Friday, December 23, 2011

O Christmas Tree

 Many of you that have read my blog for a while know that I'm always a bit later than most in getting my tree put up.  I don't follow the norm anyway, as far as societies traditions go and prefer to stick closer to our ancient traditions of Solstice or Yule.  Therefore, my tree gets put up right around that first day of winter but it stays up until Epiphany or 12th Night as I do celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas from the Christian view.
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.


HermitJim said...

This post sure brought me a lot of memories, my friend!

I have to admit that my eyes got a little misty in a couple of parts as well!

Thank you for a beautiful post and for the great memories!

Anonymous said...

Annie...what an amazing story. This is probably the one moment in the past month that I've felt even remotely in the Christmas spirit. Thank you for that. Merry Christmas to you and your cedar!!

Deb said...

Reading this made me think of my own Christmas tree, a Balsam fir (popular around here) hand chosen and cut by my son (and probably brought to the house in the trailer behind the 4 wheeler). My husband and I have this discussion every year; he wants to spend $30 on a tree, I say we have plenty of young pines, spruces, and firs to choose from on our own land. Interesting the cultural difference; in the Upper Midwest even if we're dirt poor we're frugal and stoic and don't want to appear frivolous.

Merry Christmas to you and Chigger and Jack and enjoy your beautiful tree!

Anonymous said...

Love your tree and love this post! -Melody

Woody said...

:) Merry Christmas from one hillbilly to another.

Rurality said...

Ha, wish I'd read this before I saw you today! This is the 2nd year in a row that we've had a cedar for a tree too.

ErinFromIowa said...

It's good to figure things out. Lovely post. Made me tear up a bit, dang you. Ha. Happy holidays to everyone at your home.

Island Rider said...

I bet it smells really good.

edifice rex said...

Hey Jim! thank you! and Merry Christmas!

Hey Lisa! great to hear from you! thank you so much for your kind words and Merry Christmas to you!

Hey Deb! Yes, ya'lls tree is beautiful!! I'm with you; I mean, ya'll have the classic tree right in your back yard!
Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Hey Melody! thanks! Merry Christmas!

Hey Woody! Merry Christmas! lol!

Hey Karen! yeah, I wasn't sure if you had seen it before you came over or not! lol!

Hey Erin! well, i got a little misty myself writing it, to be honest..:)
Happy Holidays to you too!

Hey IR! It does smell good but it is pretty faint really.

Swamp Dog said...

Merry Christmas! I think your tree is very pretty. I am looking forward to cutting trees off of my own homestead. No matter if they are a little scraggly cedar I will be proud as I can be to have a tree off my own land!

Floridacracker said...

My first Christmas tree memories are of scraggily long leaf pines!
It was so fun going with Dad to chop them down.
Then we eventually started buying them due to peer pressure.
I love yours.

Merry Christmas!

Curmudgeon said...

I remember a tumbleweed tree and prairie chickens for dinner. Best memories I ever had. I'd rather not have prairie chickens today.
Merry Christmas. I'm not much richer now.

edifice rex said...

Hey Dog! Merry Christmas and thank you! I felt good about it too.

Hey FC! Merry Christmas and thanks! I remember one time having a pine tree and I think my Grandma had one or two! It worked!

Hey Dan! A tumbleweed!! that's great! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Enjoyed this post and it's not about how big the tree is but how much it fills your home and heart with joy and memories. This one seems to have done both.

Jenn said...

I LOVE that sparseness in a tree. It reminds me of the feather trees the settlers once made... another 'make do' that became a tradition in its own right.

It's beautiful.

fishy said...

Happy New Year!
May your year be blessed with much joy. You have given me a present of joy just reading this lovely post. Your writing is as honest as your lifestyle; I admire both.

Like you we put out tree up just a few days before Christmas and leave it up to escort us through the 12 days of Christmas to our Epiphany renewals. It has always seemed to me on the years we took our tree down early, we were not quite so blessed as the years we did not.

Having no acreage, we do buy our trees. This year we bought one with a slightly wavy trunk for the grand sum of $19. Our minimal protest against the commercialization of religious beliefs. Plus, this dear little tree looked as if it should be growing next to a manger :-)

Godspeed to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

What an educational post for me. I grew up in the Adirondaks where we had a family woodlot where each Christmas we went as a family to select a tree. Except when I lived in Houston, and trees were unavailable, I have always cut a tree of my own - either on my land or National Forest. In keeping with family tradition, I do "forest management" during the selection process. My spouse, now indoctrinated, agrees with choosing a less than perfect tree, allowing another better room to grow. If it is a little thin, I cut a taller one, and move unneeded branches to new locations along the trunk to fill it in. As long as the tree has a nice top, it is easy to augment with a pocket knife and a drill.

My tradition is opposite yours - Yankee thriftiness was the status symbol. Make do with the less than perfect, and make it look better with a bit of ingenuity.

Now here is where you educated me. My spouse is a southern boy. My late mother-in-law was an excessive gift giver. Until I read this post, I never understood why. She came from a very poor country background. Her mother raised a passel of kids and at the same time had to rehabilitate her own husband who had a severe brain injury. They scraped by. Even though my in-laws were OK financially, they were not well-off. Thus I never understood why my MIL insisted (over protests) on extravagant gifts to everyone she knew and anyone she ever met. She did have a compulsive personality that exacerbated this, but it must have been her southern way of showing she was doing well.

Thank you for this perspective. Now I better understand, finally.

Your tree looks lovely to me. Your post is so insightful. Good on you to have told this story for us.

Happy New Year to you and yours.


edifice rex said...

Hey Fishy! thank you so much for taking the time to come over and read the post and for your very kind words. I appreciate it.

Hey Serendipity! Well, I'm glad that the story had that much meaning for you! Yes, the South has some odd personality traits for sure but most are good people. Thank you for your kind words also. Happy New Year to you!

chickory said...

a wonderful post. I am with you -actually proud of the standard of living based on not being in debt! I love your cedar tree and look forward to taking a closer look at my own today. SOmetimes I cut a few branches for a bouquet of greenery - but I only have 3 on my 5 acres so i cant cut any down. I did cut down a small white pine once for my christmas tree - you wanna talk about a tree that cant hold lights - it was truly a charlie brown tree. Happy New Year to you!

edifice rex said...

Hey Chic! thanks! well, fortunately, my land is overran with cedars. They grow very well in this area.
Happy New Year To you!

edifice rex said...

I just realized I skipped Bea and Jenn! I'm sorry! thanks for your comments!

Scout said...

What a lovely post - I applaud you for getting to the root of it all. I think your tree turned out GREAT! It Rocks! We stopped doing the tree and that always makes me a little sad. I try to spruce things up a bit for the holidays with random bows, stockings, and boughs - but it just isn't the same. Thanks for sharing your tree and your story with me!

edifice rex said...

Hey Scout! welcome! I've been enjoying your new blog! It's great! Oh, I always have to have a tree; couldn't imagine Christmas without something. Thank you for your kind words.