It was only a few days before Christmas in the late 1950s. My father, who worked in the woods every day and really had no excuse, had yet to bring home a Christmas tree.
My sister and I were 11 and 12, still young enough to enjoy the spirit of Santa Claus, a glow my father, we decided, hadn’t yet detected.
When Dad came through the door after work, my younger sister and I told him we weren’t about to put up with another day of wondering and waiting when he would bring home a Christmas tree. He parked his packbasket in a corner, shrugged out of heavy winter clothing, and settled himself at the kitchen table to read the newspaper. My sister and I leaned on either side of him and declared we weren’t going to leave him alone until he gave us an answer.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
Late in the afternoon the next day, Dad said, “OK, girls, get your things on, we’re going to get a Christmas tree.”
My mother helped us stuff ourselves into snow pants and jackets. She coiled scarves around our necks, tied hats closely over our heads and made sure our mittens were tucked into our jacket cuffs. She wrapped us up like precious packages even though we considered ourselves too old for such fussing.
“Don’t be all day,” my mother said to my father as we left. It would be dark soon and the temperature hovered in the single digits.
“Where we going, Dad?” I asked as he drove out of the yard.
“Oh, I know a place …” he said, his voice filled with mystery.
Dad drove to Brighton past our grandparents’ house, then headed toward Wellington.
“How come we’re going all this way?” my sister asked.
Dad just grinned at us and for me the mystery deepened and became tinged with a flare of excitement. I knew that Dad had a streak of mischief in him.
Dad stopped beside a sloping field deep with snow glistening under a rising moon. Up the road, on a hill, sat a farmhouse where light glowed from the kitchen windows and woodsmoke coiled from the center chimney — it was like a picture on a Christmas card.
“I’ve been by here a few times and I know there’s a nice-looking tree up there a little ways,” Dad said. “Now I want you girls to follow me, but be quiet about it because we don’t want that old farmer to know we’re out here.”
Suddenly, I had an uneasy feeling that what we were up to was bad. How bad, I had no idea, and I didn’t want to ask.
Dad, axe in hand, broke trail through knee-high drifts. “Stay low,” Dad cautioned in a whisper, which only increased my sense that we were on the path to no good as we plodded through the snow. When we reached the trees we were out of breath and our cheeks stung with cold.
“See — that’s the one I spotted a while back,” Dad whispered, pointing the axe toward a tree.
“We don’t care what it looks like, Dad. Just get the tree and let’s get out of here!” I whispered fiercely, glancing anxiously toward the farmhouse. Dad cut the tree and we wallowed back to the car dragging the tree behind us.
When we got home, my mother said it was one of the prettiest trees she had ever seen. My father winked at her. And she laughed. I knew they knew something my sister and I didn’t, but I couldn’t imagine what.
Many years later, Dad told us he knew the farmer and had permission to cut a Christmas tree there. I asked Dad why he let us think we had done something bad.
“More fun that way, wasn’t it?” he said, grinning. Yeah, it was.
The last time my father and I cut a Christmas tree together was in 1988, when he and my mother lived at the pond.
“This time, I own the land,” he said, when I reminded him of our tree adventure of 30 years ago.
Dad, hatchet in hand, and I walked along the snowy camp road until we found a small tree that suited us both.
My sons cobbled together a crude tree stand and we fashioned tree ornaments from newspaper, bits of wire, walnut shells, twigs, leaves, feathers and candy bar wrappers.
It was best the tree ever.
May your days be merry and bright, and filled with peace.
Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to visit her blog at byhand.bangordailynews.com.