In July 1985, we moved into our current home after nearly nine months of arduous construction - although I still had all ten fingers. We had a large party at Christmas for the faculty I led at the time. Given there were to be many first time guests, our tree was, of course, a huge deal, and we had selected a beautiful one from a seasonal lot in town.
Within a week, however, you could hear the needles dropping. Dink. Dink. Plink. I resolved then that Christmas of 1986 would be different. We were heading into the wilds to cut a fresh tree, one that we could put up early and leave up for a while without fear of incineration.
That's easy in Central New York. Most would call this area "Upstate"- unless you're from New York City, and in that case, anything north of 263rd Street qualifies as Upstate. After all, if your uncle had been sent "up the river" to Sing Sing prison, he went to Ossining. Way way upstate. In fact, a full 20 miles north of Yonkers. But ... I digress. The point is there are farms selling Christmas trees everywhere in our area. No shortage whatsoever.
We decided our Tree Day would be on Black Friday since we avoided those crazed masses anyway. We selected a farm somewhat at random, but it was over the river even though not quite through the woods. Children bundled (ages 3 and 5 then). Check. Wife gloved, coated, and scarved (younger then). Check. Uncle with station wagon (less cranky then). Check. Saw (sharper then). Check. Tape measure (newer then). Check. And we're off.
We parked and began the hike - about a quarter mile uphill. That was easy enough, but it doesn't include the 15-20 miles we walked around and among the trees as my wife looked for the Perfect Tree. She finally located a beautiful blue spruce - tall and full. I proceeded to saw it down, but that's when I learned that because we were "early" (i.e., before the official season opening), I would have to lug that monster back down the hill. I was sure glad to have an uncle with me, but the tree was having its revenge! I should add that this 12 foot beauty cost only $20, and I can't imagine what it would have set us back on a tree lot in town.
That became the pattern for the next few years until my brother-in-law plus family decided to join us. Then a couple of years later my sister-in-law's sister jumped on board with her family. Now we were six adults (seven, depending on my uncle's mood) and seven offspring. Even the occasional dog or two.
We had a tradition emerging. Tree Day would be the day after Thanksgiving each year. We would get an early jump on the cutting, return to our respective homes to get, at minimum, the trees in their stands, and then reassemble at one of the three homes for food and drink and a viewing of White Christmas - which at some point became Christmas Vacation.
The tradition has fallen on hard times. My sister-in-law's sister has divorced, and her children became adults. She is no longer part of the tradition. My sister-in-law has purchased an artificial tree. Scheduling has become harder too now that the children are all adults with jobs and their own commitments or in-laws.
But Tree Day lives on. The Browns began it, and the Browns continue it although for health reasons I generally wait for their return with the tree. My wife and daughter (with boyfriend) will proceed to cut our tree this year - the 26th Brown outing. As always, it will be large - about 12 feet tall and full, and fully decorated it gives the White House tree a run for its money. Speaking of money, we still pay under $30 for a huge tree.
And ... Saturday will be Tree Day with the rest of the extended family. We'll gather and eat and drink and watch Christmas Vacation. The date is now arbitrary, but we still take the time to enjoy each other's love and usually reminisce a bit about Tree Days Past. When the decorations come down and when both this tree and this Christmas are just another memory, it is that love and the sharing in each other's Journey that will remain. After all, this is what is most important. Isn't it?