Waiting for Daybreak
Dawn was always tardy on that designated day, or so it seemed to three young girls anxious to find the perfect Christmas tree. Faces pressed against the window, we
watched the horses as they stamped impatiently snorting steamy breath into the air, nodding their heads as if deep in conversation.
“What d’ya think they’ll pick this year, a cedar or a pine?” Old Smokey might be asking of Fast Mike, so called because his only pace was slow or stop. Age put him out to pasture but for this one glorious snow-swept day, so gray the sun might have changed its mind on shining.
Mittens and mufflers and brightly colored hats, knitted by my mother’s patient hands, were waiting at the ready for the first faint sign of daybreak, while father rigged the harness gingerly, knowing once we heard the bells day had begun.
To us that meant it was time to go, to ride the flat bed sled across the snow, to find the perfect tree and take it home.
Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree
The snow decked woods was ours that day, and all that grew was part of our Christmas bounty, We skated skateless on the frozen forest floor, pulled armloads of running cedar, baskets full of holly and mistletoe, and bagged fresh boughs of aromatic pine. Each year the same reminder:
“We are here to find a tree.”
There were evergreens of all kinds and if we’d had our druthers, we’d have harvested one of each, but one was the limit and we didn’t have all day though each year the sun was fading by the time we’d made our pick..
We craned our necks, it was quite a stretch to see the pines that grew so tall, but they were mostly on the spindly side, not cultivated for their shape nor hue. Often times the cedars, lacy and full branched would catch our eye. Pine or cedar, its bottom was much too fat to use it all. We trimmed away a bit to mix with holly leaves and pinecones, wreathes for gifts and for our own front door. We were sure there never had been a Christmas quite so fine.
By now, our mittens were wet, our fingers frozen, but the sled piled high proved
that the best things in life are truly free. Just before sunset, we headed home,
happy with our perfect Christmas tree.
Trimming the Tree
In those days, when 45s were records, we stacked the Christmas songs atop the spindle. The last note didn’t fade ’til after dark, bedtime on that backwoods farm.
With cocoa simmering on the stove, the horses fed and in the barn, we were ready to decorate the tree. We used the same time honored angel every year, her hair somewhat stringy from the wear, but still our pride and joy of all the trim… My father made quite a ceremony out of placing her just right and then he strung the lights around the limbs, making sure to alternate the colors. Dedicated to this cause, it was his only claim to artistry.
Once the tree was topped and lights were lit, he washed his hands of the whole affair. My sisters and I wrapped garlands laced with cranberries around the tree’s green girth and then carefully unwrapped the fragile blown glass birds, escorted to the boughs by our mother.
Glass ornaments were a treasure not to be treated carelessly. The measure of their worth was not in dollars, but in our history. Next came the colored balls, some home baked from a special recipe most recently rediscovered as play dough.
Once all the ornaments were arranged to our satisfaction, the tedious work had just begun. Each icicle claimed its unique home, not thrown, not tossed, but lovingly set
upon a branch, on the very tip to cascade like a waterfall caught in mid flow.
The fire was crackling on the hearth, outside the snow fell quietly, gently blanketing earth. Each year, in unison, we would all agree:
“This is the most splendid tree that’s ever been.”
Years later, in my own living room abloom with Christmas glee, my boy’s shining eyes said those same sweet words to me.