To we kids, days weren’t as important as seasons, which were two: school and summer vacation. We only started counting days as Christmas approached.
The year I was nine, Christmas was just ten days away and we still had no tree. “Where is our tree?” I asked Mom. “Everybody else has a tree.” “Ask your father,” she said. When he came home, I asked him. He just looked a little worried and told me not to worry about it. So, of course, I worried about it. Maybe all the trees were gone already. Did you need money to get a tree? Maybe we didn’t have any money.
That’s when I came up with the solution: I would get the Christmas tree. I had seen a bunch of them growing by the reservoir, where I often went to fish, sometimes leaning my pole on the “No Fishing” signs. I knew a thing or two about tools by now and so I got a bow saw out of the tractor shed, slung it over my shoulder like a Viking setting out on a raid and headed out across the snowy fields.
It was several miles to the trees, but my steps were lightened by the joy of solving the Christmas tree problem. Finally, up ahead on a hillside, I saw the trees; beautiful, fat round trees, growing neatly in rows. It took me awhile to saw the tree down and the piney smell that rose from the cut was strong and clean. Then I grabbed my prize by the trunk and heroically dragged it all the way home.
Arriving on the back step of the farmhouse, I yelled, “Hey, somebody hold the door so I can get the Christmas tree inside.” My little brother Steve opened the door and his eyes opened wide when he saw my loot. “Wow, where did you get it?” he asked. Mom came into the living room wiping her hands on a dish towel.” “Where did you get it?” she also wanted to know. “In the woods,” I answered. That made sense to Mom.
Just then Pop came home and strangely, he had the same, apparently very popular question, to which I gave the same answer. “In the woods.”
However, Pop knew every inch of the woods and could identify every tree on the surrounding 500 acres. He wanted more information. “In the woods past the reservoir, on a hill almost to Birdsey’s place,” I answered specifically. “Those are McCluskey’s trees,” he told me. “Oh, I just took this one. He has plenty left.” I explained. There must be a million trees out there, why all this fuss?
“No, McCluskey planted these trees to sell,” he said. “What? Like a tree garden?” I asked. “Yes, something like a tree garden.”
Oh no, you do not take stuff from your neighbor’s garden. My victory had just degenerated into a crime. I felt sick.
“It’s all right. I’ll go see McCluskey and straighten it out,” Pop said. “Well, we’d better get this tree up so you kids can trim it.” A general cheer was sounded and the tree was duly set up and trimmed.
It was wrong to steal a tree from McCluskey’s tree garden, I know it was wrong, but lo, these many years have passed and in some (possibly dark?) part of my heart I’m proud that I brought that Christmas tree home.
From The Magic Barn-growing up wild on a New England farm