by Deborah Owen
Art work by Luana Spinetti
Christmas Tree Shopping in Yesteryear
While writing to a student today, I suddenly remembered how things were when I was a child. I’m talking about the stone age, people! Wow. How times have changed.
In those days, families owned one car. People stayed home at night and actually spoke to one another. No cell phones. We were lucky to have an eight-party line. That meant everyone could listen in on each other’s intimate conversations. That also meant we had to count the rings before answering. Ours was two long rings and and a short one. Our phone number was State 9694. We didn’t have an address. We were just “Route #4,” and we lived a really long way from school down a gravel road. In later years I measured it. It was three miles. Perspective was a bit different in those days.
We used the same angel at the top of our tree every year. The poor thing got so bedraggled that Mom had a seamstress make a new dress for her. I hated that new dress. It was like putting a frilly party dress on a dirty princess.
Daddy and I (yes, I said Daddy – a precious endearing term) always picked out the Christmas tree while Mom cleaned the living room and made a place for it.
I’ll never forget what those tree shopping trips were like. I was tiny for my age. Even adult’s kneecaps towered over me (or so it seemed), and when Daddy and I walked down rows and rows of cut Christmas trees and I looked at the tops, the lights of the parking lot shone in my eyes, giving the Christmas trees the magical touch of a brilliant fairy. Daddy inevitably chose a sensible, short, fat tree. Of course, I chose the tallest, fattest tree I could find, well nourished, begging for a home with happy children. I could feel my smile envelop my whole body when I found the perfect tree.
“Daddy, look at this one!”
“Debbie, I would have to cut the trunk off. It’s way too tall. I don’t even think we could get it through the door.”
“Oh, please, Daddy. It’s just beautiful.”
“But it has a bare place over here.”
“We could put that side in the corner,” I said. “No one would see it.”
“What about this one over here?” he would say, but I was wise to his game of trying to change my mind and I was a persistent little devil. Excited beyond control, I jumped up and down in my little green coat and leggings.
(In those days, they made leggings (pants) from the same material as the coat to keep girls’ legs warm because little girls seldom wore anything but skirts and dresses. Oh, how I hated those leggings. I always took them off on the school bus and put them on just before I got off at my stop. Confession: I admit to being deceitful – and I may have stretched the truth a little… like… every time I got the chance. Like the time I lit a cigarette and Mom came back in the house too soon… and the time I poured my milk down the sink… but those stories are for another time. Let’s just agree that I wasn’t a model little angel.)
I was so thrilled on the way home with that big tree strapped on the top of our 1949 baby blue Chevy (which my brother later wrapped around a telephone pole). It was longer than the car. When we pulled in our driveway, I ran in the house and told Mom all about it with emphatic gestures and non-stop description. Daddy dutifully followed, unstrapping the tree and patiently pulling, tugging, and pushing until that humongous green thing occupied most of our tiny living room. There it stood, its poor little head all scrunched down, praying for a ceiling eight inches taller.
“See. I told you it was too tall,” Daddy said.
I expected a temper tantrum, which was not rare in our house, but it didn’t come. He patiently tried to tug the tree outside again, take it to the garage, cut the bottom off, and then try to get it through the door one more time.
We strung popcorn, made paper chains out of construction paper, added balls, electric lights, and of course, tinsel. I was always assigned the lowest limbs and I did my duty very well. They were loaded heavy with tinsel, bubble lights, balls, strung popcorn, and all the rest. A work of art to behold that surely glittered in my little eyes until the tree came down. What fun memories.
I dreamed of Daddy a few nights ago and it was so good to see him again. And I came across the old Christmas angel Mom had covered with a new dress. I ripped that new dress off her and to my delight, found the angel still wore her original dress beneath.
Those memories are about 70 years old and they still bring joy to my heart. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the lovely Christmases we always had. Thank you for telling us what Christmas was really all about. I still put the old manger scene under our tree, although the sheep has a broken leg now, the straw has come off the top of the barn, and one cow is missing. Everything else is there… everything but my brother, Mom and Dad. Everything but Gene Autry singing. Everything but hot, buttered popcorn and homemade peanut butter fudge. Everything but laughing and having so much fun.
Why was I in such a hurry to grow up?
I guess I never told Mom and Dad how special those Christmases were. I hope they know now.