This time of year causes most of us to reminisce and I am no exception. I remember one particular Christmas that held little promise of a joyful season. My parents had recently divorced and my father had abandoned us. My mother, recovering from having had my youngest sister, found a job teaching school in an unfamiliar community. The church we were attending was a stern and forbidding one that frowned on “pagan” observances of Christmas such as decorations and trees. The small, old farmhouse my mother was able to rent on her meager salary was often cold.
As the oldest, I knew there would be few resources with which to purchase presents or candy. I grieved for my absent father, ached for my mother’s struggles to keep us together, fed and provided for, but mostly I worried about my two younger sisters and brother. How could we have the good Christmas that friendly people in our small town wished us?
When we asked mother if we could have a tree, knowing that was one tradition we always looked forward to, she said yes. Excitedly we drove to town, but when we saw the prices, we realized we couldn’t afford one. Discouraged, we drove home when my ever-resourceful brother piped up, “Hey, we can just find one in the woods.” The smiles crept back into our faces.
We lived at the end of a far-flung gravel road, next-door to a forest that I realized in later years was a Weyerhaeuser tree farm. The next day it snowed heavily. School closed, the snowplows couldn’t get up our road and the mail couldn’t be delivered. Undaunted, the three of us children determined to make our trek. Leaving baby April behind with mother, we bundled up with rubber boots, coats, scratchy wool scarves, hats and mittens our grandmother had made us and headed out.
It was then the magic happened. The deep snow made squeaks under our boots. The forest was quiet and somewhat darkened by the still-falling snow. The evergreens pointed heavenward and we held out our tongues to catch the snowflakes, our breath creating clouds of steam. We searched onward for just the right tree, blissfully unaware we were trespassing. At last my sister Holly sung out, “There it is!” It was as if we recognized the tree meant for us – a beautifully symmetrical silver fir. My brother David began to hack at its base with his rather small axe. When I offered to spell him off after a while, he politely declined and continued his efforts until he severed the trunk. I held the axe so he could take the trunk under his arm. He began to drag our tree behind him, heading for home.
The sight of him dragging the tree on the snowy, seemingly abandoned logging road with my sister Holly following, is etched in my mind like a Currier and Ives painting. The falling snow, the shape of the perfect tree, the lavenders and blues of my sister’s stocking cap, the crunch of the snow underfoot, all filled our hearts with joy. Arriving home, we found mother had the wood stove blazing and hot cocoa simmering. The tree, we realized to our amazement, was larger than our 12 foot ceiling and had to be cut several feet shorter. Our baby sister cooed over the lights and decorations we excitedly placed on the tree. The gifts that year were simple, my mother’s homemade pies delicious, but mostly I remember the satisfaction of three poor children with an unwavering wish to celebrate Christmas.
Over 50 years have come and gone. Both of my parents have passed away, my father dying alone and friendless; my mother deeply loved and missed by many. The old house still stands, but the forest has been harvested and no longer looks the same. Each year we struggle to keep our Christmases simpler, more meaningful and less commercial than the year before.
But what I hope will never diminish, is the belief that when we pull together as a family, however configured, to celebrate a tradition no matter how frugal, there is a spirit that enhances and glorifies our efforts. If the goal is unselfish enough, our effort courageous enough, Heaven’s messengers fly to our aid – even if it is only a tree, only a small, poor family on a snowbound logging road in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. May such be your Christmas – and thank you, Weyerhaeuser.