By Anne B. Howard
Each holiday season as Keith and I trim a fresh tree, I always think back to my childhood and the shiny aluminum tree my parents displayed proudly, year after year. Dad mounted a rotating pink, blue and gold spotlight on the ceiling, creating a kaleidoscope-of-color effect, and he and my mother thought it was the most beautiful tree in town. I was not convinced. I yearned for a “real Christmas tree.” A freshly cut tree that smelled of the forest. A tree I could decorate with beautiful ornaments, sparkling garland, colored lights and silvery tinsel draped over its branches. I felt afraid of that aluminum tree my parents coveted, afraid and resentful, because I couldn’t go near it. “Stay away from that tree,” my mother scolded. “If you knock it over, it could cut you to pieces.” After thrilling my folks for ten years, silver was eventually replaced with “artificial green,” but I was so disappointed I cried.
That first Christmas that Keith and I spent in Montana, in 1993, after our move from Kansas to “real-Christmas-tree heaven,” I was delighted by my selection of freshly cut trees. Several years passed, however, before I realized the true extent of my options. One evening, over a bottle of wine with friends, I confessed to my obsession with real Christmas trees.
“We’re in,” my friend said. “Tomorrow we get a permit and head up Crane Mountain, on Forest Service land, to find you the freshest, most beautiful tree you’ve ever seen. Cut any one you like for five bucks.”
Excited by the prospect of selecting a fresh tree from the forest, Keith and I, and our two friends, drove quite a long way up the Crane Mountain Road before pulling the car over and trudging through eight inches of fresh snow to a broad meadow, sprinkled with trees of every variety. Immediately, I saw the tree I wanted, but before Keith could get his saw in motion, I changed my mind. For well over an hour I ran from one tree to the next, vowing that each would be “my final choice,” only to find a bare spot or a crooked trunk, which every Christmas tree critic knows is a deal-breaker. Typically a very patient man, I had pushed him to his breaking point. “I mean it, Becky. Make a decision. This is it. I’m going home.”
Meanwhile, our friends stood patiently next to their selection—a measly little thing, by my standards. I mean, they were paying the same five dollars as me for a nice big tree, so why, I wondered, hadn’t they chosen the tallest tree they could get on their car?
Growing more annoyed by the minute, Keith jumped on my latest “final choice” with clenched teeth, and began working his saw. It took the four of us, panting and groaning, to drag that snow-laden tree over the stumps and downfall, and out of that meadow, where, after another hour spent cursing and scratching the car finish and losing the tree off the opposite side, we secured her to the roof. “I’ll never get this so-and-so through the front door,” Keith declared, furious. I kept my mouth shut—it was safer that way. Unfortunately, however, he was right. The tree wouldn’t go through the front door. Or the back door. Not even with four adults pushing and pulling with all of our might, determined to force it through. “Not going. No way,” he declared, angrily.
“What about the French doors off the deck?” I suggested, timidly.
Next, they dragged the enormous Frazier Fur up the back steps and onto the deck as I raced through the house and threw open the doors. Just as I suspected, the tree slipped easily through, but was a good four feet too tall for my ceiling. By this point, I was in big trouble and I knew it. “I’ll throw the damn thing off the deck,” Keith threatened.
Then, it began to snow. Big flakes, the size of quarters, began to stick to the cold needles creating a lovely lace flocking. “Set it up on the deck,” I said, “outside the French doors. I’ll load it with colored lights and the spotlight will illuminate the falling snow. It will be beautiful.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes, but with the help of our friends, we muscled the big tree into a make-shift stand and secured it to the railing, so it couldn’t fall over.
Once the tree was lit and flocked with snow, Keith came around. In fact, I may have heard him bragging a little to our neighbors, when he thought I was out of earshot. He said it was the perfect place for such a great Christmas tree. And, yes, it was a unique holiday experience that year, having the tree on the deck, its branches ablaze with colored lights and heavily flocked with snow. Different, but incredibly beautiful—a memory I’ll always hold close to my heart as the best Christmas tree ever.