By Author  Nan McKenzie, November 10, 2017

My dad, Ed McKenzie, was forever looking for a way to make money; it was always in short supply in our house.

He began to cut Christmas trees, beginning in early November, and my sisters and I would often go with him to help.  He would walk through the trees with an axe in hand, and with just a few blows, (sometimes only one) would cut down those he thought were the right ones.  We would come behind and pile the trees up, spearing our hands down through the biggest limbs at the end, then hauling six or eight or more at a time down a hill, or up a heavy rise, taking them to the big truck.

One time, my sister Sue started screaming and running, slapping at her shirt and pants.  A hornets’ nest had been jostled loose by all the action around it, and they were letting Sue know how unhappy they were about it.  She was stung several times, the hornets working their way into her clothes and hair.  Dad picked her up and ran to the truck, taking her coat and pants off on the way, hornets following the two of them.  He was able to get most of the little stinkers off her, but our day was done—she had to go to the doctor’s office in Whitefish, about thirty miles away.  Sue cried all the way there, never able to stand pain of any sort.

When we had enough to fill the back of the truck, Dad would climb in, and we girls would toss the trees to him.  He’d try to separate them to save time when we got to the tree yard.

We had a tree yard at our house, and after several days of cutting and hauling, the yard would begin to fill up.  He’d reload the trees on the truck, counting twos, fours, and so forth, meaning the length in feet of the tree, up to eights and tens.  They’d be taken to tree lots in town for sale, or hauled somewhere exotic, like Arizona or Texas, places where there were no Christmas trees to be had.  He’d either rent a lot at the edge of a town or sell them right out of the truck, making enough money to buy gas and food for the trip home.

I loved being in the woods with Dad, feeling the snow falling on my back, the stretch of muscles, marveling at how strong he was.  The smell of the trees would almost explode on us when we walked into our warm house, and we could smell them for days afterwards.

Sometimes, he’d let me burrow into the trees and ride in the back on the way home, so cold that I thought my life was over, but relishing the sense of accomplishment, knowing I could help my dad in a significant way.

For years, I became antsy in early November, thinking it was time to cut trees, but Dad was gone by then, snuffed out in a car accident in 1964.  I still miss the beautiful trees, scuffling through the leaves in the woods, pussyfooting over the tamarack needles.

Happy Holidays from the author of the Big Foot Series

Christmas Memories


by Nan McKenzie

The greatest excitement to date in my young life was waking up Christmas morning impossibly early, and having to wait until Mom and Dad were up.  Dad lit the fireplace, turned on the tree lights and started coffee.  My two sisters Faye and Sue (Kona wasn’t born yet.) made sure we were all warm enough in our pajamas and wrapped with blankets.  We all three shared a bed, very uncomfortable because I was the smallest and the most picked-upon.  In the winter, the blankets that touched the outside wall froze to the wood.

Finally, Dad opened the bedroom door and we would rush out, racing to the tree to see what Santa had brought.  One year, we all received sleds, magical, big wooden ones with heavy metal steering guides on the front.  Another year, a small saddle was sitting on the back of a chair, a beautiful light tan one that just needed a horse to be complete.  I’d been agitating for a horse for a long time, and just knew that one would be forthcoming in the spring.  Misty did come, but I was supposed to “share” her with Sue, who wouldn’t give up the reins often.  And my saddle had disappeared by then, no doubt lost in a late night poker game, probably the same way it was won.

Dad went off to Alaska about then, looking for gold, but working for the railroad.  The deal was, he was supposed to send money back to us, but that didn’t happen, and we were very broke for a couple winters.  I became tired of eating elk meat and venison, but was glad Mom was such a good shot.

Mom did come up with some old wooden skis from somewhere, probably six-and-a-half feet tall, and weighing about fifteen pounds.  There is a still a picture downstairs at the Summit House on Big Mountain, showing me reaching for the rope tow.  I had on a too-big, long wool coat, blue jeans and just shoes with galoshes, but I was thrilled to be a genuine skier.  The rope tow would shred a pair of heavy gloves in a day, but I didn’t care, just as I didn’t care that I had to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch while everyone else bought hamburgers.  It was two dollars to ski, and fifty cents for the ski bus each way.  Don’t know how Mom managed to scare up the money, but she did.

I remember the terrible cold, often twenty and more below zero for days at a time.  I’d come in from goofing around outside our house and my hair would be frozen, my nostrils frozen shut, my eyelashes heavy with frost.  The clunky galoshes would fill with snow and rub rings around my ankles, but I never wanted to come in when Mom would holler it was time for dinner.

It was the best of times, the worst of times, which Dickens said in A Tale of Two Cities, the book that made me cry buckets when I read the end.   But the memories have stayed with me, and softened through the years.  Now I wish I could sit in the living room and watch the snow plop into the lake once again.

Nan McKenzie, December 10, 2016