On this last day of 2019, my thoughts are on the past. Of nostalgia, of things I haven’t seen for many years and think of again. This often happens to me the older I get, but last night I was looking on eBay for a tree topper, something to put on the top of the Christmas tree, since ours, while very festooned with ornaments and lights, is definitely missing something at the very top.
When I was young, living in the Hudson Valley, we got a real tree every November on the day after Thanksgiving. My Dad would pile myself and my brother into the 1970 Oldsmobile station wagon (a yesteryear SUV) for the trip out to the Christmas tree farm in Milan. Once there, we would park the car and take the purple handled crosscut saw up the hill into the trees to find the right one for us. As I recall, it needed to be a Douglas Fir, as the needles on that particular type of tree would best accommodate our ornaments and it would be a good looking specimen situated in our family room in front of the bay window. My Dad, standing six feet three inches, was able to easily measure using his height and his arm to get a feel for how high each choice might be since we had seven-foot ceilings in the house. Too, we had to accommodate the height of the tree stand it was going to be sitting in, I have to admit Dad thought of everything in that regard.
My brother was always less interested in the nuts and bolts of the operation than I was, so I tended to stick closer to Dad while he was measuring and thinking. John would wander off, talk to his friends from school whose families were also there doing the same thing, but I would have the saw, and Dad would be measuring and we’d converse about which tree was better, was it good to have one that was ‘perfectly conical’ or could we get away with one that was a little less so, so that it had character.
Once it had been decided which one, Dad would cut the tree himself in the early years, using myself or John to hold the tree steady as he cut. As we got older, he would allow one of us to use the saw, after being sure we were of the understanding of how the saw best be used, safety and all of that. Dad was a stickler for that sort of thing, definitely ahead of his time. I expect that was because he grew up on a farm, and had seen more than his share of accidents when it came to carelessness, so he wanted to be certain his boys made it to adulthood with all ten fingers and toes. I always marveled about how heavy the tree was after it had been felled, dragging it down the hill and back towards the car. Dad would pay the manager of the tree farm (in the early years it was $10-15, in later years before we stopped going it was about $25 per tree. The tree farm is still in operation today and they’re charging $75 for the same trees, mostly because of people from all around the area, sometimes as far away as NYC and CT desire natural trees for their Christmases) and would spread out the canvas drop cloth, rolling the tree in it for the trip home.
After that, he would lift the tree up, and with my and John’s help, we’d manage to get it into the station wagon, though with the treetop sticking out the window in the back of the vehicle, rather than trying to stuff the entire six and a half foot tree inside. Usually, it would be a fairly cold ride home, with the tree base sticking pretty close to the front seats, and either John or I sitting in the back holding onto the tree so it wouldn’t slide one way or the other and bang into Dad as he was driving.
Once we got home, Mom would have a pot of hot water ready for the tree, as well as hot cocoa (with marshmallows!) made on the stove for all of us to have. Dad would go down to the basement, (or send me down) to get the red and green tree stand so that he could settle it on the base and using a mallet, pound the stand onto the base of the tree. At that point, the tree and stand would be lugged into the backyard, then to the screened porch to be muscled through the door and set up to wait a couple of weeks until the time came for it to be brought into the house and be decorated. The hot water was poured into the tree stand, to infuse the tree and assist it in continuing to ‘live’, otherwise, the tree would begin to die in earnest, the needles would turn brown fairly quickly and we’d have a dead tree by Christmas.
Getting back to the tree topper I had been searching for, over the last couple of years I’ve been looking on places like Etsy and eBay for one similar. A couple of times I’ve found one, but never ‘pulled the trigger’ in getting it. Every year my wife and I tell one another that we’re going to get one for the next year, but we never do. This year, I got a Lenox snowflake ornament for one of her presents, and we put that at the top of the tree in place of that something else that’s always missing. Perhaps this year I’ll take the plunge and get something to ‘finish the tree’. Perhaps.
Anyway, this is the last post of 2019. Tomorrow starts another year. I wonder what that year will bring?