As my “sensitive” daughter you may be interested in knowing some of the thoughts that were going through my mind last evening as you all struggled to erect the “plastic thing” in our living room.
Real live red cedar trees have long held a special place in the Bellmon household. It all started when my Dad dug up five small cedars as he and his family forded the Arkansas River at Ark City and brought them to the dug out on his new claim in the Cherokee Strip where they were planted. Three years later they were moved to the “home place” where three have survived the heat and drought of summer, the cold and winds of winter as well as the good times of spring and fall. They are now over 100 years old.
During my early youth in the depression years, when there was barely enough money for necessities, my mother would saw off a carefully selected lower branch from one of the trees. By placing it carefully against a wall and by decorating it laboriously with strings of white pop corn and red cranberries interlaced with paper people cut from red and green paper folded so each emerged holding hands with its neighbor, she managed to brighten up what would otherwise have been a bleak Christmas season.
After your mother and I were married I accidentally came across a patch of wild cedars growing near the creek south of the “big hill”. By cutting above a low limb – which later grew upright into a respectable new tree). I was able to harvest our Christmas trees from the patch during the years you girls were growing up. Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas seasons highlighted (for me at least) by my annual sojourn, ax in hand, to the cedar patch followed by three small girls having trouble – and needing help from their father – getting past weeds and brambles.
After some time spent artfully selecting the best tree for our purpose I would fell the candidate with the ax and we would drag it, butt first back to the pick-up for the ride to the house. The decorating was done by your mother helped by you and your sisters. The trees were far from perfect but they were” our trees” in every sense of the word. They briefly added a clean outdoor scent to the whole house which was –is-their undoing since cedar oil is a villain so far as your mother’s allergies are concerned.
Also, after a few days the branches dry out and become a fire hazard. When taken down and pulled out the door after Christmas is over they leave behind a trail of brittle, sticky, dead needles like leaves which adhere to carpets and drapes into the next spring and summer – a reminder of Christmas past.
There is even one memory of taking the grandsons on a – hopefully – annual Christmas tree search. Our joint efforts produced a tree too large for the living room of our “new” house.
And now we have our “Made in Taiwan” “plasticthing” – what memories can it hope to breed? Of dust accumulated during the months it will be stored in some dark and deserted place, of cobwebs, perhaps of a nest of mice? Clearly there will be no allergy for there is no scent, not hint of life, no danger, no challenge. The “plastic thing” is thoroughly safe, sensibly sterile – decidedly dead, forever.
Is the “plastic thing” symbolic of what life in the waning days of the 20th century is coming to – safe – comfortable – secure – complacent? What will follow – monotony – boredom – frustration? Life as I have known it needs it imperfections, its disappointments as well as its successes. Without challenge there can be no victory.
Maybe the above is too strong. Your mother’s allergies are a real and important fact of life. If the “plastic thing” solves that problem I reluctantly and with a real sense of loss accept the inevitable. I greatly appreciate your concern for your mother but I wanted you to see another side of the Christmas tree controversy.
But rather a day to share our stories and memories
So that her grandchildren could know her
A little better.
Memories buryied deeply
Began to surface.
Bringing more laughter
Stories have the power
To bring us back to a different time
The power to learn new things
And answer questions
We didn’t even know we had.
The power to reunite with someone
We have lost
Or get to know someone
We never knew.
I hope as you gather
Around your holiday tables.
You will set aside the news of the day
And the game
And ask questions
That draw out stories
Of the lifetimes
You have gathered together.
“Share your story with someone. You never know how one sentence of your life story could inspire someone to rewrite their own.”
P.S. Think about recording interviews of your families and submitting them to The Great Thanksgiving Listen at https://storycorps.org/participate/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/ With permission, interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. More than 650,000 people have participated in StoryCorps to date, making it the largest single collection of voices ever gathered.