My youngest daughter Kate, formerly known as Kathy, requested that I reprise this column. I am amazed that I found hard copy; it was written on my old Kaypro and published in 1985.
The year 1971 was important for me. In January I was a suburban housewife, busy with PTA, chaufferring the children, the Ladies Literary Circle, chauffering the children, and chauffering the children some more. By September I was divorced, settled in Greenfield with my five children (ages 6 to 12), a member of the Food Coop and the owner of my own business.
The year was so full of activity, so full of new people and new schedules, so full of change, that I was determined that Christmas would be filled with tradition – gingerbread, candles and carolling.
As the December days shortened a new young friend suggested the ultimate Christmas tradition, an expedition to the woods to choose and cut down our own tree. He even volunteered to lead the way. Unfortunately, though our friend was kind, he didn’t know much about Christmas trees, or even about the woodlot he drove us to.
Snow had fallen early and heavily that year. December was very cold, but the day chosen for our excursion dawned mild and sunny.
After a busy Sunday morning and a late lunch a new friend drove me and the three girls, Diane, Betsy and Kathy, into the snow covered hills of Heath (as yet unknown to us) to find the perfect Christmas tree – a tree that would reign in the corner of our new living room, crowned with sparkling ornaments and twinkling lights as a beautiful and substantial symbol of stability.
We sang and laughed as we drove along, leaving the main roads and heading into the forest.
The woods were thick, but the trees seemed rather spindly so we continued on. The sun retreated behind gunmetal clouds. We drove a little more.
At last, although the trees didn’t look any more attractive we parked the car, tumbled out and breathed the woodsy air. I thumped my chest and declared that this was the way to celebrate Christmas. Yes, sir!
As we tramped through the snow I tried to generate interest in another chorus of ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but no one had much breath to spare.
Although the sun had disappeared, it had done its damage, melting the stop of the snow that had frozen into an icy crust that caved in beneath our feet. With every step we plunged knee deep into the snow. Or more accurately, I plunged knee deep into the snow, my three daughters (the boys had managed to avoid this excursion) had considerably more trouble. Six year old Kathy could barely lift her leg high enough to take the next step.
I looked around at the trees picturesquely bent beneath their burden of snow and realized I had never seen such scrawny trees. “Aren’t they beautiful?” I insisted, ignoring reality. “I’m sure the perfect tree is just waiting for us – just a little further.”
“I’m cold,” Diane complained.
“I’ve got snow in my boots,” Betsy wailed.
Kathy fell and started to cry. She had scraped her chin on the icy crust.
There are times when it’s best to bow to the inevitable. “Look, there,” I cried exultantly, pointing to the least skinny tree in view, “It’s OUR tree!”
We shook the snow off the branches and it didn’t look bad. Not really. Within minutes the tree was down and our task accomplished.
The walk back to the car, dragging an 8 foot tree through the deep snow took a long time. We were all exhausted by the time we tied our find on top of the car.
There was no singing on the way home. We were cold and wet and the tempermental car heater failed. By the time we pulled into the driveway it was dark. Happily, Henry, the man I had recently met and would eventually marry, met us at the door. While I got the girls into hot baths and their warm nighties, Henry set up the tree. The trunk was crooked and it took lots of guy wiring to hold it stable.
Despite a noble struggle the tree still listed dangerously to one side. The sparse branches hadn’t looked so bad in the shadowy woods, but now they drooped dejectedly against the white wall and the hemlock needles were already starting to drop.
All the children trooped into the living room. We stood there in silence. The tree was pathetic.
And then we started to laugh.
Some how most of our Christmas ornaments had been lost in the move, including all the treasures the children had made over the years. Yet, as we fastened a new paper star to the top of the tree, I realized that the promise of joy heralded by the first Christmas star had been fulfilled, once more.
Do you have a family Christmas story? I’d love to hear it.