Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas at the Jewelry Store

 

 

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A few years ago, I decided to get a part time job to raise some more cash for Christmas. So I landed a job at a James Avery Jewelry store. This a Texas family owned & operated jewelry store headquartered in Kerrville. That was a fun job—really a lot of fun. I have nothing but respect and high praise for them for lots of reasons–not the least of which is this is a Christian company and they practice what they preach. I was the only guy on the staff that season. My co-workers were wonderful ladies and they took me under their collective wing. I’m thinking they were feeling a little sorry for me. When I took the job, I promise you, I didn’t know anything about jewelry but thanks to their help, I did learn a lot and quickly.

Our store had a sizable floor plan with several tastefully placed display cabinets filled with bling for everyone. I think I started just before Thanksgiving but what I do remember clearly was how every day we got closer to Christmas, the busier it got. A week or two before Christmas, it was not uncommon to see the store packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder trying to find that special item for friends & loved ones. It was mostly women in the store with a few men who obviously had been towed in there by their wives or girlfriends.

The way things worked was clear cut. Customers would come in and browse the store. Many of them were holding the catalogs they received in the mail.  A lot of these people were long time, repeat, dedicated, loyal customers. They would get a slip of paper and write down the item number on the jewelry tag or in the catalog. When they got to the counter. We’d go find that specific piece in the storage drawers bins behind us. James Avery sold a ton of charm bracelets, charms, neck chains, rings & earrings. We’d let the customers try on the jewelry for their approval. They’d say yay or nay, make the transaction, and it was done. The staff took great pride in their customer service.  Most of these ladies had been doing this for years and they are very good at what they do.

One morning I had not been on the floor for more than 10 minutes when a little, older lady came up to the counter and got right in my face. The store was packed with people. People people everywhere. Apparently, she had purchased something a few days earlier and was not a happy camper. She was in a major snit. She apparently didn’t want to do just an exchange or simply want her money back; she wanted justice! At first, her firm and targeted fury at me made no sense. I honestly had no idea what she wanted or was talking about. She just kept ranting at me in her loud annoying voice. I maintained my cool and just let her rant away. After she finally ran out of a steam, I was able to cut to the source of her issue and figure out how to help her. I have to admit, it would have been so easy to cut loose and dump my frustration back at her but in those situations you just have to remain a professional. (But don’t think I hadn’t thought of it) As the lady left to the store, I walked to the back of the store into the conference room still seething. I took a big breath, exhaled and said out loud, “Lady, I hope your pet spider dies.” And walked back out the floor and went back to work.

I loved my work there. You would be amazed with how many charms & charm bracelets they sell. Not being a girl, I didn’t realize how personal charm bracelets are to women. Every charm has a special meaning and a special place on the bracelet. Ladies will use a lot of time choosing each charm and precisely in what order those charms will go on that bracelet. Don’t be messin’ with any lady’s charm bracelets unless you are really longing for a broken hand.

The Christmas season can be a mad house. That is an understatement. I remember working the counter and having my head down for a couple of hours at a time only to look up and see  no end to the line of customers filling the room. The customers were great. They were very patient and thoughtful. They knew we were really trying to help them in a timely fashion. It just crazy busy.

That is how busy it gets but then, suddenly, it’s Christmas Eve and something weird happens. Early in the day you notice there are a few women come in as the store opens but then the transformation happens.  By noon, there are nothing but men in the store. They come in and start viewing the display cases, cabinets and the wall displays. Almost to a man they have an order slip in their hands. Some have very confused looks on their faces. Some are in the downright panic mode. The funniest thing to me happened more than just a few times. A man would come to the counter and point to a catalog number of an item he wanted.

It is now Christmas Eve. The store has been hammered by thousands of customers over the past three weeks or so and many of the items have simply been sold out. When you tell the guy, “I’m sorry but we have sold out of that item but we’ll have more next week.” He doesn’t want to hear that but he presses on. Next, he’ll turn and survey the store and point to an item on the wall or in a display case and say, “I want THAT!” Hopefully, we still have some. This guy desperately does not want to go home empty handed–he wants something…anything. The logic being, if his spouse isn’t exactly crazy about the item, SHE can bring it back and exchange it for something she does want after the holiday. That always amused me to no end. Yes, there are more people than you can count that wait until the last day.

For you guys who wait until Christmas Eve, good luck and I hope you get what you want in time this year. Merry Christmas, Y’all.Vintage-27-Charm-Bracelet-12

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Christmas On the Radio

 

With a relatively few Politically Correct exceptions, we Americans love Christmas. When we think about the season, most of us smile at the memories it conjures up. There’s the images of all the holiday trimmings, mistletoe & holly, Santa Claus and his Reindeer, snow, sleigh bells, all the colorful decorations, the Christmas Tree, the food and, of course, the family–with children everywhere with wonder, excitement and joy on their faces. Christmas also wouldn’t Christmas without the music.

Ask anyone who has been in radio and they will tell you about Christmas. I spent right at 30 Christmases while sliding through what I call my radio career. The holiday always followed the same pattern year after year. Ask anyone and they will tell you. Although the particular routine would vary from operation to operation, invariably it was all the same…only different at every station in the country. Christmas, for those of us in the business, usually fell into two general categories. Great anticipation and excitement or total dread.

Let me explain. Each year when it came time for Christmas, the radio station would prepare itself to, in effect, change its format from what it normally was—be it Rock, Pop, R&B or Country—to Christmas Music. Typically, it would start the day after Thanksgiving. Most people refer to it now as Black Friday. We didn’t call it that back in the day. Even then, it was the time for retailers to make those sales.

Retailers would be playing Christmas music in their stores incessantly all day, every day until Christmas Day. In radio, we would also do our part to support the retailers (considering that is where the bulk of our income was coming from) It was our way to support them and get our listeners to get into the holiday spirit. Starting the day after Thanksgiving we would play one Christmas song every hour or two hours just to ease into the holiday spirit.

Within a couple of days we would be playing at least one Christmas song every hour around the clock. At this point in the process we would be playing generic Christmas songs. We often called them Santa Claus songs. We were not yet playing any of the Christmas Carols. Just the fun up beat, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Sleigh Bells kinds of songs. Within the week, we were playing maybe three or four songs an hour. This would stay pretty much the rule until we got a week or so away from the actual holiday. Eventually we would be playing nothing but Christmas music 24/7.

One thing about Christmas music, some of it is really fine music and well done but think about it. There really wasn’t a great depth in the number of titles to choose from. Virtually every one of those songs had been recorded thousands of times by thousands of artists. The voice my change but the words don’t! There gets to be a mind-numbing repetitiveness. You just shake your head and just want the noise to stop. Even the most avid lover of the season would develop a vile feeling for certain songs. One of the songs I won’t listen to at all anymore, to this day, even though it might be a personal favorite of yours. If so I apologize.  I can’t stand “Blue Christmas” no matter who does it.  I can still see the album cover of Blue Christmas with 15 variations done by 15 different artists. It makes me want to scream like a little girl and wet my pants!

It’s true every year a few new songs would come out and people would love ‘em; some have become standard Christmas fair you hear every year. There was always a new novelty song that would come out and you’d get phone requests for it until you couldn’t count them anymore. You could count on getting those request just like clockwork—“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” was one and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a more recent choice. That song actually goes back to the 40’s or 50’s. The list goes on.

For me, the song that drove me to distraction (and many of my other colleagues) was the Barking Dogs doing “Jingle Bells.” I HATE THAT SONG! It got to the point that one year, I took the record into the production studio, made a copy and came out two hours later with my own revision. My heavily edited version had an unknown person driving up in a car, getting out of the car walking across the gravel while the dogs were singing away, Arf, arf, arf……Arf, arf, arf…Then you hear the cocking of a gun and then you hear automatic gun fire. Next you hear the record speeding up and you hear the dogs squealing and yapping and running for their lives. After you hear about 30 seconds of this. It is totally silent. Then you hear the person walk over the gravel, get into the car and drive away. Then it closes with the last seven notes of the original song.  It was hilarious! I wish I could share it with you. I still have a recording of it somewhere.

It was a cathartic moment for me. Anyone who had to play that song as many times as I have will “get it.” They’ll understand why I did it. I think it saved my mind. Damn, that felt good!

Now before anyone goes off and gets all bent out of shape with me or wants to call PETA, understand, I do NOT condone violence of any animals, dogs, cats or otherwise (except maybe poisonous snakes).  I have no love or use for them.

My little work of production was really just my mini-protest of the song itself. I was shooting the RECORD not the dogs! By then, I had played the Barking Dogs hundreds, if not thousands, of times and was driven to exorcise it from my life. It was just a little foray into comedy. Was it in bad taste? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know but it sure made me feel good!

As for the rest of the season, we would begin to add the Christmas Carols the last few days before Christmas itself. As I recall, we would begin to play the Christmas Carols exclusively around 4pm in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and play them nonstop until about 6pm Christmas night. After that we would return to what we normally played. A wave of relief washed over the station. It would last for another 11 months or so months. Things got back to normal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, what it means and what it brings as much as the next guy or lady. I’d miss it if we didn’t have it anymore. BUT I wouldn’t miss those awful damned dogs!  Perhaps now you can understand, even in a small way, what it’s like to spend Christmas on the radio.

Here is the version of the song I produced as my way of ridding myself of that awful song! Again, I do NOT condone the harming any animals, This is just a humorous attempt to get rid of the SONG not the dogs. Lighten up. It is a joke!     Merry Christmas, y’all.

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The Origin of Some of Your Christmas Songs

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My early childhood and formative years took place in New England during the 50’s. Some of my earliest memories of Christmas were wrapped up in the music. I loved those songs. We heard and sang them only part of the year and then they were gone. When the next year came around and the songs reappeared it was like greeting an old familiar friend.

In those days, the headquarters of the John Hancock Insurance Company were in nearby Boston. Each year they put out a small paper booklet with all the Christmas Carols in it. I remember singing from that book as a child. I went out singing Christmas Carols for the neighbors with my mother and some of her friends. Later, I did that on my own with some school friends. I loved those songs. I must admit, in those days, I never thought about where they came from.  After I got into radio I became fascinated not with the artist so much but the songwriters. I often wondered why a particular song was even written. What was the story behind any song that caused it to be written? So, what about the Christmas songs?

Although we’ve enjoyed singing them for years, have you ever thought about how the various Christmas songs came about?  Christmas carols you may have thought went back several hundred years are relatively new.  Still others have fascinating stories surrounding their origins.

Christmas carols go back to the time of Christ.  It is believed that the Apostles sang songs of praise based on the Psalms.  The word “carol” comes from the old French word caroler, which means to dance in a circle.  One of very earliest Christmas songs appeared in the 4th century.  St. Francis of Assisi introduced carols into church services in the 12th century.  The songs tended to be somber.

In the 1400’s during the Renaissance—the time of Michelangelo and DaVinci—the lighter, more upbeat songs began to emerge. The earliest known English carol appeared in 1410.  The Gutenberg press, famous for the magnificent bibles, also made for the wide distribution of carols to the masses during the period.

In the mid 1400’s, Christmas celebrations were strongly suppressed by the Puritans.  Actually, Christmas didn’t become a widely celebrated holiday until the 1800’s.  As a result, most of the Christmas carols we love today were composed then.

In England between 1649 and 1660, Oliver Cromwell, who believed Christmas should be a solemn day, banned the singing of carols. The Protestants; however, with the urging of Martin Luther, embraced the practice.  Many worshipers fled Europe for other parts of the world taking the music with them.  John de Brebeur wrote the first American Christmas carol in 1649.  It was called “Jesus Is Born.”

Dr. Edmund Spears, a Unitarian minister, wrote a poem in 1849.  A year later, Richard Storrs Willis, an editor and critic for the New York Tribune wrote a melody called “Carol” inspired by the poem. He had created “It Came upon A Midnight Clear”.   Although no one is completely certain, some research indicates that cowboy singer Montana Slim, whose given name was Wilf Carter, wrote “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.”

The tune “Greensleeves” goes back to the time of the original Queen Elizabeth.  By 1850, lyrics were added that were neither religious nor respectable but in 1865 William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne”—three of those verses became “What Child Is This?”

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”, usually thought to be older than it is, was written in America in 1857 for a Christmas pageant in New York City.  An old Welsh melody is at the root of “Deck the Halls”.  Although Mozart used the tune in a piano and violin piece in the 1700’s the words written in America would not come for almost another hundred years.

The first two verses of “Away in a Manger” were originally published in 1885 in a Lutheran schoolbook.  James Murray published it in 1887 under the title of “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” leaving some people to think that Martin Luther had written it.  No one is certain who wrote the music but it too is believed to be American.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding one of our most famous classics.  Who among us has not heard the story of “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht)?  Folklore has the song being hurriedly composed on Christmas Eve in 1818 after it was discovered that hungry mice ruined the baffles of the church organ.  Joseph Mohr, the assistant minister, supposedly quickly wrote the words and Franz Gruber composed the melody in time for the midnight service.  That may only be folklore.  Some evidence indicates that an old manuscript, which has recently been discovered shows Gruber, wrote the music 2-4 years after Mohr had written the words.  No matter—it has remained a favorite for nearly two hundred years.

“Silent Night is such a powerful song that it actually stopped a war—for a while.  During World War I, the Germans, Americans and, British and French troops actually put down there arms and held an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and serenaded and harmonized with each other with the haunting melody.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was the result of Bishop Phillips Brooks being so impressed with seeing Bethlehem at night from the hills of Palestine.  He wrote the words in Philadelphia two years later in 1868. His organist, Louis Radner wrote the music for the Sunday school children’s choir.

“Jingle Bells” was written for a Thanksgiving program.  It was so popular that the children begged to sing it at Christmas.  It has been a holiday fixture ever since.  There is some controversy about this song too.  The composer, John Pierpont, is said to have written the song in Medford, Massachusetts sometime in the 1850’s.  He moved to Savannah, Georgia where he received the copyright in 1857. The controversy stems from where he actually wrote it.  Although he certainly wrote about his memories of growing up in New England some factions in Savannah have provided a good case to show he was in Savannah when he wrote it.  Either way, there are markers in each city commemorating the site where each believe the little ditty was written.

One of the more interesting stories surrounds the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  When you listen to it—it may strike you as light and nonsensical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were forbidden to practice their religion.  It was law.  If you were caught, it meant automatic imprisonment and perhaps hanging or you could end up a head shorter.  The song was written as a memory aid for children to learn their catechism.  Each strange gift in the song held a serious meaning.

First, the “True Love” refers to God, not an earthy suitor.  The “Me” represents every baptized person.  The “partridge in the pear tree” was Jesus Christ.  Christ was portrayed as a mother partridge feigning injury to protect her nesting young.  Here’s what the other gifts mean:

2  Turtle Doves: The Old and New Testaments

3  French Hens: Faith, Hope and Charity

4  Calling Birds: The Four Gospels or Matthew, Mark , Luke &     John

5  Golden Rings: The first five books of the Old Testament or the

Pentateuch

6  Geese-a-laying: The six days of creation

7  Swans-a-swimming:  The Seven Sacraments

  • Maids-a-milking: the eight Beatitudes
  • Ladies Dancing: The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Lords-a-Leaping: The Ten Commandments
  • Pipers Piping: The 11 Faithful Apostles
  • Drummers Drumming: the 12 points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is an outright invention of 20th century commercialism.  He first flew onto the scene in 1939 as a promotional gimmick for Montgomery Wards.  They asked one of their young copywriters, Robert May, to come up with a story for their annual Christmas coloring book.  The original story was nothing more than an adaptation of the Tale of the Ugly Duckling.  The first name considered was Rollo but that was considered to be too cheery for a misfit.  Then it was Reginald but that sounded too British so he settled on Rudolph.  He tried the story out on his 4-year-old daughter. She loved it.  May’s boss was a tougher sell.  He was worried about that red nose.  He was concerned that people would think they were endorsing drinking and drunkenness.

May and a staff cartoonist rushed to the Lincoln Park Zoo and drew pictures of deer and colored the noses red.  The illustrations were approved and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born.  The retailer gave away 2.4 million copies that year—6 million by 1946.

After WWII, Rudolph was hugely popular. There were many demands for licensing the character. Because May created it while working for the company, they held the copyright.  May found himself hopelessly in debt after the death of his wife from a lengthy illness.  He persuaded Sewell Avery, the company president, to turn the rights over to him.  He was financially set for the rest of his life.  The story was turned into a nine-minute cartoon in 1948 but Rudolph hadn’t peaked yet.

May’s brother-in-law was the songwriter Johnny Marks.  It was Marks who composed the words and music that we sing today. It almost didn’t get recorded.  Many recording companies didn’t want to tamper with the Santa Claus legend so they wouldn’t touch it.  Finally, cowboy singer Gene Autry stepped in and recorded it in 1949.  It sold 2 million copies that year.  It went on to be one of the best selling songs of all time–second only to “White Christmas”.  In 1964, Burl Ives narrated the TV classic we see each year.

Then there’s the Grand daddy of them all—“White Christmas”.  Irving Berlin wrote the song for a 1942 movie called “Holiday Inn” starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  The movie was about an inn that was only opened on holidays.  Berlin was commissioned to create songs for each holiday.  He later said that writing the Christmas song was the toughest of all.  Berlin performed the song for Crosby in 1941 and the crooner assured Berlin that it would be a hit.  That proved to be a gross understatement.

First performed for the public on Crosby’s NBC Radio show on Christmas night 1941, it went on to become the biggest selling single for 50 years. (Until Elton John’s tribute to Lady Diana, “Candle in the Wind”) “White Christmas” was the basis of a 1954 movie of the same name starring Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye.  Kaye wasn’t the first choice for the role.  Fred Astaire declined after reading the script, Donald O’Connor turned it down due to a back ailment.  It then fell to Kaye, who as it turns out, was a natural for the role.

The song also played a part in the end of the Vietnam War. An evacuation plan was put into motion to get the remaining Americans and loyal Vietnamese to safety.  The cue to begin the evacuation was a radio announcement saying it was “105 degrees in Saigon and rising” followed by “White Christmas”. When the song began—the exodus was on.

Each of these song’s writers felt a deep-rooted passion for the season and the many emotions it brings.  This year, when you hear these songs, you’ll know how they came to be. From my house to yours “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
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Busted by a Christmas Gift

Tis the season and who doesn’t love getting gifts?  I learned several years ago, not all gifts are created equal. If you remember the early 80’s you undoubtedly remember the infamous “Clapper.”  This was a device you set up to a lamp. All you had to do to turn the light on was clap your hands it would “beep” and turn the lamp on. They were the rage at the time as I recall. There seemed to be endless streams of TV commercials extolling the virtues and the need for having a “clapper” in every room with a light.

I admit, I was one of the throngs who bought into buying this electrical wonder. I purchased one, wrapped it up in gift wrapped box and placed it under the family Christmas tree with my wife’s name on the tag.  Surely, she would appreciate my desire to be on top of the emerging technology. Once under the tree, I didn’t give it another thought for days…until…

Anyone who remembers the 80’s probably remembers Crockett & Tubbs. Those stylishly dressed detectives of Miami Vice. They were always getting after the murderous drug dealers. Miami Vice was a staple at our house.

So, there we are engrossed in the latest episode of busting the bad guys. Just then Crockett barks out at one of the fleeing drug peddlers, “Halt! Halt! I’ll shoot!” The Bad guy just kept running. Crockett had no choice and he fired Blam! Blam! Blam!

Suddenly the next thing we heard in the living room was Brreeep…Brreeep…Breeep. I knew immediately what was happening but I tried to play dumb and look innocent but it didn’t work as the noise continued. My wife was confused and kept looking around and quickly her eyes fell upon the Christmas Tree.  I was busted.  She knew what it was.  The gunshots on the TV had set off the “Clapper.”  Once busted there was no point in trying to keep the “secret.” She got her gift on the spot and Crockett & Tubbs got the bad guy.  Busted again.

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The Christmas Tree

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The Christmas Tree

Christmas has always been a special time of year. Some of my favorite memories are rooted in the Christmas holiday. You can call me a hopeless romantic if you want to but I love that ‘Christmas feeling.’ The sight of holly, snow-laced spruce trees and logs burning in a fireplace stir something deep inside of me. Perhaps it’s growing up in Norman Rockwell’s America that I cherish so much. Yes, I grew up there and was fortunate enough to experience firsthand all the trappings of a New England Christmas—even the roasted chestnuts on an open fire. Christmas always brings a hopeful, optimistic promise of good things. I see the good in people that I often miss during the other parts of the year. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

As I grow older, memories flood my mind, particularly during the holidays. Those memories converge around people more than anything else—mostly people who are not with us anymore. As much joy as there is at Christmas, for me, there is always a twinge of sadness. My parents are gone several years now. I miss them more than ever at this time of year. It’s because those lasting memories of Christmases past almost always includes them.

As with much of my writing, something comes from out of the blue and inspires me to start jotting down thoughts. Usually, I have no idea where it will lead. This time the thought of Christmas has moved me to share with you a Christmas story. It’s a simple snapshot in time written for sharing with my children, family, and my cherished friends.

The Christmas Tree

Most families have their own holiday traditions and legends and rightfully so. This is one of ours. I promise every word is true. It’s too ‘out there’ not to be true. It begins on a cold grey Sunday afternoon in November in Sanbornton, NH. My stepdad, Hal, who for some reason I cannot truthfully remember to this day why but I called him, ‘Pop.’ He and I drove up to his parent’s farm in Sanbornton with plans of chopping down our own Christmas tree. The homestead goes all the way back to the days of the French and Indian War. In fact, it was built by one of ‘Roger’s Rangers.’ Kenneth Roberts wrote a book called, Northwest Passage which later became a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Young and Walter Brennan. Apparently the group actually existed or at least, one just like it.

The farmhouse sat on 180 acres on what was the Old Concord Coach Road that traversed the forest between Sanbornton and New Hampton. The Concord Coach House where the coach ride began was situated on the road, now called Plummer Hill Road, at the bottom of the hill about a quarter of a mile below the house. The farmhouse itself was built by a Mr. Plummer who served as a ranger in that militia group.  He rests in the family cemetery in the woods about a hundred yards behind the farmhouse.  I spent many summer afternoons back in the old family cemetery trying to visualize what his life must have been like—still watching for marauding Indians in the woods.

Pop and I drove up there one cloudy, gnarly, cold Sunday afternoon in 1965. Our mission was to find and cut down a stately, well-proportioned Christmas tree from our own farm. How difficult could that possibly be? He parked the big, maroon, whale-like 1962 Mercury on the side of the seldom traveled road. We began our search on the steep incline in the field below the road.

It takes time to find the perfect Christmas tree. Even though the cold passed through our layered clothing, we pressed on. We would spot a tree standing like a sentry off to one side or the other and approach it with the eager anticipation of a child—only to turn it down because of some perceived flaw.  I cannot tell you how many times we put ourselves through this process; easily dozens. It must have been 90 minutes later; when we realized that it was getting late in the afternoon and we were going to lose daylight if we didn’t make our decision soon. You would think standing in the midst of 180 acres of trees finding a ‘perfect’ tree would have been a no brainer. We began to get in touch with reality. This was an exercise in futility…”For God’s sake, pick a tree!” I’ve never been one to feel comfortable in the ‘settle for’ mode but we really did have to make a decision.

Finally, about 50 yards down the side of the hill we found a likely suspect. As I stood slightly behind it on the side of the hill, it was just a tad taller than me. I was 5’9’ with my stocking hat on. I stood there with my arm standing straight out and I was holding the middle of the tree. At this point, I’m considering neither the geometry nor the size of our prize. The tree was pretty. No, it was magnificent. It had a perfect shape. It was what Pop called a ‘Bastard Pine.’ It was a mixture of pine, spruce and some other kind of evergreen. It had long, supple, multi-colored needles. It was a naturally colorful tree. This tree was going to look spectacular in the front window of our living room in the house at 69 Lincoln Street. I just knew Mom was going to be so proud of us for finding such a superb specimen.

We attacked the 10 inch base of the tree with the hacksaw. In a minute or two of furious, sweaty effort, the tree twitched, made a cracking noise and fell to the ground with a loud resounding swoosh! We had our tree. Now only the simple task of hauling it up the hill and placing it on the roof of the old Merc remained. Little did we know at the time, this was only the beginning of a growing list of troubles.

Pop moved to the base on the right side of the trunk; I to the left. We looked at each other and reached down to grab the base. We wrapped our arms around the bottom two branches and lifted the cumbersome trunk. On the count of three we both lunged forward. WE lunged forward…the tree, stayed put. Not believing or accepting the previous outcome, we tried the same ploy again with the exact same results. A third attempt found us no closer to perceptible movement. Yes, this was the definition of insanity personified. You know, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? As the old joke goes when the box fell out of the back of the long car, someone remarked it was time to rehearse this thing. This plan was not working.

Realizing we might have bitten off a bit more than we could chew, we approached our tree with a new determination. This time we placed an extra tight grip on the lower branches and picked the tree up to about shoulder high. This time we actually got it to move–maybe a foot. We must have been a sight. Pop said we looked like a couple of monkeys trying to hump a football. Imagine watching a man and a boy trying to muscle this forest up the side of a steep hill. Words were muttered, energy expended while inching this behemoth up the hill. At one point we realized there was an easier way. That was to lay the tree on its side parallel to the road and roll it up the hill. We would have to adjust the top of the tree after every couple of turns of the tree. Remember, the tree was a lot wider at the bottom than the top. Our method might not have been pretty but at least it worked.

We easily consumed more than 45 minutes to finally get that tree the fifty yards or so up to a stopping point on the side of the road.   When we reached the top of the hill, we were both out of breath and hunched over like a couple of arthritic old men. “Thank God that’s over!” Pop said as he lit a cigarette. I was cold but I recall not minding sitting on the cold ground clenching my knees close to my chest just to stay warm. I was plum tuckered out.

Next came the task of loading it onto the roof of the car. Hal and I were gassed from the trek up the hill. Rather than drag the tree to the car, Hal backed the car beside the tree. I think this was the first time we began to get a sense of the actual size of our hard won greenery. The tree was longer than that big ‘ol Mercury. The bottom branches, even in the prone position, were taller than the car itself.

We had worked too hard to turn back now. If we can get this thing to the house, it will make a magnificent tree. If is a little word consisting of two letters that can often take on implications on par with quantum physics.  I can prove it. Having the tree beside the car was no guarantee that we would ever get it home. We only had to raise the tree up the four or five feet onto the roof of the car. It might as well been a mile. This would prove to be a challenge greater than finding the tree and far greater than coaxing it up the hill.

Again, we approached the problem in a manly way—brute force!  We bent down, grabbed the tree and tried to hoist it upon our shoulders for the final push onto the roof. Did I mentioned before, we were gassed? After a couple of futile attempts, it was obvious; we just didn’t have the strength to pick it up. It was way too heavy for us.  There had to be another way, but how?

For several minutes, we stared, perplexed, at the tree and then at the car and back at the tree all the while secretly wishing that somehow magically it would climb up there by itself. Suddenly a light went on in our brains. Granted, it might have only been a 40 watt bulb but a glimmer of an idea flickered to life. We did have in our possession a piece of rope about twenty or twenty-five feet in length. I tied one end around the trunk and the bottom branches of the tree. Meanwhile, Pop tied the other end around a rather stout looking tree beside the road.  There was sufficient slack in the rope so that I could lift it over the hood and roof of the car while Hal maneuvered the vehicle between the upright tree and our Christmas tree.

Pop inched the car forward, then backward and forward again until we had the length of rope running over the middle of the hood and roof and down over the trunk to the base of our tree. At this point, Pop and I switched assignments. He stood behind the car as I slowly inched it backward while Pop lifted the tree trunk and lower branches onto the trunk of the Mercury.  He was huffin’ & puffin’. As with many great plans, it didn’t work the first time. The tree simply rolled off the other side of the trunk when it reached the rear window taking the radio antenna with it. That’s OK we weren’t listening to the radio anyway. However, the plan did show promise. We went at it again.

I pulled forward and then back again. Pop once again took a mighty breath and hoisted that tree back onto the trunk with every ounce of strength he had left. Eureka! It worked. We were able to get the tree onto the roof, grinding and scratching paint every inch of the way. That big ‘ol Mercury actually groaned as the shock absorbers bottomed out. With the car running, I hung on to the tree while Hal undid the knots at both ends. We quickly tied the tree to the roof by running the rope through all of the open windows of the four door sedan and over the top of the tree in several locations. Although we still had twenty somethin’ miles to get back to Laconia, that puppy wasn’t going anywhere.  The Mercury took on the appearance of an old fashion East Texas logging truck.  I wish you could have seen it. It was a sight–Just this big green & Maroon massive growth rollin’ down the road.

b7168adcdb7991cb9c9fd8d5a49ee74a_9366  (Yeah, it looked a lot like this)

Because we had to run the rope through the interior of the car, we made the trip back to town with the windows down. It felt like 20 somethin’ degrees. In those days, we didn’t know anything about wind chill. It was just damned cold. I was already at the point of not feeling my fingers. So there we were coming back to town with a monstrosity of a tree dwarfing the car underneath it with the windows down and the heater on full blast laying our hands on the closest dashboard heater vent. On the ride home, I remember looking over at Pop every now and then and sharing that look of intense pride. We smiled like a couple of Cheshire cats. We were pretty proud of ourselves. The feeling would last until we got home.

We pulled into the drive way on Lincoln Street. Our house was a gray two story house with enough room in the attic to have made a nice apartment had it been finished out. I used to practice my trombone up there. The roof of the house, like most houses in that part of the world, had a serious pitch to it so that the snow would fall off and not put so much stress on the roof. The downstairs rooms were fairly large with the living room in the front of the house, the dining room in the middle and the kitchen in the back.

Pop pulled the car to the back door off the kitchen. I ran into the house with excitement and called my Mom to come and look at our Christmas tree. I will never forget her reaction as she walked through the back door onto the porch. “What the hell are you going to do with that thing?” She asked with more than a touch of sarcasm. I was crushed. My expanded chest quickly deflated. Pop looked hurt too.

Mom continued, “How do you expect to get that in the house? Look at that. It won’t fit through the door!” Pop and I looked at each other and in a manly saving face kind of way, we said, “Oh we can get it in—the boughs will bend.” Yeah, right.  I untied the rope holding the tree to the roof and Pop pushed the tree toward the porch. Again, with a heavy swoosh, it found the ground. I think I heard the Mercury catch its breath and raise six inches higher. Pop pulled the car away and then we approached the immediate problem at hand–getting it up the back stairs and into the house.

Having already had the experience out in the field of trying to pick up the tree and move it without much success, we were determined to get it through the doorway. We muscled it to the back door.  Oh that idea of the boughs bending at the doorway? That wasn’t going to happen. Getting that monstrosity into the house was simply an obese possibility. Obese possibility—FAT CHANCE! As much as I hated the idea, it was the only thing he could do; Pop broke out the hacksaw again. He cut just above the lowest spray of branches. Keep in mind the trunk of this tree was easily 10 inches or more. Still again, the tree would not go through the door. He then moved the hacksaw about two feet further up the trunk and started driving the saw through the soft wood. The next section fell to the ground with a heavy sounding clunk.  This time we got it through the door—barely.

Mom had to move the kitchen table and chairs out of the way or we would have surely knocked them all over. Pop and I manhandled the tree through the dining room into the living room. By now the tree was considerably lighter. We laid it down by the front window and both bent over, got a good grip and stood it up. Or should I say, we tried to stand it up? Now the tree was too tall! The tree started to bend about half way up the tree. The top of the tree stretched across the ceiling parallel with the floor. There must have been four feet of tree running along the ceiling. Mom just sat in the corner chair shaking her head reminding us just how stupid we were and how silly we looked. Mom never suffered fools lightly. If you knew her, you know that about her.

It was time again for the hacksaw. A couple of more cuts had indeed cut that tree down to size. Even after cutting easily four or five feet from the top, it went from the floor to the ceiling. Understand, we cut enough off the top of this tree that if we had cut a circular hole in the ceiling instead, Mom & Pop would have had a full size Christmas tree downstairs in the living room and a full size tree upstairs in their bedroom. And it would have been the same tree!

The tree trunk, despite all the cutting, was still too large to fit into the tree stand. We had come this far…this tree was our tree and there was no backing up. Pop went outside to the garage and came back with some wooden slats to nail to the underside of the trunk. Once we stood the tree back up, he then nailed that puppy to the hard wood floor. Mom likely went nuts over that but Pop was NOT going to be denied. This was war. We then took a piece of clothesline, wrapped it around the middle of the tree, and then tied off each end to nails Pop had driven into the window and door frames.

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It was time to stand back and admire our handiwork. This gorgeous Christmas tree in the wild now had no shape! It was just one continuous wide piece of green pipe that ran from the floor to the ceiling. I’m not kidding. There was NO Shape. There was just this massive green growth in the corner of the room. You have never seen anything so ugly in your life! Mom claimed she hated it but as the years passed, I always knew that, secretly, it was special to her too. We never had a Christmas together after that when that tree didn’t come up in the conversation. It was my favorite Christmas tree of all time—ugly as it was—no tree ever meant more to me and our family.

Mom passed in 1998, Pop in 2002. Just before he died, we knew it was the end game for him.  I drove to New Hampshire and spent 11 days with him while he was in the hospital. We talked about everything and everybody. Finally, on my last day before I left to come back to Texas, we talked again. I knew it would be the last time we would ever see each other. He knew it, I knew it. Tears were easy to find. I couldn’t leave it that way. I was determined to get him to laugh one more time.

The conversation turned to that wretched Christmas tree.  It had become a family legend. Pop and I bonded because of that tree. He truly became my dad on that hillside that cold November day. As we reminisced one last time about that pitiable pine, we laughed until we cried. It was the ugliest Christmas tree ever displayed in Laconia, NH—or for that matter, perhaps, anywhere at any time. But in reality, to this very day, for me, it remains the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever saw.

Have a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year. In the meantime, take care of your precious selves.

© 2007 by Tweed Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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