Category Archives: motivation

The Christmas Tree

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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.

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.

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.
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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Norma and Hal Oldham  July 23 1993

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Hal “Pop” Oldham

Sometimes something or somebody just pops into your head and it just takes up residency there until you figure out why the thought came to you at all. This morning as I awoke, my stepfather, Hal “Pop” Oldham was on my mind. He passed away in 2002. I wondered why he was there. Why now? I did the quick math and I realized that today is the 13th anniversary of his passing.
Hal was special to me. I loved that man. I had had a dysfunctional relationship with my own father going back to my earliest days. Fortunately, we had a reconciliation and worked out our issues before his death in 1983. All has been forgiven.
My mom was a single mom for many years and often worked a couple of jobs at a time so I could have a good life. We were poor as church mice but I never really knew that. At some point, when I was 13 or 14, Hal came into my life at a time when a boy needed a strong male role model in his life.
One of his great gifts was that he listened to me. At that age, there are just some things a boy can’t talk to his mother about. Hal was there. I could never repay him for the time, attention and the mentally stimulating conversations we had at the dinner table. At our house on Lincoln St, it was common for us to put on the beautiful music and light a couple of candles at dinner time. It created a soothing atmosphere. After dinner and the dishes were cleared, Hal & I would have long conversations about current and world events, politics, the stock market—pretty much whatever came to mind. I learned a lot from him. He certainly was one of those few people who have had the largest impact on my life.
I had the most precious experience of spending 11 days with him before he died. As I sat by his hospital bed, we had some wonderful and priceless conversations. We laughed. We cried. These were precious, poignant, private moments. We reflected on his life. He opened up to me like he never had before. We talked about what he did during WW II, his early home life, his love of the law (He nearly became a lawyer) and how he became a Chef.
We talked about everything. It was surreal at times. He spent a lot of time apologizing to me for the things he didn’t do for me when I was growing up. He wished he could have done more. I stopped him and told him that he didn’t owe me any apology. If anything, I owe him. I thanked him for everything he ever did for me. He helped to mold me into the person that I am. We talked about my mom and the love we both had for her. He deeply loved my mom. I know that.
I remember sitting in that hospital room and talking about his limited future and what would come next. We planned his memorial service and funeral service much like you discuss this weekend’s pot luck social. He loved the sea and wanted to be cremated and dispersed at sea by the Navy. I arranged for that to happen. I would not trade those 11 days for anything I have experienced in the world.
I received the call from the doctor that he had passed away quietly in his sleep. As much as I felt the loss, I was relieved to know his suffering was over. A memorial service was set up in Laconia at the funeral. What follows is the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service in 2002. I share that with you now.

Norma and Hal Oldham  July 23 1993 My Mom, Norma and Hal “Pop” Oldham

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The Road Not Taken

There is something I’d like to share with you–my friends and family. I am not alone in choosing this as my favorite poem of all time. I always had a love of Robert Frost’s work. He delivered a poem at JFK’s inauguration. He also didn’t live too far from where I grew up. He was the Poet Laureate. I wish I could have met him. I heard him read this poem on a recording in the 6th or 7th grade and was hooked.
This poem means a lot to me. As I got older I began to appreciate it even more. When I chose to go into radio as my life’s work I sensed that I was choosing an uncommon path. I knew it at the time and charged ahead with reckless abandon. This poem was always in the back of my mind, reminding to be aware of my surroundings and to take in the entire experience. Frost’s words inspired me…then and now. I only hope it inspires others too.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

As I pass from one phase of life to another, I reflect on the poet’s words and review how they served me as kind of road map. It is as if am peering into the rear view mirror of my life. As I look to the future it is still a narrow, singular, winding path probing the underbrush ahead. Yet as I peer into that rear view mirror, I see my life as a I2-lane highway behind me replete with stunning places, events and people I was blessed to encounter on that road less traveled. God has been good to me. I appreciate it even more because of Robert Frost words.

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What the 4th of July Means to Me

I first posted this story two years ago but have been asked to repost for this 4th of July. I hope you enjoy it.

During my senior year at Laconia High School, I, like my other classmates had to write a term paper. Truth be told, I began this particular paper during my junior year to fulfill a similar requirement for that year’s class. It wasn’t long into researching the project before I realized I had bitten off more than I could do in one year. So I quickly banged out a term paper on ‘Hurricanes.’ Having been through a few in my young life, I found the subject matter fascinating. That allowed me to continue to work on the main project throughout the summer prior to my senior year.

Come my senior year, I was already fully engrossed in the subject matter. My treatise was centered on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to know the personal price that each signer paid for signing that document. My paper was simply called, ‘The Price.’ Understand, there were no books on that subject matter at that time. It was all, pretty much, original research. Although that is not the subject matter of this piece I will tell you these were remarkable men and the prices they paid individually were dear.
The American Revolution is one of my favorite periods of American History. I have read many books and biographies of the people and times. Resilience and perseverance are two words that immediately come to mind to describe the players on that stage. Courage doesn’t begin to describe them.

One of my favorite holidays all year has always been the 4th of July. Like most folks, I love the fireworks, family gatherings, cookouts, hamburgers, hot dogs, a cold beer and apple pie. It’s not the 4th of July without hearing Sousa’s ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.’ Throw in a Red Sox game too. I also like to take time to gaze upon some of Norman Rockwell’s stirring paintings too. Yet that is not what I love and admire most.

If you look back at those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence you see a collection of men who were the right men at the right place at the right time. Think about it. These were landowners, lawyers, merchants, physicians, ministers and well-educated self-made men. Men who stood to sacrifice virtually everything they held dear. They put it all on the line.

The process of deciding what to put into the declaration was a contentious one from beginning to end. It was oppressively hot and the meetings were held behind closed windows and doors in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I have stood in the very room where the negotiations took place. The room is relatively small. As I recall, at no point were all the delegates present at the same time. I doubt they could all sit in that room at the same time. There just wasn’t that much room. The flies were a constant source of distraction. It was extremely uncomfortable but yet they pressed on until an agreement and Jefferson’s wording was approved. It was a momentous document. Nothing like it had ever been written before.

Sometimes it is easy to look back at those individuals and think of them as people who lived in a time we really cannot understand or relate to. We learned about them in school but probably never really thought of them as ‘real’ people. Consciously, we know they were real but they are so far removed from our lives, it’s hard to relate to them.

As I look back at that collection of actual living breathing men, I begin to appreciate even more what they did, how they went about it and how incredibly dangerous that process was. Yet undaunted, they pushed forward to make a statement for a people. Some started off dead set against Independence while others, like John Adams, could see no other path. Benjamin Franklin was already an old man. He long surpassed the average life expectation of the day. There were struggles within the struggle. This was hard work. Everything was on the line for them.

Had they been caught, hanging was an automatic sentence; not to mention other indignities including nothing short of drawn and quartering. Many of these men lost their personal fortunes, families and properties. One even escaped the British out the back door in his night shirt and lived in a cave with a dog for an extended period of time. One of their wives, already near death was captured and put on a prison ship. She was fed through a key hole by her fellow prisoners. These were extraordinary individuals. How many of us today would do that?

I have always felt this country was formed through none other than the grace of God. I believe, he saw to it that we had those 56 courageous individuals at the right place at the right time. In many ways this whole event was so improbable that it defies all logic. I believe it happened because GOD had his hand in it and gave his blessing. For me it is the single most remarkable event in our history. None of us would be so fortunate to live in this country today had this event not happened.

There is one other oddity about this event that has always fascinated me. In the years after the declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War fought and the Constitution ratified, John Adams & Thomas Jefferson became estranged for many years but after both had served as President, they began to correspond with each other again near the end of their lives.

They had tremendous respect for each other. On July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day, sometime near four in the morning, Thomas Jefferson passed away at Monticello. Later that afternoon in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams awoke on his death bed. Among his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” He passed near 6:20 that evening thinking that Jefferson was still alive. Two of the most important players in the design and delivery of that document, died the same day, fifty years to the day. For me that is one of the most amazing quirks of American History.

Yes, the 4th of July means so much more to me than parades, patriotic music & speeches. It is something I feel deep in my heart. I have been so proud to grow up and live my life as an American. Again, I feel blessed by GOD as if granted with a gift. I am an American. I love my country. I love her history and I love ‘Old Glory’ too. It is one of the greatest stories told on earth.

Are we perfect? No, not by a long shot. I think one of the reasons that Americans get criticized so often around the world is because we have a very well defined vision of who we are. We are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what must be done; even if sometimes we have to have our backs pushed to the wall before we act. Our American character should never be doubted. I can trace it all the way back to 56 men of vision & courage in Philadelphia in 1776. They set the original course for us. Thank you God for those 56 lives that helped us become a nation. Happy 4th of July.

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