Some of my favorite Christmas memories as a child involved combing the ranch for the perfect Christmas tree. In Grimes County, we have thick piney woods sprinkled with cedars. Unless you are going for a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, cedars are your best bet. They not only naturally grow in a conical shape; they smell wonderful, too.
It is funny how childhood memories work. One of my favorite stories about Christmas tree finding on the ranch occurred without me. I was at school, but my mom and little brother decided to surprise the family by decorating for Christmas in our absence.
They set out together armed with a saw across the pasture and into the woods keeping their eyes peeled for the perfect tree. Their trek took them through two dry creeks bottoms with steep banks, but finally after hours of searching they found the perfect tree.
I imagine like the Griswold family in the movie,National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my mom and brother saw a spotlight from the heavens casting a beautiful glow around the cedar tree. They immediately agreed that their long search was over. They fell to the ground beneath the full, aromatic boughs and began cutting the tree down.
Finally, they heard the crack of the wood splintering, a brief pause, and the victorious thud as the tree hit the ground. Taking a few minutes to catch their breath, they leaned against a nearby pine tree.
Now was time for the real work. They had to retrace their route back home, but this time their passage was encumbered by the bulk and weight of the tree. What they would have given for some help! Crossing the creeks proved to be the most difficult obstacle, especially the last one. Fatigue set in as sweat dampened their skin despite the cold weather.
Fueled by the Christmas spirit and a good dose of stubbornness, my mom set her mind to completing the task before her. She wrapped a rope around the base of the trunk and with my brother’s help pulled the tree up the side of the bank. Now just a short walk across an open pasture lay between them and home.
It was the longest recorded crossing of that field in the history of the ranch. The tree was dropped several times despite the fact that their hands were covered with sticky sap. Finally they went through the last gate and plopped it down in the front yard.
They were tired and hungry. The last thing they wanted to do was decorate for Christmas. All they wanted to do was take a shower, put on their pajamas, and sit before a fire, but it was only the afternoon. After they ate a very late lunch, they felt more up to the task.
My mom cut off the bottom of the trunk and some of the bottom boughs. She tried to put on the tree stand, but it would not fit. So she cut off more of the trunk and more branches. Tired from cutting, she decided to just go with it and tried to carry the tree into the living room. Drug is a more fitting description. It barely squeezed in the doorway. In the struggle to pull it through, many needles were knocked off. With one huge tug, the tree gave way and my mom struggled to keep her balance.
She managed to set the tree up. The tree swallowed the living room and its top bent against the ceiling. Out of frustration my mom dragged it back out into the front yard and left it while she tried to clean herself up.
About this time, I walked up. Seeing a huge felled tree in the yard, I enthusiastically shouted, “Yeah, we have a Christmas tree! We have a big, beautiful tree!” Then I asked, “Where is it going to go this year?”
Needless to say, it never did become our Christmas tree. It never fit in our house. Despite this fact and the fact that I was not present for the tree cutting, it is by far one of my favorite family holiday stories.
I cannot prove it, but I think the scene in the Christmas Vacation movie is loosely based on my mom and brother’s adventure. What kind of Christmas tree memories do you have?