From the Colorado farm to the Alaskan way of life
We have had various types of Christmas trees through the years. Colorado trees are full and smell so good. Alaska trees are “Charlie Brown” trees. It required two or three trees wired together to make a full and beautiful tree and no particular smell.
The kids and I flew home for Christmas the first year we were in Alaska in 1967. Mom had a big artificial full tree,(she did not like the word “fake”) decorated with all the bulbs and lights she had accumulated through the year, with handmade ornaments she cherished from her grandchildren’s scattered through out the tree. If she thought some of the older ornaments needed to be thrown away – she tossed them in waste basket – not so me! I hang on to them until they are unrecognizable – until this year! I replaced some of the bulbs with blue and silver and hung the on my little pre-lit tree I bought from Wal-Mart last year. It’s pretty. I like it. Bob has a fiber-optic one in his cave-shop. I shared the blue and silver bulbs. Its very pretty. We gifted a tree we had for several years to someone who did not have one, with some ornaments.
This is a sharp contrast to how things “were in the olden days” compared to today. Most kids today do not have the experience of tramping through the woods in knee deep snow with Dad looking for the best tree, chopping, sawing and in some cases, hearing some words their ears should not hear, because the Dad had to get down on his belly at times and saw, hack and chop until he got THAT tree down. Pulling and shoving it to the car/truck was another ordeal and fitting it in the space of a car/ truck – another obstacle. Cold and wet we huddle in the car for the miles back to the house. Dad made a tree stand to nail to the bottom of the tree. THEN we could have fun decorating the tree, after Dad and Mom had great discussions on how straight the tree stood. Now days the kids, Moms and Dad pull the tree out of a big box, set it up in a stand that holds the tree just right – THEN kids have fun decorating. That takes all of one or two hours. The “olden days” it took all day and sometimes the next one too.
The Christmas trees I had when my kids were little was a hand me down from Mom. She shopped for a new bigger tree in the store and gave me the old one. We did not mind. It came from Grandma! I had to leave that in Colorado when I moved to Alaska. It would not fit in the three suitcases I packed! I think one of my relatives clamed it.
The first Christmas for us in Alaska was on Daniels lake in 1968. The tree was a tall “Charlie Brown tree” with hole drilled in the trunk for extra branches to fit and then wired on. We scrounged up ornaments and made lots of them. We strung popcorn ropes. The tree did not last long in the large warm addition to the travel trailer. It lost it needles almost immediately when it thawed. Each child – at the time there were 6 in our family – had mostly clothes wrapped in some wrapping paper and comic strip pages of the Sunday paper, that I saved from someone passing on the paper after they had read it. Mom sent lots of coats and gloves and mittens and boots that year. She included her home baked cookies and a cookbook for me. I needed it!
The other part of Alaskan Christmas was all the “orphan families” around us and their first Christmas in Alaska, who’s Dads and husbands worked in the oil field and welding shops, all gathered at our place, with sleds, skate, ski’s and food. A big roaring bon fire was going out in front yard, with men standing around talkng about the days gone by and work coming up.
The kids tramped in and out of the house, all day with frozen grins on their faces for warm hot chocolate and crowed around the big fuel oil heater in the large living room addition. They took off their frozen gloves-mittens, kicked off the boots, with snow packed inside – then found dry socks and gloves- so they could go sledding again. Most of the time in the late afternoon, socks on the hands replaced the gloves-mittens, as soon as their frozen red fingers thawed. The Momma’s maintained a very large box of socks and glove-mittens, mostly odd ones, to see that they were dried and put in the box. The assortment of frozen gloves-mittens and socks were hung on a wire behind the stove. Some snow pants and coats were also thawing with kids waiting patiently for them to dry while they warmed up. They crowded around the stove and drank hot chocolate made out of Milkman dry milk, “with cream added” – the box said. I ran out of hot chocolate mix that mom had sent, so made up my own. Heresy cocoa and sugar. At one time that whole year when everyone got together, there were around 14 kids in and out, and twenty or so assorted men without their families, Dads, brothers and friends gathered around the bon fire. The women kept the food warm and the cocoa hot.
The Momma’s jabbered and giggled and worried about how cold their kids was getting. Not to worry – they came in when they could not longer walk in the frozen snow pants and coats and their fingers and toes were numb. We had a saw horses and ply wood table covered with a sheet, set up with all the goodies from everyone’s home – moose stew, moose burgers, a large batch of moose chili. Salmon chowder, salmon patties, salmon dip and smoked salmon also were on the table, along with pies and mounds of cookies. Home made bread and biscuits – nothing at all from “the store.” Because there was not one! The little grocery store in Kenai 20 some miles from our house, kept up with most of the daily demand, but if we really needs canned goods and beef, bacon, chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables, we took our pickup to Anchorage and filled the truck bed with all kinds of groceries and canned goods. We took orders from other families and dropped them off at their house on our way out to our house “almost the end of the road.”
The Christmas celebration lasted the whole week until New Years day. Then somehow, someone had fireworks and they were set off over Daniels lake around another big roaring bon fire.
The tree came down almost immediately after Christmas Day. It was all bedraggled bare branches. The needles were mostly on the floor. I swept two three times a day! But it served its purpose and then went into the bon fire to keep us all warm!
This was my first Christmas experience in Alaska. It’s is a lasting memory of all the new friends I met that year and who have remained my friends to this day! Some 48 years ago. Cherish your friends and relatives. They create great memories to relive at holiday times.