Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The McNeal Family Christmas Tree


Back left to right: Mom and Pop  Bottom left to right: Me and my sister, Mary

Far left: The Sad Christmas Tree


I’ve told the story about foraging for a Christmas tree before, but I wanted to tell it again now that I’ve found a picture of that tree to show you.


Every Christmas season Mom would want a Christmas tree because she was a believer in decorating for the holiday to the fullest capacity. Naturally, the task of foraging for that tree fell on Pop, my sister, and me. As much as I loved Christmas trees, I dreaded that trip into the pine forest. It required sturdy jeans, warm gloves, layers of clothes, and a pioneer to get the job done. Pop did not allow any whining along the way—and there was quite a way to go.


First, we had to walk past the backyard, through whatever was left in the garden, beyond the orchard, into the woods. Then the real journey began as we went down the hill to the little creek, up the steep bank over old oak trees that had fallen here and there until we reached the briar patch. Our dog, Ember, the Irish setter, was all over the place chasing tiny woodland creatures and cover in beggar lice and cock-a-burrs (getting them out of her fur was a chore for later.)


The briar patch was a wide strip of blackberry vines heavily protected by sharp thorns. No matter how hard we tried, those thorns caught on our clothes, scratched our hands till the blood came, and even pierced our heavy duty jeans. We would have to step high over the bushes to avoid the worst of the thorns. After a while our hips hurt and we were tired tuckered out—and we hadn’t even reached the pine forest. Ember was bouncing around, barking and running hither and yon, so at least one of us was happy and had some energy.

It seemed that every year we picked the coldest day to go looking for a Christmas tree because, by this time, we were all frozen, our hands were numb, and we just longed to get back home and get something hot to drink and warm up.


On this particular year our grump trio finally reached the pine forest and the end of our enthusiasm. Pop was the one who suggested we just get the first tree we came across and scurry on home. My sister and I heartily agreed. Pop and I did this one year when I was the only one still at home. We lucked up finding the best tree we ever had, but this was not that year. We took down the first tree we saw that was the least bit decent and headed home with it. The journey back to the house seemed to take more effort and we grumbled the whole way home. But I’m here to testify to the fact that Mom was happy with that tree. She didn’t complain about how shabby it looked, not even once.


I tried to get Pop to buy a tree one year, but oh my word, I may as well have asked him to turn over his life savings. He stared at me like I had told him I was giving up my citizenship and defecting to Russia for a moment before he let loose on me about the cost of buying a tree and how it just wasn’t American or something like that. I thought he was going to disown me. I never asked to buy a tree again.


For all the aggravation it was going into the forest to find a Christmas tree each year, I miss those days. I miss being in the forest, letting the dog run free, and finding our own tree. I miss the joy on Mom’s face when we brought the tree into the house, and I miss Pop making us take that dreaded trek into the woods to fetch that tree.  I’m glad at least to have these memories to treasure.


Did you have to take these treks into the woods for a tree or did your family have a different tradition? What is your favorite childhood memory of Christmas or the holiday season?

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