The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Perfect Tree

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1989

Issue: December, 1989

Every year, when I was a child, it was a very enjoyable event when it was announced that this was the day we would get the Christmas tree.

I never knew that Christmas trees could be bought. We always just traipsed across the fields and through the woods until we found a cedar tree that would be the right size and shape to fit into the Christmas tree corner of our living room. It was always a cedar tree. If we could find one that had a bird's nest in it, it was a special treasure and remained as part of the decorations.

Usually Daddy, my little sister and I would be the tree committee. My sister and I would reject one tree after another until my father's patience wore thin, and then we magically spotted just the right one. Daddy carried a hand saw and cut the tree we chose. He then trimmed the lower branches so he could get a good hand-hold to drag it home.

Back at the house, Daddy would hunt scraps of lumber to nail to the bottom of the tree, so it would stand (more or less) even and level. This was also assisted by the "Christmas tree nail." The nail was one that stayed in the wall, in the corner of the living room, year round. At Christmas, a string would be threaded around the Christmas tree about two-thirds of the way up and looped over the nail. This helped steady the tree. The tree would be turned and turned, making sure that the "best side" was facing out into the room.

With the tree in place, Mother would bring out the ornaments stored from year to year. The first order of business was to get out the Christmas record albums and play them in the background while the tree was being decorated. Mother would always heat some spiced Russian tea for us to drink, and the spicy aroma of it would add to the atmosphere.

It would be my father's job to untangle and place the strings of lights on the tree. It seemed like it took forever to tighten each bulb and hunt for which one was burnt out and replace it. In those days, if one bulb burned out, none of them worked. It was a process of trying every single bulb until they all came on.

With the lights strung, Daddy's job was over. My mother then took over the placement of the garlands of tinsel. After the tinsel was in place, my sister and I could help place ornaments and last of all, tinsel icicles. This my mother supervised and usually replaced a few ornaments so that they would balance better. Last of all she would hide the boards nailed to the bottom of the tree with cotton, to look like snow. In later years, she made a velvet Christmas tree skirt, but I sort of missed the cotton.

There were also chenille red wreaths with a fake candle with one Christmas light bulb in it to go in the windows. There were red paper fold-out bells to hang from the ceiling. Pine branches and cones were brought in and placed on the mantle above the fireplace.

I'll never forget the year that my sister and I felt we were big enough to go after the tree all by ourselves. Our parents gave us the go-ahead, and we took off through the woods with the hand saw. We walked until we were on the other side of the woods before we found a suitable tree. We had a very hard time cutting it down. Somehow it looked so much easier when Daddy did it. As we started dragging it out of the woods, we realized what a mistake we had made by choosing one so far from home. It was awkward to pull and too big to carry. By the time we got to the cow pasture, we had given up carrying and just pulled it. Unfortunately we were not observant enough where we pulled it through the cow pasture, so we had a few undesirable "ornaments" to clean out of the tree before we realized it.

By the time we got it back to the house, the tree was in sad shape. We had scraped off a lot of the greenery going through the blackberry brambles when we took a short cut. Daddy took over at this point to nail the stand on the bottom. He trimmed several branches off, but said not to worry, a flat side would stand better against the wall anyway.

He was right. The tree ended up looking beautiful, but then, have you ever seen a Christmas tree that wasn't beautiful once it was decorated? Although no one particular tree stands out in my mind (they always looked so similar) I remember thinking every Christmas tree we ever had was the most beautiful one yet.