Growing up in Northridge, I loved the weekend after Thanksgiving. Grocery stores and little leagues set aside huge swaths of their parking lots. Trucks came and dumped hundreds upon hundreds of twine-tied, dark green trees. Signs reading “Stu Miller’s Christmas Trees” and “Oliver Holt’s Full Trees” and “Flocked or Not Trees!” popped up on every third corner. Commercials played during He-Man, showing boys who went and cut down giant trees, yelling Timber. The Santa Anas blew the pine scent from Devonshire Downs right to our front door and we started pleading:
“Dad, we should get a tree early this year, I can get the saw from the garage!”, “Dad, if we get a tree early this year, that’ll give us more time to think about your gifts!”, and “Dad, I found the extra tinsel from last year, we can hang it on a tree or on your work clothes.”
And every year, two Sundays before Christmas and four full weeks after the trees arrived, mom would unpack the ornaments while dad and the kids loaded into the tan and rust and striped van to go down to the Hughes parking lot where there were almost a dozen trees left to pick from.
We ran from the van, the only customers in the parking lot and each picked our favorite. I went for the biggest, Jean went for the fullest, and Jake picked the dead tree next to the bus stop. We all begged dad to pick our choice. He looked at each tree in turn:
“Wow, Jimmy, that’s a big tree, but we want one with some needles on it.”
“Wow, Jean, that’s a full tree, but we want one over three feet tall this year.”
And then he picked his own. He surveyed the nine remaining trees. He walked up to one tree about six feet tall with lots of needles and branches. He turned it and, pointing to a bald spot on one side, said to us, “This is the part that will face the corner.” He broke off a needle. He smelled the needle. He held the needle to each of our noses so we could smell it. “This is the one,” he said to the kid waiting to bind and load the tree and then stop working for the season. And then we went home, dreaming about one day, getting to pick the tree that dad thought was the best, the tree we took home.
Last Sunday, the Thanksgiving weekend Sunday, Kris, Zach, and the new dad ventured to the Wichita Christmas tree farm. We grabbed a saw.
We walked among hundreds of trees, all windblown so that they grew at a 60 degree angle. Kris pointed to the tree and I looked it over. It was nice, but a little tall and a little thin. “Wow, Kris,” I said, “that’s a nice tree, but let’s keep looking.”
We walked some more, weaving in and out, through columns and rows of glorious trees. And then I saw it. I walked to a gorgeous, just right tree, with a small bald spot for the corner and plenty of needles.
I broke off one of the needles and held it to my nose. Then I let Kris and Zach smell it in turn. I smiled. “This is the one,” I said, grabbing the saw.
And I walked back to the one Kris picked and sawed it down.