Each year as I’m driving around during the holidays, my memories of my father come flooding back to me each time a car passes me carrying a freshly cut Christmas tree on the roof or in the bed of a truck.
As a grown up, I have celebrated Christmas each year with an artificial tree, beautifully decorated, mind you, with ornaments that reflect our "horsie" lifestyle. Rearing horses, spotted horses, jumping horses. Not your typical suburban Christmas tree – yet, one that fit our lifestyle on 5 acres in Parker, Colorado.
Yet my fondest Christmas memories were those cutting down a fresh Christmas tree with my dad each year...
As I was the youngest of 4 children, and for many years, the only one left at home, it was my dad and I who went on the annual search for the "perfect tree."
I grew up in Whitewater, Wisconsin – a rural farming community where everyone knew everyone else and you could walk on the streets at 3 AM without ever worrying about anyone bothering you. You could also cut your own Christmas tree at a nearby tree farm and it became my most anticipated outing for me each year.
My father drove a GMC pickup truck, probably circa 1959 or so. It was a rather ugly green, with a stick shift, and it smelled like him – earthy and tinged with his personal scent of sweat mixed in with a little bit of axel grease.
I remember that he and I would pile into his truck for the "adventure," with saw in hand, bundled up against the Wisconsin cold. As he climbed out of his side of the truck, I would virtually fly out of my side into the waiting rows of trees that seemed to almost scream to me, "Take me! Take me! I want to be the one!"
Of course, my dad would always suggest the very first tree we saw and I would flatly refuse, until we had seen many, many trees so that we would pick the BEST tree possible! He loved to tell everyone how we would march through the freezing snow and cold, past hundreds of trees, until at last we would end up right back at the first, original tree he had spotted upon disembarking from the truck! (Of course it was all hogwash! I couldn’t possibly choose the tree right next to the road, but he loved to tell that story all year long anyway.)
Once found, he would make the precision cut with his hack saw and we would lovingly haul that tree back to his noisy old truck and place it in the back for the ride home.
Upon being perched regally in its stand of water at home, the decorating was my job. The special ornament box would come out from the top shelf of the closet and I would spend the next couple of hours ohhhing and ahhhhing over each ornament I would pull out of the box, as I remembered it from the preceding year.
Plastic snowflakes and snowmen, colorful balls with that scratchy white stuff that was supposed to look like snow but just reminded you of the feel of fingernails on a chalkboard when you touched them, and years of homemade ornaments my siblings and I had made in school were all strategically posted in their own special spots throughout the boughs.
The scent of pine filled the house, right along with all the fresh needles that had scattered like cookie crumbs along the kitchen tile all the way into the place of honor in the living room. No one seemed to notice until much later.
What simple times those were. I can even remember how excited I got over certain gifts I received back then… a sweater I called a "ski sweater," due to its colorful pattern. (There’s not much for skiing in Wisconsin, by the way!) A "Creepy Crawler machine" to make nasty plastic spiders and other lovely creatures. A "Mr. Ed" talking hand puppet (which I still have to this day, even though he no longer talks.) Our stockings filled with nuts and oranges.
My father passed away in 1998 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and it has been decades since I have been in that tree farm on the "hunt" for that "special tree." Yet to this day, whenever I see a car carrying a Christmas tree on top, on its way home to someone’s living room, I think of my dad and the special times he made for me out of something so simple as an outing for an evergreen tree.