By James Murray, Observer contributor
When American poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer sat down in 1913 to pen the words to his now famous poem, Trees, little did he know how his simple words would capture the hearts and imaginations of so many people. The first two lines especially: “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.”
Having said that, however, Kilmer could not have possibly had in mind the Christmas trees that we used to haul home when we were kids.
Some were selected and purchased from tree lots, while others were cut down in the woods and brought home on the roof of our 1953 powder blue Plymouth Cranbrook. I remember the selection process involved a short walk from the road and a quick cut in 30 below temperatures. Then there was the ride home with the car heater cranked up to the max and all four windows rolled down an inch or so to accommodate the ropes wrapped around the tree in order to bind it to the roof.
I can also remember the years when the four of us kids would get all bundled up and trudge along in the snow helping my father pull our toboggan to a local tree lot to pick out a Christmas tree. As a small child I used to walk along through the aisles of trees as if venturing into the deep dark woods in search of just the right one. By process of consensus we would all help select a tree and haul it home.
My father would often grab a few of the branches that had broken off other trees and bring them along. More often than not my younger sister and brother would have to be carted home on the toboggan because they were too tired to walk any further. It mattered not because we were having fun and there was also the anticipation of getting to decorate the tree later that evening.
When we got home, my father would place the tree in the stand and then survey it in search of any “bald spots” we may have overlooked in our initial selection. My father, a blacksmith by trade, would, once a year, become somewhat of a tree surgeon. Out would come his hand drill and whenever and wherever it was determined our tree had a bald spot, my father proceed to drill a hole in the trunk. He would then trim one of the extra branches to the right length and jam it in the hole. Before long, we would have an absolutely perfectly shaped and balanced Christmas tree. It was amazing how long those added branches lasted, usually until the tree was given the old heave-ho sometime in the new year.
Of course there was the year that we brought home a tree that had a well constructed and perfectly intact mouse nest in one of its branches near the trunk. My sister, who first discovered the nest, gently removed it and placed it in a shoe box. In between taking turns hanging an ornament, we also took turns inspecting the nest and trying to determine if it was inhabited. As I recall, both the nest and the shoebox mysteriously disappeared overnight and were never mentioned gain. There was also the year our tree lost almost half its needles in the first few days and we had to go and get another one and decorate all over again. That year we had twice the fun. And then there was the year my father bought one of those artificial trees at Gerlovin’s Hardware Store and my mother made him take it back.
As kids, we took special delight in helping decorate the Christmas trees. Over the years there was a lot of laughter and even a few tears shed over broken glass ornaments. I can still see the bubbling electric candles with their cloth-bound, uninsulated wiring. I wonder how many fires those things caused?
I also remember the year my mother passed away and my little sister hung one of my mother’s tin cookie cutters. It was in the shape of a star. That was almost 50 years ago. It wasn’t that long ago though that I happened to notice it in one of my sister’s kitchen drawers.
Yes, there was a lot of fun and laughter involved in putting up the Christmas tree back then.
I think if I were to be given one gift this Christmas, if one Christmas wish were to come true, it would be to hear that laughter, that now long ago, childish, innocent laughter, just one more time.