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TONY MELTON: Christmas tree memories

December 23, 2018

Since live Christmas trees are very short this year and most lots have been sold out for weeks, let’s think about the weird/unusual — stepping back in time and using what we have — native wild red cedars.

I always loved to hear my daddy say, “Let’s go find a Christmas tree.” Since we lived on the poor sands of McBee we would make a trip down to the lowlands of ours and our neighbor’s properties. The sand hills had a hard time supporting the growth of our prize, the red cedar. However, the more fertile and moist bottom land grew some fairly good specimens. Even in these more favorable conditions red cedars are really slow-growing trees.

We would make mental notes of where the trees were growing, remove nearby competing trees, and return year after year until the tree was large enough to make a decent Christmas tree. All this effort made the prize tree special and really Christmas special.

By the time I got old enough to make this eventful journey, some of my eight brothers and sisters thought they were too old to fool around with a Christmas tree. Thank goodness daddy was a kid at heart. We would leave the grown-up-sophisticated folks behind (I hope I never grow-up), take the ax, Brownie the best dog ever, and a shotgun to kill snakes or maybe a squirrel for supper, then head to the woods.

This was an important journey, so we would take our time. Anticipation made the journey seem like miles. First, we would visit all the possible selections. Then, we would make that critical choice. Finally, we would return, cut, and drag home our prize tree.

When we got it home we would cut the bottom smooth with a saw, trim the bottom limbs, and put it in the watering stand. Then, we would drag it through the house past the old wood heaters, put it in the living room, and shut the door to keep it cool. Then, we would put on a few strands of those big old Christmas lights, a few glass ornaments, and tons of tinsel. Finally, we would run outside to admire our handiwork through the picture window. It was always my job to keep the stand full of water.

Maybe no one does this today, but the moral of the story is that simple things like this make great memories. Daddy and Mama are gone now and each year fewer and fewer of us kids are physically able to travel to get together but when we do, events like these are the center of our conversation.

You can make your own tradition of searching for a tree on yours, family members’, or friend’s property. Even if this is not possible, searching at the corner lot, nursery, or even the big-box-store can still be an adventure and may keep our commercial tree growers in business for future generations. We all must admit that one of the simple back-to-nature joys of Christmas is the pleasant fragrance and genuine beauty of a live Christmas tree.

However, as with many time-honored traditions it isn’t easy to select and maintain a live Christmas tree. If you still have the real tree, put me on your party invitation list.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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