One of my favorite Christmas memories was going to the Christmas tree farm to cut our tree. It was a Saturday afternoon event. If we were really lucky, there might even be snow falling. After lunch we would bundle up in our warmest clothes and head up the highway to Thompson, Illinois to the “Christmas tree farm”. It couldn’t have been more than 10 or 15 miles but it seemed like a eternity before we arrived.
We paid the $2 per car at the gate. Yup that’s right! $2 got you any tree on the farm! My dad parked the car and I was out before they knew it. I looked out at the acres of uncut trees, holes here and there where someone had already cut down their “perfect” tree. I was in what seemed like Christmas wonderland. Rows and rows of Christmas trees of every size and shape. How could you possible pick just one! Christmas music drifted into the air from speakers mounted on the side of the old barn as we stopped to pick up our ax. And we were off. I ran ahead going from tree to tree trying to spot “it”. Then the bargaining began. Dad saying it was too tall, me saying it was too short, mom saying it wasn’t full enough or had a bare spot. This was serious business getting everyone to agree. Finally, there it was! Our perfect tree! Dad chopped it down and the three of us all pulled together to get it back to the car. A couple of guys were there to help tie it down for the trip home.
Greens for Decorating – Now the next big part of the day came – getting greens for wreaths and decorating. As the farm hands trimmed branches from trees for people, they would toss them onto an old wagon near the barn. You could take as many as you liked, they were included in the $2 price. Dad joined the men near a fire built to take the chill off as mom and I began searching through the wagon full of greens. I still remember you wanted long limber branches for the wreaths and smaller ones for centerpieces. Mom also preferred the long pine needles to the short ones. We carried several arms full back to the car putting them gently in the trunk, and then went to warm up by the fire and have a cup of hot cocoa before we headed home. I can remember the ride home so clearly. Christmas music on the AM car radio, the cold nip on my nose as we waited for the heater to start warming the car. The smell, ahhhh that sweet smell of pine that filled the car as I closed my eyes and tried to picture what the tree would look like once we had finished decorating.
Picking a fresh-cut Christmas tree wasn’t about crossing an item off your holiday to-do list. It was about breathing in the scents, sipping hot cocoa in an old barn, listening to the fire crackle, hearing horses shake sleigh bells as they pulled wagons with big trees towards the buyers car and spending time with family. It is one of those Christmas memories that will last forever.
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