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Christmas Tree Hunting 1953




Beginning after Halloween flatbed trucks travel south on our interstates stacked high with plantation-grown balsam fir trees encased in plastic netting. Each load is on the way to a Home Depot or roadside stand in your neighborhood. This is your Christmas tree, born and raised in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. or Aroostook County. Some families shop local at tree lots set up by churches or Elks’ clubs for a fresher tree. However, one can never be completely sure that these, too, did not come from a thousand-acre tree farm near Fort Kent.


The heartiest Christmas tree hunters (who would never use the abbreviated “Xmas” when writing their holiday cards) are purists who look into the woods near their houses and say “Why not? See the trees, cut the trees. God has grown them just for me.”


Dad was such a purist when he was thirty-three years old. Like past generations of his family, he was set on finding the best native tree in the forest for his family. I was six and he felt I might be old enough to help out. It was an adventure for me, a chance to get out of the house on a mild December afternoon. For him it was an opportunity to teach me how to get ready for Christmas in a traditional way. Yes, there were trees for sale in town at Benny’s. Titicut Common across from our Congregational Church was loaded with “fresh-cut”. It would have been easy to strap a 6’ tree on the roof of his Chevy Bel Aire, but the way to get a tree was to take to the woods. The small pine grove between the camp road and Janet DeArruda’s house would do.


My job was to pull a sled along the snow-filled drainage gully running alongside Plymouth Street. Dad walked ahead carrying a newly sharpened bowsaw and a coil of rope. Several cars whizzed by, neighbors on their way to the church lot. They honked and waved, wishing us well, as if they knew what we were doing.


When we came to the camp road, I stared intently at trees which looked to be about the right height. He paid little attention when I would point to a suitable fir or pine. Instead, he gazed upward toward the sky.


Stepping off the gravel road, he plunged into the heart of the grove leaving large boot prints in six inches of crusted snow. My stride was not long enough to fit his sunken indentations. I trudged along, nearly tripping as my small boots broke through the surface.


Deeper into the grove we went, until Dad stopped short, pointing directly up above his head. “There’s the one, Bobby. That’s the one we want. The very top of this fir tree. See it’s nice and full because it has been growing in full sun.”


All the trees in my sight were very sparse and thin with few branches to hold ornaments, lights, and tinsel. Tinsel was my favorite decoration. You placed just one piece at a time. It took forever to get it just right. I would like a full tree with lots of branches to hold all my silver strands.


I stared up to the top. It was so far to get there. Was he going to climb, or did he want me to climb? Climbing the big maple where our swings hung was easy for me. Even sister Lynne was learning how to get up the lower branches. But this was a very high, very skinny, very scary tree.


Fortunately, Dad put the coil of rope on one shoulder and undid his belt to wrap around the saw’s red handle. It hung from his waist.


“Stand back, Bobby. Move your sled to that clearing. After the treetop comes down, you can load it on the sled. This will be a big surprise for Mom and Lynne.”


A surprise? I liked that idea. I pictured myself dragging the tree back from the woods. Mommy and Lynne would be cheering. That would be great fun. I would be proud to bring it home.


Once I stepped back a safe distance, he began to hug the tree trunk and step up branch to branch. The lower branches were brown and brittle. Many broke under his weight, but he continued to climb until, reaching a point where there were green needles, he stopped to rest. I waved up at him.


“Daddy, how high do you have to go? Can you see the house from there?”


He didn’t answer but instead climbed higher until he shouted down “This is it! I’m going to cut right here and drop her down. Stay back there out of the way.”


My feet were getting cold, so I sat on the sled and waved back.

A

s the saw cut the sappy trunk, sawdust floated down like fresh snow. The smell of the wood filled my nose.


“I’ve cut though,'' he shouted as he pushed the top loose. It caught on other branches and wouldn’t come free. He grumbled as he kicked the butt this way and that. Then he wrapped his rope around the girth of the cut tree. Down he moved a few feet. A pull on the rope moved the tree free and it fell. But only halfway.


I heard him talking angrily as he went down to where the Christmas tree hung. Here he started kicking it, while holding tightly to the trunk, until our Christmas tree was freed to fall again. The branch on which Daddy stood snapped. He hung precariously by one hand. The rope fell. The saw fell. He fell.


Landing on his back in the crusty snow, he let out a mighty howl, stood up and brushed the snow off his chinos. He started rubbing his back and legs.


I ran to his side. “Are you alright, Daddy? You fell a long way. Did you hurt yourself?”


“No, I am okay. Just a bump or two. Now, I don’t want you to tell anyone I fell. Do you understand? Just our secret.”


I liked the idea of having a secret with Daddy. We shook hands. It was just between us.

Dad showed me how to tie our tree to the sled. Then back down the road we walked triumphantly. I was stepping high like in a march. Dad limped a bit, but as the doorway neared, he seemed to heal and stride as usual. He called to Mom and she clapped as saw what we brought home from the woods. She smiled and gave him a big hug. Then she kissed me and inspected me head to foot to see if I was damaged.


That was a great tree. Decorating her was special. I was able to explain to everyone how the branches were so green because it was grown in full sun. It took me an entire afternoon to hang the tinsel. What fun Dad and I had getting that tree.


We never again went out to the woods to hunt for a tree. The ones from our Church did just fine after that.


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