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Oh Christmas Tree!

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By Jene Hedden

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree, how steadfast are your branches!"

     This German Christmas Carol composed by Ernst Anschutz reminds me of the days of my childhood when my father would load me into his old green '47 Oldsmobile, and we would travel to the family farm to harvest our annual Christmas tree.
     As we put on our winter work clothes and jackets and set out on our adventure, I wondered what kind of tree we would chop down with Dad's old two-headed axe, not knowing that several months earlier he had scouted out an Eastern Red Cedar to decorate our family room  in Old Louisville.
     The trip out to the farm to cut the tree was always an exciting time for me and seemed to take forever, especially when he promised that I could help with the grand event.
     Finally we arrived, and Dad led the way into the field and out to a fence row where our Red Cedar grew.  As I stood and gazed up at it, I had no idea that our chosen tree was the result of a Cedar Waxwing bird dropping a tiny seed there some eight or ten years before. There it had slowly grown in the poor soil by the fence through hot summers and cold snowy winters. All I knew was that it was going to be my Christmas tree and it was wonderful to me.
     Dad let me take the first few strikes at the trunk with the old axe, but he had to finish the job.  After a few hard licks, the tree succumbed and gently fell away from our efforts.  As it lay on the ground, it suddenly seemed less tall and majestic than it had before.  We inspected our work and found a small bird's nest in its airy branches.  The needles and trunk were sticky with the fragrant cedar sap, so we had to wear brown cotton and leather gloves to drag it back to the car some distance away.
     Dad opened the roomy trunk of the car, and we loaded the tree butt first. Then he carefully tied the trunk lid down with string which left the treetop extending out a few feet.  As we climbed back into the car and Dad cranked up the heater, I worried that the top of the tree would be gone before we made it back home!  But, when we got home and unloaded the tree at our house on Barbee Avenue, it was still intact.
     Before we took the tree into the house, Dad got his carpenter's saw and trimmed its trunk so that it was nice and flat on the bottom.  Then he carried it into the house and set it up in the family room in an old three-gallon stone crock. He wedged bricks down between the trunk and the sides of the crock to hold the tree upright, and turned the tree this way and that while Mother and I decided which was its best side.  It seemed that all our Christmas trees had a good side and a bad side.
     After the tree was adjusted so that it stood up straight and was displaying its prettiest branches, I went to the kitchen for water. It was my job to keep the crock filled.  Red Cedars drank a lot of water, so if I failed to do my job, the tree would dry out quickly and drop its needles all over Mother's linoleum floor.  Not to mention the fact that everyone knew that a dried out cedar tree could explode into flames at any moment!  So, I took my job as tree-waterer very seriously.
     Finally the decorating could begin!  First on the tree were two or three strands of store bought lights, carefully arranged so their hot bulbs would not rest against a woody limb.  Then we draped a chain of multi-color construction paper loops we had made along with popcorn we had strung on thread along the branches.  Next we hung the decorations my mother and I had fashioned together along with a few old ornaments given to us by my Aunt Mattie.  Finally, it was time to place the crowning finish to the top of the tree...a beautiful glass star!
     Unfortunately, that presented us with a little problem.  You see, cedar trees do not have strong branches.  In fact, they bend quite easily.  So no matter how hard we tried, the star wouldn't stand up straight!  It always leaned in one direction or another...left or right...front or back...or somewhere in between.  We adjusted it and readjusted it.  We steadied it and balanced it.  We fastened it and re-fastened it.  However, despite all our best efforts, our beautiful glass star always seemed to find its own place at the top of our tree...somewhere off center!
      But, that didn't matter to me!  I didn't care if our tree was slightly off-kilter!  I thought it was beautiful because of all it represented.  And even more, I took pride in it because my father and I had harvested it ourselves from the family farm in Shelby County.  It was perfect, crooked star and all!    
"Your boughs are green in summer's clime, and through the snows of wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How steadfast are your branches!"
     Well, almost steadfast, Mr. Anschutz!

Edited by Paula Hurtt