Growing up OC – Finding the perfect tree

Jenny’s blog Gray Hairs and Teddy Bears got me thinking about Christmas trees. Jenny has a “live” tree that is already drooping and dropping needles. One of her readers pointed out that it was probably cut back in October, stored in a refrigerated truck, then put out for sale in late November. It doesn’t take a botanist to figure out what is causing her tree to wilt so quickly.

For the past three years, we have had a fake tree. I really dislike fake trees. They just look……fake. Even the high quality ones look like oversized pipe cleaners sticking out of a central pole. I resisted as long as possible, but what did it for me was the idea of being 7 1/2 months pregnant, on all fours trying to water the Christmas tree, with the dog poking his nose where it doesn’t belong. I bought a fake one at Lowe’s. Pre-lit.

As soon as is humanly possible for me, I’m going to start getting real trees again, and hopefully by that time, Orange Countians will still be able to find live trees to cut. Because, you see, the best kind of live tree is one that is fresh cut. Going to pick out the Christmas tree was a family activity on the day after Thanksgiving. That’s the first day you could go reserve them and get a good one.

We would trek out in the Ford de jour to a local place, under the high wires most likely, pull into the mud and gravel parking lot, then walk out into the stands of trees. Close to the parking lot there always seemed to be a forest in miniature with pine saplings no more than two feet high just dreaming of their future in someone’s living room. We liked Monterrey Pines. Their long needles are soft and lush and fairly easy to hang ornaments on, they are hardy and homey.

The chill of the air, the smell of the pine needles and sap, the squish of mud beneath our tennies…these are all great memories to me. It seemed we would spend a long time finding a tree that didn’t lean too much to one side or the other, didn’t have a hole in one side, or didn’t lack the lovely a-line shape of the perfect Christmas tree. We’d circle two or three, my mom viewing all angles. Our living room set up demanded that the tree be attractive from all sides; we couldn’t just stick the hole in a corner. Finally we’d settle on one, tear the ticket and go pay for it. It was ours!

Two weeks before Christmas, we went back and had our tree cut, and that is a great bunch of smells too. There’s the pine sap, sawdust, gas from the chain saw, and the sweat of the young bucks working there. My parents liked the tree flocked, I suppose as a tribute to their Eastern US upbringings. It took me a long time to connect that the flocking was supposed to simulate snow. I didn’t care for the flocking much because it was sticky, smelled weird and I thought it didn’t look natural. Most tree farms would flock the tree for us, and the back of the Ford de jour would be lined with an old sheet to keep the flocking from sticking. Some years my dad flocked the tree himself. That might have been the years we grew our own trees.

Dad ran wires from the tree trunk to the bannister to keep the tree from tipping over, and we draped the tree stand with foil then a white sheet. Once it was set up, it was time to get into the crawl space and pull back the dusty plastic sheets that covered luggage and the boxes of Christmas decorations. The boxes were what you’d expect – old shipping boxes, May Co. or Broadway boxes – with all our precious decorations stored within for 11 months of the year. I can still remember the dusty plastic smell and my poor sister sneezing from it. My sister and I, along with my mother would carry them down to the living room and set them out for excavation. Dad would put on the lights (old school ones with the star reflectors) and Mom would put on the three long strands of glass bead garland (red, white and blue). Then my sister and I would reverently decorate the tree.

Once the family project was finished, we knew we had the perfect tree.


4 thoughts on “Growing up OC – Finding the perfect tree

  1. Your story is beautiful. It brings back memories for me, too. Isn’t great to be a parent and making those kind of memories for our kids? I have to tell you my mom was a bit unconventional. One year instead of a tree we cut and decorated a manzanita bush. I thought my mom was nuts, she thought it was beautiful – that’s what I loved about her.

  2. I helped put up the fake tree in FV this year. Nostalgia galor. sigh… The lights with the stars came to work to be claimed by a new user. We did put the beads on. White sheet is there. The boxes were dusted off prior to my arrival this year. We did put up some of the ‘old’ ornaments. Mar, you will recognized them. I tied the wire from the tree to the railing this year. The last Christmas at the ‘ol homestead. sigh…

  3. We used to always pick out our tree the day after Christmas as well. A friend my dad worked with was a partial owner of a tree lot and we’d always go there. You’re right, under the high wires. One year when we went back to claim our tree, it was GONE!!! Someone had cut the wrong tree and took ours by mistake. Try finding the perfect tree after all the “good” ones were claimed. Every ornament on my parents’ tree has a memory–even the finger knitted garland Karen made when she had mono in junior high and then it not being quite long enough when my parents broke down and got a fake tree. I love our my little family is starting to have our own “memory ornaments” that have silly stories behind them that only we know about.

    Merry Memories and Merry Christmas.

  4. Got busy there and haven’t “tuned in” for a while. I do miss the pine smell, and you can’t get it from a can either. But convenience, health, etc. made the choice to a fake tree. The first one has gone to Goodwill and hopefully a new home, the “new” one is easy – Kathy and I put it up last Sunday, with lights attached. It is pretty, and a lot of the old ornaments are still on it, the glass beads, and finally a couple of days ago, a few candy canes, no tinsel. I miss the tinsel but I’d have to remove it before storing the tree for another year. Next year a still smaller tree.

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