to have a hacksaw in the car trunk. Not the preferred tool for cutting the trunk just above the broken branches, but, hey, don’t look a gift tree in the branch.

    Drafted out of grad physics, next Christmas I was in basic training. No tree.

    Next Christmas I was stationed at Ft Carson, Colo. Wife and I lived off post. No $pare. Lo and behold, my wife found a broken off few feet of pine in our front yard. No idea where it came from. She made paper decorations for it. I wondered if I had detected a trend.

    Not until a few Christmases later did we have a situation in which we–well, my wife–wanted a tree. A neighbor had, for whatever reason, received one when already having one. Did we want one of the two? The trend continued.

    A Christmas later a neighbor for whom my wife babysat got an unexpected tree from work. He already had a tree. Yay, trend.

    A Christmas later, a friend, knowing we had not gotten a tree, showed up with an artificial tree. He had run into a situation in which he had two artificial trees given to him. Would we like this one? Of course I thankfully accepted, realizing that the artificial tree might extend the trend many Christmases into the future.

    Sometime in the next couple decades, can’t remember just when, the trend ended. The old artificial tree just couldn’t make it any longer. My wife, satisfied with the end of the trend, bought an artificial tree.

    Yes, we have a tree this year. Artificial and breaking. Its last year. But it’s up, and has some 50 years of momentos–bells my wife knitted, ornaments our kids and grandkids made–hanging from it in various places.

    Merry Christmas

  6. I have vague memories of not getting our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, when my brother and I were small children, and Dad was in grad school – he and Mom would snag a tree from a tree lot on Christmas eve, when they were either marked down considerably, or the sellers had closed up business and abandoned the unsold stock. We had live trees for a good few years, and planted them in a row at Redwood House – the oldest of them was quite a sturdy, tall tree, when we lost that place to the 210 Freeway construction.
    I’ve caved and settled for an artificial tree since living in Texas. The trees for sale were horribly expensive but already shedding showers of needles, and the mess of cleaning it all up even before Christmas was just unbearable.

Comments are closed.