I know I had previously also mentioned that the little corner stand where I normally get my tree had sold out before I could get down there this year, leaving me facing a bit of a conundrum. I knew where another lot was that sold trees but they were expensive there and I could really use that $70-80 somewhere else right now; I am laid off. Plus, the trees had been shipped from quite a distance and did I really want to participate in that? I mean, I preach this buy local, buy local etc. all the time. Or perhaps, not buy at all? Shouldn't I practice what I preach? Of course, I should. This left me with really only one solution if I wanted a tree. Cut a local one and preferably from my own land. I mean, I do have about 18 acres. There are lots of trees on that much land.
But let's back up just a little shall we? Say....30-35 years or so. You see, the only evergreens that grow in this part of Alabama are either pines or cedars. Now, when I was a child we always had a cedar tree. They grew prolifically on our land and if we couldn't find a suitable one there, our neighbors would always welcome us to look on their land for one to cut. From what I remember we always had a good time, going out to choose the tree. Sometimes we would even hitch the horse to a little sleigh-like contraption we had. We would all ride on the way over and then let the tree ride back to the house so it would not get torn up from being dragged. And we were happy with our cedar tree...until we got older. Then we began to see what other people had and what they had in town and our little minds began to turn and we began to think that maybe what we had wasn't good enough. And sure enough, it wasn't long before the unspoken truth crystallized in our minds. Cedar trees were what poor people had for Christmas trees. Now, we were by no means wealthy but we were not what I would call poor, but God knows, Christmas is certainly THE time to keep up all those appearances, so we confided to our parents that we needed a "bought" tree. You know, one of the real Christmas trees, the Frasier firs, even a Douglas fir! Anything but the homely, scrawny little "corndogs" as we so derisively began to call the cedars. I suppose in the spirit of the season, or the spirit of just getting us to shut up, our parents went along with us and from then on we had our bought tree. Smug in our self satisfaction and conformity we all carried this on into adulthood and I must sadly admit it has been my one weakness, my one last holdout in my personal Christmas vigil against the rampant consumerism. Boycott Black Friday? Of course! Handmade presents? Certainly! Have a local, native, unendangered tree? Uuhhh, I think I smell the ham burning, excuse me please...Oh, I've used every excuse in the book; 'the firs are so pretty and they look like what a Christmas tree is supposed to look like!' 'I'm supporting a local merchant by buying one' and on and on and on. But it all comes back to that little unspoken suggestion I learned as a child by observing, a little too closely, what other people have. Cedar trees are what poor people have for Christmas trees. In all of my unconventional life spent thumbing my nose at what society thought, I could not admit to myself my true aversion to this simple thing. This simple and stupid thing.
Why? Well, I reckon you'd have to go back even further into the Southern mind and history to find that answer. My guess would be that the South and it's people have far too long had their faces rubbed in their lacking. Yes, things are catching up now but when I was a child the spectre of poverty still hung over most country folk like the pendulous moss in our ancient oak trees. The appearance of having more than enough was very important. Spare change to see a movie or indulge in the luxury of ice cream. Not much to most city folk but it meant something to us. So, being able to go out and buy a 'real' tree, as opposed to having to cut one you find in the woods, meant that you were doing okay, that you were not some country bumpkin that just didn't know any better. It's a silly thing I know; you don't have to tell me. But as Chigger and I hiked through the woods last week, just looking mind you, it occurred to me just how easily our society can take such a silly thing and twist and fold it into a spectacle ranking right up there with the whole idea of Christmas itself. Yes, we are celebrating the coming of The One whose birth was so lowly even a occupied cattle stall would do but don't you dare drag that trash tree into my house!! I can see the designers of Southern Living passing out now! Somebody get the vapors!!
So, come this past Monday I requisitioned Jack and we trekked up the side of the mountain to where I had earlier spied a somewhat stately cedar tree. Well, as stately as they can be...and we cut it down. Lacking the horse, he drug it back to the house but that's one good thing about cedars, they are much lighter than the firs and they don't shed! Very little anyway. I still had a number of pottery orders to get out so it took me until yesterday to find the time but then I decorated it as a cold rain fell heavily outside. Rain, not snow. This is the South after all, where cedars and pines are our evergreens.
Now, were certain people to come to my house for Christmas I know I'll be teased about this tree. It's scrawny. I mean, you can practically see right through it. The lights don't sit on it quite right but then, lots of things don't sit on me quite right either. But it's real and it's appropriate. I am poor, by most of society's standards. Dirt poor. I've got bare plywood floors for goodness sake! But I have my life firmly in my own grasp, not loaned out to some bank or faceless corporation and if I want to take the rest of the year off to relax and enjoy this holiday season, as we should, I can.
But most importantly, as I gaze into the tree's golden light, I can see the reflections of so many family members, now passed on, in the shiny decorations and I can hear their laughter and I remember a time when we had so much fun dragging a scrappy ol' cedar tree into the house. And we didn't pay a dime for it.