Christmas Tree, 1959, our first year in Duluth.
The tree is on the front porch, slumped against the summer couch. When we walk out to get the newspaper, we are embraced by the piney fragrance of the North Woods. We'll put it up today, first slicing a few inches off the base, then standing it up in the guaranteed-not-to-fall-over new tree stand that we bought last year, because the old stand kept falling over.
We got the tree on Thursday night after work, going a few days early to avoid the big snow. We drove over to Famously Fresh, as usual. It took about five minutes to pick a tree; they really are pretty much all the same. Or maybe, as I get older, I realize that there's no need to agonize over picking out the perfect tree; every Christmas tree, once it's up and decorated, is the perfect tree.
This was not the way I felt when I was a child.
Duluth Farmers Market, photo from the Perfect Duluth Day blog
On some night in early December, we would pack into the station wagon and drive with our mother down to the Farmer's Market on 14th Avenue East in Duluth. It took forever to find the right tree. We had very specific requirements: We preferred long needles over short, as fragrant as possible, tall and full. We looked at blue spruce and Douglas firs and Norway pines and red pines, sparse and full, tall and short.
We wandered through the unheated frame building, our breath coming out in frosty puffs, our shrieks bouncing off the bare wooden ceiling. "This one! This one!" "No, look at this one!" Pulling trees out, shaking them, squinting up through the branches, trying to imagine them glittering with ornaments and rich with presents.
At some point, my mother would lose patience and tell us to just pick one, for God's sake, and we would.
Cost was always an issue. I remember the year the price went up to a dollar a foot; my mother gasped as she peeled off the bills and handed them over to the impassive tree farmer.
Getting the tree home was another issue; we usually tied it to the roof of the station wagon with hairy twine, looping the rope straight through the car and then motoring very slowly back to our house, holding our breath, praying that it wouldn't slip off as we chugged in second gear up the steep hill.
Tree and Heidi, probably 1964
One year we skipped the twine. Were we in a hurry? Had we not brought any rope? (What am I saying? Of course we hadn't brought rope; we lived in a haphazard way, 12 people in one house, things disappearing constantly, never where we put them, who would have been able to lay their hands on a coil of rope on a particular December night?) In any case, the tree was smaller that year, and we got it home by holding it against the car, poking our hands out through the open window, grasping the sticky trunk, and not letting go.
Oh, I thought my arm would break before we made it home.
Tonight we will put it up. We'll play Mormon Tabernacle Christmas carols until Doug can't stand it anymore, and then we'll switch to rock 'n roll. We'll have a fire in the fireplace (which Boscoe cannot stand), when the needles fall I'll get out the vacuum cleaner (which Riley cannot stand) and we'll lay pine boughs on the mantelpiece and hope they don't go up in flames. (They haven't yet.)
For awhile, the house will feel crowded, with a big tree in the front hallway, but after a day or two the pine fragrance and the sparkling ornaments will feel perfect. And when January comes and we take it down, the room will open up again, and we will be bereft.