Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Memories

Christmas is almost here and I am ready! I'll be off the next ten days and down South, but hopefully I can make a few posts. We've had a lot of snow this year-over 50 inches so far. I took the photo on the right, of Cedar Creek, two weeks ago. Today, I couldn't even get back to this site in my truck, I'd have to ski. The second photo is of this year's tree, taken from the east window in front of the house (the tree is next to the south window and you can see its refection off that glass).

Christmas is the season of pondering... "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them -n her heart," Luke writes in his Gospel. Below is a story of my pondering... Ya'll have a Merry Christmas.

I never felt like our Christmas tree was the real thing growing up. Yeah, it was a live tree all right; we’d never go for the artificial variety, but it was a store bought tree. We always purchased ours from the Optimist Club, which was logical since they supported the local Little League baseball program.

On the night we were to put up the tree, we’d all wait patiently—well, not so patiently—for my Daddy to come home from work. When he arrived, we’d pile in the car and drive up to the Optimist lot on Oleander Drive. It was a makeshift operation. An amateur electrician strung wire from which hung bare light bulbs, illuminating the lot. Trees were laid up against wires run between poles. We’d go through the lot looking at 100s of them. None ever seem perfect, and it was hard to get all of us to agree. After 15 minutes of this fruitless exercise, my parents would assume authority and pick out a tree. Dad would take it over to the men who were standing around a barrel, warming their hands over the fire and chuckling as they observed families disputing over trees in the season of peace. He’d pay for the tree and tie it to the top of the car for the ride home.

In some ways, it’s odd that my dad purchased a tree instead of finding a place to cut one. He’s the type of man who never buys anything he can make, and that included our tree stand. Had the bomb dropped on our house, something kids worried about in the mid-60s, I’m sure Dad’s tree stand would have remained intact. I was in Junior High before I could pick it up. It was constructed from a 3 foot by 3 foot square piece of 3/8-inch plate steel with a five-inch steel tube welded to it. The trunk went into the tube and screws held the tree in place. This tree stand was so solid that the tree’s trunk would have broken before it would have toppled. As a child, I wondered why we didn’t have one of those flimsy stands like all other families. As an adult, after having had several trees fall over, I wish I had Dad’s old stand. It would survive kids, dogs, cats, and rowdy guests, all which have been known to topple my tree.

My grandparents still lived on the farm and they never had a store bought tree. Theirs was a real tree—an Eastern Cedar—thick and full and fragrant compared to the scrawny firs the Optimist Club imported from Canada. My mother, obviously trying to console us, said firs were better because you had more room between branches on which to hang ornaments. She was trying to convince herself, I’m sure, for she knew that a tree had to be picked out and cut by one’s own hands in order to be authentic.

Of all the trees I’ve seen in my life, the one that stands out as the ideal tree was the one my Grandmother and Grandfather F. had for Christmas 1966. It was a full, well shaped cedar my grandfather cut near the stream that ran behind his tobacco barn. Although I didn’t witness the harvesting of this tree, I imagine him to this day, sitting on top of his orange Allis Chambers tractor, with the tree tied behind the seat, hauling it back home. This tree took up a quarter of their living room and its scent permeated their home. Grandma decorated it simply with white lights, red bulbs and silver icicles. And, of course, there were presents for all us grandkids underneath.

That year, they gave me a Kodak Instamatic Camera, the kind that used the drop-in 126-film cartridges and those square disposable flashes that mounted on top. It was the closest thing to a foolproof camera ever built and I got good use out of it. It’d be nearly another decade and I’d be almost 20 before I replaced it with a 35 millimeter. My grandfather did not feel good that Christmas, but after some coaxing, I got him to come outside so I could take a picture of him and my grandmother in front of the house. Even though I lost this picture many years ago, I can still visualize the snapshot in my mind. Grandma and Granddad stood in front of their porch, by one of the large holly bushes that framed their steps. My slender grandmother, a bit taller than her husband, has her arm around him. They’re both smiling. Granddad sports his usual crew cut. In the picture, my grandparents are a bit off-center and crooked, for the camera wasn’t as foolproof as Kodak led everyone to believe. I didn’t have it level. But the image was sharp. It still is.

My granddad never raised another crop of tobacco. I don’t know for sure, but he may have never even driven his tractor again. Early that January, just before my tenth birthday, his heart gave out. Although I don't have the photo, I'm glad to have the memory.

For a more detailed story of that Christmas 1966, click here.


  1. I got chills reading this post. I needed to be reminded of the good things. Wonderful memories.

    Why don't you make a stand like your Dad did? Or have you tried and failed? :)

    Have a wonderful Christmas, Sage!

  2. P.S. Have some sweet tea for me while you're down South, huh? And enjoy being away from the snow, 'cuz I certainly would!

  3. Isn't it wonderful the way we revisit our memories each year, be it Diwali for me or Christmas for you? In a way we frelive. Whoever said past is gone forever?

    The way I see it, it only enhances the bond that I share with my brothers and their children.

    Not to forget mom. I know I ramble on but you started it.

    Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  4. This is an excellent post Sage. I wanted to call you racist because your trees were from Canada, but I couldn't even think properly after the last few paras. I'm speechless.

  5. See, I even forgot to wish you Merry Christmas. Wow this post is heavy.

  6. Loved it Sage!

    Grandfathers are very special and I miss both mine deeply. Papa, the tobacco farmer, cut trees and sold them in his front yard during December. He lived on the main drag and always had takers. We shifted to an artificial tree early in my childhood, but my other grandfather, Pa, went out in the woods behind his house and would cut the biggest thing he could find. Took up practically the whole dining room, and it looked liked the presents flowed from underneath!

    Merry Christmas, Sage!

  7. What a wonderful Christmas memory, Sage. Even though you lost that particular photograph, I still envy the number of old pictures you do seem to have.

    And at least the tree wasn't from the Pessimist Club. Sorry, somebody had to say it :)

    Merry Christmas.

  8. TC, my dad had access to an industrial plant with steel and welders. I don't. As for sweet tea, this southern boy only drinks unsweetened, but I do drink ice tea year around.

    Gautami, never apology for rambling!

    Mother Hen, Thanks for your comments. Now for your new profile pic, are you making snow angels or are you passed out in the snow?

    Maggie, you are right about there being something special with grandfathers (and grandmothers).

    Bone, I should start a Pessimist Club, thanks for teh idea!

    Merry Christmas, Karen.

  9. Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories. Merry Christmas Sage

  10. I've had 35 Christmas trees in my life and every one of them have been an eastern red cedar. I can't think of having anything else.

    Thanks for the memories. Merry Christmas to you and your family Sage.

  11. This post reminds me of why I blog. I want to capture all those special moments on camera and I want to remember the people in my life, our conversations, the way we were. Christmas 1966 was so long ago, but I love how you remember it in such detail.

    Merry Christmas, my friend. Enjoy your trip!

  12. I think I had that same camera - Merry Xmas, sage!

  13. My tree has always looked the same but recently we switched from Douglas fir to what we call a Terry Cannon fir in tribute to my cousin's crazy ex-husband. I like it better. I can almost double up the ornaments on a branch.

  14. Oh..by the way...Merry Belated Christmas. Shame you aren't around to experience the freezing rain this morning.

  15. Huh? You thanked me for calling you a racist? :)

    Hello, what passing out on the snow! I was having my beauty sleep, don't you know sleeping on a bed of ice/snow can turn back the bio clock? Geez!