Reminiscing Upshur County – How We Celebrated Christmas
By BETTY BIVINS COOK
It doesn’t seem possible that Christmas time is here again. Last year I had a 3-month-old great-granddaughter at Christmas. Abigail Grace is my first great-grandchild, daughter of my grandson David and his wife Jenny.
This year Abigail was beginning to walk on her first birthday, Sept. 1. Now she doesn’t walk very much, she runs. Abigail stays with her Grandmama Karen part of every week while her parents are working. We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how we can keep her from taking the Christmas tree apart. It was a unanimous decision that it’s simply not possible. So her Grandmama’s tree will be smaller this year, and will sit on a table (we’re hoping she doesn’t figure out how to climb up on that table).
But it will be fun to have a youngster around for Christmas this year. My youngest granddaughter is 22 years old now, so it has been a long time since we’ve had a little one in the family.
This week I plan to watch Abigail while Karen gets things ready for Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to that.
My sister Ruby Ida Denton spent the day with me recently, and we spent a large part of the day talking about how we celebrated Christmas when we were growing up. She is 12 years older than me, so many things were a lot different than they were during my growing up years. But one thing was about the same — our Christmas tree.
Daddy usually went to the woods between our house and his parents’ home to cut a tree, and back then there were some really pretty ones. After my younger sister Patsy and I were old enough he took us with him, just as he had Ruby Ida earlier. She married when I was five years old, Patsy three, so the three of us never got to go with him at the same time. But after she married she always came home on Christmas Day and ate dinner with us, then opened gifts, so she remembers well the trees of those years.
I guess one thing that helps us remember is that our tree was decorated mostly with the same ornaments year after year. Once in a while a new one would be added, but not very often.
One year we got a strand of lights. I’m not sure what year that was, but I do remember that there were only seven lights on it. We used it for several years before finally adding a string with more lights to our decorations. No one minded that there were only seven on it. They were beautiful. still have that first strand of seven lights, but considering its age, I wouldn’t even consider plugging them in. Maybe I’ll use them in some sort of arrangement sometime, but they won’t be lighted.
Only once did we have a tree that wasn’t a cedar. I think I was about five that year. Mother went to the woods for our tree that year. She came back with a holly tree. Patsy and I weren’t one bit happy about that — it didn’t look like a Christmas tree to us. I think Mother got upset with us for complaining about her tree. But in later years she told me that when she was a child they often had a holly tree in their house because they had lots of red berries on them, and they had mostly homemade decorations.
In later years my son Darrell sort of got even with me for complaining about the tree Mother got. By then Daddy had cut a lot of the trees and made a large hay meadow. I walked by the hay meadow on the way to the woods and spotted a perfectly shaped pine tree growing right in the middle of the meadow. It was about six feet tall, and I thought that would be perfect. So I forgot all about going to the woods for a tree and cut the one in the meadow. After all, who wants a pine tree growing in the middle of a hay meadow?
When I carried it in the house Darrell took one look and announced that was not a Christmas tree. He complained about it as long as it was standing in the living room. Now, some 40 years or so later, he still talks about the year we didn’t have a Christmas tree.
We hauled several cedar trees from Daddy’s woods back to Dallas when lived there. We weren’t the only ones doing that for sure. It seemed like half the cars on the road on Sunday afternoon would have trees tied on their cars.
The first Christmas after we married we bought a live tree at a 7-11 Store near where we lived. I felt sort of like we didn’t have a tree that year too. It was some sort of fir, and didn’t even resemble the trees I was used to. After that we made a trip to Gilmer and brought one of Daddy’s trees with us for the remainder of the time we lived there.
Once some of our friends who lived near us in Dallas bought a live tree and decorated it. Then they decided to go somewhere and when they returned their tree was laying on the floor.
The first Christmas after we moved back to Gilmer in 1972 we went to the woods searching for a tree. That year finding a tree turned out to be quite an ordeal. Most of the cedars had grown too tall, and we finally had to cut the top out of one. After that we cut cedars for a few years. But after the year that according to Darrell “We didn’t have a Christmas tree,” we started going to a Christmas tree farm.
A couple of them had a little shop where you could get hot chocolate and buy gifts, and we all enjoyed going there.
Royce’s parents continued looking for cedar trees for several years. But after his dad died we started taking his mother with us to the Christmas tree farm. She loved that, especially riding out to the field where the trees were growing. A trailer with hay bales to sit on was pulled behind a tractor. Of course going to the tree farm after that required driving our truck as well our car since there wasn’t room for more than three people to ride in the truck. The last year that his mother went with us she had to have help getting on and off the trailer. She walked long enough to pick out her tree, then sat down on a bench that was placed under a shade tree at the edge of the field. I stayed there with her and Royce and the kids went on to get our tree.
While Karen and her family were living in Nacogdoches we found an artificial tree at Hobby Lobby that looked like a real tree. We decided to get our first artificial tree then because I wanted to put it up earlier for the grandkids to enjoy.
So there were no more arguments about the live trees as there seemed to be every year when we’d try to get the live trees set up: too tall, and the shape was being ruined by trimming off some limbs; a hole on one side of the tree that had to be facing the wall; or the tree wouldn’t stand up straight because the trunk wasn’t big enough for tree stand. I hated standing by the tree trying to hold it straight while he was under the tree trying to put a piece of wood or something to make the trunk fit.
He still insisted on shaping the branches on the artificial tree. He didn’t like the way I did them. That suited me just fine (I knew he was right).
It seems that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in our family, as far as live Christmas trees were concerned. My daughter, Karen, and her husband have had several live trees over the years, each with their own particular challenges. But the first couple of years they were married were probably the best, as far as family stories go. Here’s how she told the tale of their first year’s tree.
When it was time to put up our first Christmas tree, Mike and I bundled up and headed out on our quest to find the perfect tree. We were stationed in Germany at the time at Zweibruecken AFB, but our little air base was not selling trees. Instead, we went across town and up the steep hill to Kreuzberg Kaserne, the Army post that was also in our town.
The local Boy Scout troop had a tree lot set up there where we could shop for a tree. Now what they were selling were not anything like the trees I was accustomed to seeing back in the states. The trees were imported from France and were a variety called Nordmann fir. Although this variety was very popular with the Germans, to me they resembled Charlie Brown’s poor little tree. The branches stuck out like fingers and you could see right through the tree. To say I was unimpressed would be an understatement. However, we finally settled on a tree that had a decent shape, even if it was lacking in fullness.
Those helpful Boy Scouts bagged our tree and heaved it onto the top of the small Audi we were driving, running twine through the inside of the car and over the tree to secure it. We hopped in the car and headed off the base, not realizing that the thin twine was being cut by the car doors being closed on it. Like I mentioned earlier, Kreuzberg Kaserne was at the top of a steep hill, and now we were headed down it. We had only gone a short distance, when there was a distinct snapping sound, and that tree rolled right down the windshield and hood of the car, and took off down the road ahead of us. The street was narrow, and there was no place to stop, so with me wringing my hands and having mild hysterics, all we could do was follow the tree as it rolled until the road went to the left, and the tree continued straight, finally coming to rest aside a stone retaining wall. Mike jumped out and retrieved the tree that was somehow still in its net bag, and put it back on top of the car. He quickly tied the remaining twine pieces together and fed the ends through the rolled down windows of the car. The twine wasn’t long enough to tie again, so we crept the rest of the way down that hill and several kilometers to our apartment, holding the tree in place through the car windows. Boy was it cold!
Once we made it home with the tree, Mike trimmed the bottom off the trunk of the tree and put it in a bucket while I went in search of a tree stand. Naturally, none were available at the BX, PX, or shoppette, so I had to go hunting at a German store. What I finally had to settle on didn’t look like any tree stand I’d ever seen. It was more like a green flower pot, with metal framing and bolts inside. It wasn’t very wide or deep either and would prove to lack stability also.
We got the tree in the stand without too much difficulty and I proceeded to decorate it. It still looked sparse to me, so using fishing line, I hung some ornaments on long pieces of the line where they would hang in some of the bare looking spots. So far so good; it looked pretty nice, and I was content with it.
A couple of days went by without incident, then came a night when a couple we’d befriended came over to have supper with us. After eating, we were sitting in the living room visiting, when the husband leapt off the couch, vaulted over the coffee table and got a hand on the trunk of that tree just before it would have crashed to the floor. He’d noticed the tree moving and acted quickly, saving my precious glass ornaments, many of which Mama had given me. Of course, water from the tree stand went all in the carpet, so that had to be blotted up before attention could be given to the tree.
We worked and worked on it, but it was not to find balance again. Finally, I remembered what my Grandmama Bivins used to do to make sure her cedar Christmas trees would stay put. I went to the infamous “junk drawer” and found some eye hooks and twine. Mike put one hook in the ceiling and tied the tree to it, then ran two more pieces further down the trunk, securing them on each side of the window. For the rest of that season, until we took that tree down, I was apprehensive, just sure that it was going to get loose again!