As had happened every year, as long as I could remember, the search for the perfect Christmas tree began shortly after Thanksgiving. We had always found a beautiful tree from among the many Cedar trees that grew down pasture on Granddaddy Bivins or Grandpa Cook’s land. The feathery branches of the Cedar tree would be adorned with sparkling ornaments, tinsel, and shimmering icicles, and the fresh scent would fill the air.
One year, however, there just wasn’t a suitable Cedar to be found. We tromped all over both places with no success. Just about the time I’d decided there might not be a tree that year, Mama spotted the perfect tree. It was a beautifully shaped Pine, with lovely, lush green branches. The tree was brought home with great ceremony and placed in the stand. Adorned with lights and other glittering baubles, it was, in my mind at least, a perfect Christmas tree.
There was, however, one sizable problem. My brother, Darrell, took one look at the tree and declared that it was not a Christmas tree. No amount of talking was going to convince him that a Christmas tree didn’t have to be a Cedar. With considerable drama, he firmly maintained throughout that Christmas Season that we did not have a Christmas tree. I’m pretty sure he thought Santa wouldn’t come and leave presents under it because it wasn’t what he knew as a “real” Christmas tree.
Perhaps that was the reason that I loved that tree so much. There was a bit of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree aspect in the situation and I felt sorry for the poor, unloved little pine, so much in fact, that I cried copiously when Mama firmly stated some days after Christmas that the tree was getting too dry and it had to go. Ornaments were removed and carefully repacked and the lights were neatly coiled and stored for another year. Darrell and I were given the task of disposing of the tree in the area where Granddaddy burned brush.
I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving it there though and wound up sneaking back to rescue the tree and put it in a safe place. There was a pretty little clearing near the pond where I loved to sit and read, and I towed the tree to this area and propped it up against some other trees. Over the next several months, the needles browned and fell off, leaving nothing but a skeleton of what had once been a beautiful tree. There was a bright side though. With the needles gone, that one lone, snowflake ornament, missed during the undecorating process, became visible and I rescued it.
Of course, in my excitement, I raced to the house with the snowflake, to show Mama what I’d found. This led to a confession regarding my heretofore unknown tree rescue operation. She laughed when I explained what I’d done, and said that after all that, I should keep the snowflake ornament to use on my tree. Most years, I had a small, tabletop, artificial pine tree in my room, and for the remainder of my growing up years, I placed the snowflake in a place of honor on it. When I married and moved to Germany with my new Air Force spouse, that snowflake traveled there too and hung on our tree.
There was irony in the fact that for the majority of the years after I married, our Christmas tree as well as the one back home was some sort of fir or pine tree, often cut from a Christmas tree farm, rather than a cedar from down pasture. They all served well as real Christmas trees.
The above musings tugged forth another Christmas tree memory set in Germany during our first Christmas as a married couple. At that time, artificial trees weren’t particularly attractive and there were no pastures available to cut a tree from, so we had to visit the Boy Scout tree lot across town on the Army Post. Now these trees didn’t bear much resemblance to the trees back home, having very short needles and lots of space between branches. I don’t remember what they were called, but recall that they were imported from France.
I wasn’t thrilled with the tree selection, but as there wasn’t anything else to choose from, I finally settled on one and the Boy Scouts dutifully tied it on the top of our car with twine (thin twine, I might add). The army post was on the top of a very steep hill with a winding road leading up to it. As we headed down the hill, and approached the first corner, I heard an ominous snap and with horror, saw our tree hit the side of the road, rolling and bouncing. As there was no shoulder at that spot, my poor husband had to park further down and hike back up the hill to retrieve our tree. Surprisingly, it didn’t suffer as much damage as he’d feared.
By this point, he was sick of the entire Christmas tree debacle and was not at all happy to discover that the remaining pieces of our twine were much to short to tie the tree back on the car. So, in quiet desperation, he put the tree back on the car top, and stretched the twine over it and through the windows where we held the ends and prayed that it wouldn’t break again while we crept back across town to our apartment with the bitterly cold, winter air sluicing through the open windows.
As if that weren’t enough drama for one year, we discovered that there wasn’t a tree stand to be found at any base exchange in our area. This led to the purchase of a German tree stand which was not at all like an American one. It more closely resembled a green flower pot with metal clamps inside. With no legs, and a relatively narrow bottom, this stand was not particularly secure. But, we got the tree settled in it and I prepared to decorate it. I was most displeased with the amount of space between branches, especially in the spots where pieces had broken off during the tree’s flight down the hill. To fill in these areas, I hung ornaments on long strands of fishing line so they would fill in the gaps. Of course, the snowflake hung on this tree too.
The weekend after the tree was finally up, we had a couple over to share a meal with us. We were sitting in our living room chatting, when suddenly, the visiting hubby leapt to his feet, sailed over the coffee table, and landed in front of the tree just in time to catch it as it prepared to fall over. I watched in horror as the breakable ornaments swung and clattered together. By this time, my husband had recovered from his surprise enough to try to help our friend get the tree to stand back up, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I offered a suggestion that had served my Grandparents well over the years with the skinny trunked cedars. We tied twine to the upper portion of the tree and secured it to the ceiling and nearby walls with cup hooks. It didn’t add to the decorative aspect of the tree, but did keep it upright for the remainder of the Christmas season that year.
If that snowflake ornament could talk, I can just imagine the stories it would tell. Perhaps another day, the gate to memory lane will open again and the lone snowflake ornament can help tell another story of Christmas past.