Memories grow on Christmas trees
If the weather is decent today, I’ll be in the woods with various family members in pursuit of a few trees to chainsaw to the ground and drag to the truck for their final journey to assorted Wakeham/Coultas homes.
No “fake” trees for us, certainly not at this point in our lives, although I have to admit such a declaration of tree-cutting idealism might fade as extra weight and additional years accumulate.
And we’ll certainly not be in the market for one of those “mainland” trees, those boringly perfect products from Nova Scotia, designed for the anal-retentive owners of living rooms that look as if they belong in the centrefold of an edition of Better Homes and Gardens.
The trees we cut down today will be delightfully flawed, branches not quite even, a space here and there, all fixed by simply angling the imperfection in the tree to a corner of the room in a way that makes the defect not quite visible to the naked eye. But that’s part of the fun. Look — there are a few out there in readership land who see me as some sort of curmudgeon, and others who have likened me to a journalistic pit bull; and this week, I almost delivered on my reputation, contemplating, as I did, a justifiable hatchet job on those two-faced, hypocritical, lucrative pension-grabbers in the House of Assembly, before they stole my thunder and protected their political arses with a pragmatic, face-saving U-turn.
And I thought about having some fun with those phony do-gooders whose anti- sealing demonstrations outside a downtown boutique back-fired and boosted the sale of seal products, but I decided that crowd of loons had already gotten their comeuppance.
So here I am, instead, confessing to a schmaltzy side, a syrupy side decidedly evident this time of the year, accentuated today by the annual harvest of a Christmas tree, even a tree with a defect or two.
My relationship with Christmas trees began at a very early age, I was told by my father, and was definitely up close and personal.
According to Dad, my attachment to the Christmas tree had its seminal moment one holiday season when we were living in Gander on what was called “The American Side,” in barracks that had been transformed into apartments, a few years before we all moved into the “town site.” I was about four at the time.
Dad told me he and Mom were quietly enjoying a cup of tea (or perhaps something stronger) in the kitchen on Christmas Eve when they heard an enormous crash in the living room. They scrambled down the hallway to discover their monstrous tree splayed out across the living room floor, bulbs smashed, decorations everywhere. As my parents stared dumbfounded, they heard a rustling in the branches. And then, from somewhere in the bottom section of the tree, a small head appeared, covered in tinsel. It was me.
I had somehow hauled the entire tree down around me. My parents were momentarily shocked, as you might expect, assuming I must be injured in some way. But their worries were immediately replaced by laughter when I looked at them, smiled innocently, obviously unhurt, and exclaimed simply: “Hi Dad. Hi Mom.”
It was probably the first of the many bull-in-a-china shop episodes I’ve experienced, or perhaps a hint that I’d always be able to talk my way out of even the most outlandish or embarrassing of situations.
Other stories about Christmas trees have remained in my December memory bank.
For instance: a couple of years after our family had moved, sadly and reluctantly, to the United States, Dad’s company, Trans World Airlines, stationed him at McGuire Air Force in New Jersey, where TWA had a contract with the American government. Once a week, a U.S. Military aircraft operated by TWA travelled from Iceland to McGuire, with a stopover in Gander to refuel. I don’t how how he managed to pull it off, but Dad talked a couple of his buddies into cutting down a tree in the woods outside Gander and surreptitiously shoving it in the cargo hold of the aircraft during its brief stopover. When the plane arrived at McGuire, Dad unloaded the tree, and brought it to our house in Cinnaminson, N.J. (I have no idea how he evaded Customs).
What I do know is that our homesickness for Newfoundland was ameliorated somewhat by the presence that year of a huge tree from our hometown of Gander. We were, it’s safe to say, the only family in New Jersey that year with a bonafide Newfoundland Christmas tree.
Over the decades, there have been other grand times associated with the search for a Christmas tree. For years, for example, the Coultas clan would host a tree-cutting party at a former schoolhouse it owned in Tors Cove (now the Five Island Art Gallery, if I may be permitted to unabashedly give that fine place some free promotion).
Dozens of relatives and friends, of all ages, would gather at the schoolhouse, trees would be cut, drinks would be had, laughs would abound, the good will would be warmly palpable.
And today, as I say, weather-permitting, there will be a mini tree-cutting party here in Flatrock.
I have no doubt another Christmas tree yarn will emerge.