Finding the Christmas Tree|
By Nancy Julien Kopp
Memories of long-past Christmas seasons float in and out of my mind while I make plans for this year’s celebration. Soon, Ken will bring out our artificial tree, one that is decked out with the lights already on it. I’ll bring out boxes and boxes of shining ornaments and keepsake treasures to decorate it. Inevitably, while I am in the process of turning the bare tree into a work of art, I think of the trees my family decorated when I was a child.
I grew up in the forties and fifties in a Chicago suburb. We city folk didn’t go out in the fields and cut down a tree, but we kept our own tradition. On a cold December evening, Dad would announce that it was time to find a Christmas tree. My brothers and I grabbed heavy coats, hats, and gloves. We slipped out feet into snow boots, grabbed a woolen scarf and followed Dad to the car. Our excitement bubbled over in giggles and hoots as we drove to the tree lot.
For eleven months of the year, it was nothing but an empty corner lot next to a liquor store. But in December, it magically became the resting place of dozens and dozens of trees destined to fill the living rooms of suburban Chicago. Short needled firs, long needled pines and even a few pastel flocked trees lined up like soldiers waiting to go into battle.
It wasn’t only the trees that excited us. The owners of the tree lot were hunters, and every year they erected a wooden teepee-like frame in the most prominent corner of the lot. Hanging from a crossbar would be three or four animals they’d killed. Usually it was deer, but once a black bear swung to and fro, its fur covered with ice crystals. Animal rights groups did not march in protest in those days. Instead, these often-frozen animals drew crowds of shoppers. My brothers and I marched round and round the animals, viewing them from all sides but fearing to touch them. Meanwhile, Dad walked up and down the rows of trees, pulling one upright now and then, shaking the snow off its branches to inspect it.
He’d call to us when he found one he liked, and we’d crunch across the frozen snow-packed ground to look it over. “No,” we’d all say. “It’s not big enough.” Then we’d follow Dad while he found another tree, and we’d thumb our noses at it. “Not big enough,” we’d tell him while stamping our cold feet to warm them.
The owner of the tree lot would amble over, so bundled up he looked akin to the bear hanging from the wooden frame. He kept a cigar clamped in his teeth, and he wore gloves with the fingers cut off, so he could peel off dollar bills from the stack he carried in full sight. Dad would shake the man’s hand and say, “OK, let’s see the good trees now.” He moved the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, shake his head and finally gesture for us to follow him.
We moved across the lot to the brick building next door. He opened a door, and we walked single file down a long flight of steps to a cellar. Dozens more trees leaned against the walls. Dad pulled out one after the other until we found a tree that we three children deemed “big enough.” We knew that now was a time to be silent, for the serious part of this adventure was about to begin. Dad and the cigar chomping man dickered back and forth about the price of our tree until both were satisfied. When the deal was made and money changed hands, Dad picked up the tree and up the steps we went. He tied the tree to the top of our car, and we drove the few blocks home.
Dad hauled the tree up the three flights of stairs to our apartment and put it outside on our small balcony. We had to wait until a few days before Christmas to put up and decorate our tree, but I often went to the glass door that led to the balcony to check and make sure no one had taken our tree in the night. Now why I thought someone would climb to the third floor to steal our tree is a wonder.
At last, the big day arrived. Dad brought the tree in and put it in the stand, and every year the same thing happened. He used a handsaw to cut several inches off the tree so it would fit in our living room. The tree never looked as big outdoors as it did inside. We waited impatiently while Dad placed strings of colored lights on the tree. Mother helped the three of us hang sparkly ornaments of various colors, and we finished with strand upon strand of silver tinsel. Finally, Dad climbed on a step-stool and placed the angel on top. I would sigh with relief that she watched over our tree another year, and joy filled my heart each time I gazed at the angel with the pink satin dress and golden wings. There were times I could swear she smiled at me.
That special pink angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn and Mother discarded her. How I’d love to have her sitting atop our tree this year smiling down at me once again. Instead, I’ll put up the angel I bought to replace her. She’s nice but somehow not quite the same.