Growing Up In Waterford, PA


The Christmas Tree
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

I suspect that more family traditions have originated around Christmas than any other holiday or time of year. Many of these traditions were so much a part of our young lives that they followed us into adulthood. Of course, some of those traditions may be slightly modified due to circumstances beyond our control. In my case, getting the Christmas tree is a prime example.

When I was a kid, Mom, Dad, and I always went to a nearby Christmas tree plantation in late October or early November to pick out our tree. Now selecting a Christmas tree in even a small plantation can be an all-afternoon job. We were picky. Our tree had to be a Norway spruce. No pine, no fir --- spruce!. It had to reach the ceiling. Daylight should not penetrate the tree anywhere. If any part of the trunk could be seen, it was thumbs down.

It's hard to judge size outdoors. Mom and I would finally discover the perfect tree only to be discouraged by Dad. He would point out that our ceilings were only eight feet high, while the tree Mom and I wanted was at least 12 or 15 feet beyond that. It would take a small logging operation to get the tree out. Besides, there were a couple families of squirrels living in it.

Then he would show us some puny little thing saying that it was just right. Eventually Mom and I would relent and let Dad tie our name tag on his tiny, baby tree.

About a week before Christmas, we would the plantation to cut our tree and take it home. It seems like there was always a foot or two of snow by that time, and dragging the three to the car was a real workout.

Boosting the tree up on top of the car was quite a chore, too. We were surprised at how "un-puny" the tree really was. And when it took all three of us to wedge the tree through the door and into the living room, well, Mom and I had to admit hat Dad knew how to choose a tree. Until next year!

After Dad passed away, the tagging/cutting/hauling ritual became my responsibility.

It was getting late in the season a few years ago before I got around to the tree business. I had the job all to myself, and I left for the plantation right after school one day. It was about ten miles from home.

It was a cold, gray day. Really cold! There was no snow on the ground, but it was very cold, and there were flurries in the air. It was cold enough that the ground was frozen, and puddles in the plantation driveway were iced over. Did I mention it was cold?

I walked around through the trees for an hour or so. I had wandered quite a distance from the car before I finally discovered a couple of acceptable trees. A drainage ditch about three feet wide separated the two trees. It was frozen over, and I hopped back and forth across it looking at first one three and then the other.

After a dozen or so hops, I though to myself, "Why am I jumping this ditch? It's probably frozen solid, and besides, I'm wearing nice, warm, lined boots."

So on what wold prove to be the last trip, I stepped squarely in the middle of the ice. It turned out to be less than a half-inch thick, and the water underneath it, about six to eight inches above my boots!

I didn't fall, but I did step in with the other foot to prevent it.

Now we all know that water freezes at 32 degrees, but this water was at least 20 degrees below zero! I'm not sure how that can be, but I had two boots full of it, and I know!

Well, I dumped a couple of gallons out of each boot, but it didn't help much.. The fuzzy lining had soaked up several more quarts.

I made a quick decision and tagged a tree in a hurry! Then I started back to the car, which looked to be two or three miles away. My brisk walk changed to a jog which changed to a dead run as numbness progressed from toes to ankles to legs. It was a tough run, too. Each boot must have weighed ten pounds.

I started the car and got the heater going. I removed my boots and socks and check to see that I still had toes. There were all there. Sort of blue, but there nonetheless. My pants, evidently being made of some super-absorbent material, were wet with that super-cold water way up past my knees. So I removed them, too, since I didn't expect to see anybody.

I sat there until some feeling came back to my feet, It was snowing a little more earnestly now.

As I pulled out the driveway and started down the road, I was suddenly aware of the need of a restroom! I could have taken care of this almost anywhere back in the plantation, but I didn't have to go then. There were too many houses along the road to do anything about it now. I decided if I drove like Mario Andretti, I could make it home in time.

About half-way home, I saw something through the snow, (which was really come down hard now), in the road ahead of me. When I got closer, it turned out to be a fire truck. In fact, there were two fire trucks and some electric company trucks, too. They were getting ready to burn and old, abandoned house and had the road blocked off. Only for a few minutes, they hollered.

So there I sat, squirming, clad in stocking cap, heavy jacket, fur-lined gloves, and ... underwear!

I supposed my eyes were darting in every direction looking for a way out before disaster. At any rate, my gaze finally came to rest on the gas gauge, the needle of which as on "E"! In fact, it was a tad left of "E"!

"How ironic," I thought. "The car's tank is all but empty, and my own personal tank is about to overflow!"

Now I was really desperate! Watching the firemen squirt water all over wasn't helping my condition either!

I made up my mind that I was either going to have to ram the fire trucks and make a break for it or drive around the trucks through a cornfield and, if it could get up enough speed, make a "Dukes-of-Hazzard-jump" over the creek.

Then, just as I decided to get out of the car and run to the woods beyond, the fire trucks moved, and I was on my way!

Just in time, too. I knew most of the firemen and they knew me as a respected school teacher. It would have been hard to maintain my decorum while running barefoot in my underwear through snow, flush, and fire hoses!

Well, to make a long story short, (which is impossible now), I made it home in time. I'm afraid I may have exceeded the speed limit a bit. Mario would never have kept up. I always drive fast when I'm really low on gas so I can get to my destination before I run out. You do that, too, don't you?

I went back to the plantation about a week later to get my tree only to find someone got there before me and took my tree, tag and all. My second choice as gone, too.

The next day, I went into the city and bought a tree, I still have it. It's not spruce, nor pine, nor fir. It is plastic!

So, I've modified the old Christmas tradition somewhat. Now I go down to the basement each December and harvest my Christmas tree from a cardboard box. There's a restroom just a few steps away, and you know, my feet hardly ever get cold at all!

Story Menu     Main Menu