Mem­o­ries grow on Christ­mas trees

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL - Bob Wake­ham

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.

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