Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Trees and memories of bygone holiday celebrations

I recently interviewed the owners of the Beautancus Christmas Tree Farm in Duplin County, N.C. As I left the farm, I couldn’t help but remember other Christmas trees in my life, both real and artificial.
Jody and I smile in front of the silver Christmas tree.
When I was a kid, putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it was one of the major events of the Christmas season. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, dad went to one of the Christmas Tree lots in Rialto, California, and bought a real one. Those were splendid trees with their evergreen smell that so expertly summoned the Christmas spirit. But they dried and presented a fire hazard, so dad bought one of those less-than-stellar silver trees. They were just a step above Charlie Brown’s little tree. Like Charlie Brown’s tree, that silver tree didn’t look too bad once decorated. A slowly turning color wheel took the place of the cords of lights that had been strung around the real Christmas trees in earlier years.

I’ve a photograph of my sister Jody and I standing in front of that straggly silver tree. She’s showing off a new doll while I hold a ball glove. Like many photos from the early ‘60s, time hasn’t been kind to it. It’s smudged, damaged when removed from a photo album. I cropped it to remove the damage.

In later years, when we lived on Mount Eaton Road just outside Wadsworth, Ohio, and then down south on the Muskingum River in Beverly we decorated a green artificial tree that was a bit more complicated to erect than that silver tree we owned in California. It was prettier, but the silver tree still holds a special place in my heart.

Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid at Uncle Denny's house.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hectic at our houses in Wadsworth and Beverly. On Christmas Eve we’d celebrate Christmas at the house of my cousins, Candy and Pat Kelly. It was quite an affair. Many branches of the family came to the celebration including my dad’s sister Emmy and her husband and their kids, Billy, Kim, Ken and –born much later – Brian. The kids ate at our own table while the parents ate at the "grownup" table. Candy and Pat’s dad Jack would head to Akron after the meal to do his shopping, then come back and wrap his gifts. We waited and waited and waited, and only after Jack returned and wrapped his presents could our gifts be unwrapped beside the Kelly’s huge "real" Christmas tree. Each December Jack chopped down a tree on the Kelly property and hauled it to the house. The Kelly’s recreation room had a high ceiling, perfect for that extra-tall tree erected in front of the large picture-glass window that over looked the driveway.

Bruce Snyder on Grandma Mid's lap; Denny with Taffy.
One Christmas Eve we left the Kelly house after midnight – actually, Christmas morning, right? – and discovered several inches of newly fallen snow. The overcast had cleared and a fall moon casts its brilliance down on the white blanket that covered the yard. Even now, decades later, I can say that night was the brightest I’ve ever seen. It was mystical ... I expected to see fairies fluttering above the snow or maybe a unicorn to emerge from the woods.

After celebrating our own Christmas on Christmas morning – and eating the traditional fruitcake supplied by dad’s mom, our Grandmother Nan, we’d pack presents in the car for Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid, Uncle Denny and Aunt Dee and their kids, Kim and Kevin, and head to the Fourth Street house in Rittman.

In earlier times, when Denny was young and still living at home, Grandpa Frog bought a real tree for the living room. My dad, who will be 87 in April, recently shared some memories of Christmas in Rittman. He said that Grandma Mid would study the tree and whenever she saw a "thin" area she’d have grandpa hammer in an additional limb. That’s right ... grandpa would not only bring the Christmas Tree, he’d also come back to the house with extra limbs. He’d saw them to fit the trunk and then affix them to the tree with nails. He must have been grateful when they purchased an artificial tree, one that had not only limbs that needed to be attached to the trunk, but branches and twigs that had to be attached to the limbs.

"Joyful" partying at Christmastime 1981.
In the 1940s and 1950s Denny’s train set ran around the tree. That’s the way Christmas should be ... a Lionel engine and railcars wheeling around a real tree.
Nowadays my sister Jody and her husband put up a couple of artificial trees, one in the living room and one in the back family room. I don’t know if any of her three daughters, all married, plan to return to Beverly to celebrate Christmas. Two – Quinn and Vanessa – live in Charlotte, North Carolina, while the third, Nicci, lives up in Central Michigan. Jody is a grandmother now ... Quinn and her husband Lance have a toddler, Griffin, 15 months old, who will be experiencing his first Christmas where he can actually open presents. In the not-so-distant future, Griffin will be tucking away memories of Christmas trees and celebrations that perhaps he’ll write about in the 2070s.

1 comment:

  1. Every time we think of getting a real tree shadowy lobbying groups from the articifial tree companies percolate stories in the press about the uninvited guests real trees bring into the house. :)