When we were growing up on the farm in Colorado, I can only remember just once Dad loaded my brother Sonny and me in the car and we went to get a Christmas tree in “The Mountains.” We lived 14 miles east of Fort Collins. We headed west, driving through Fort Collins and into the mountains — I think it was Poudre Canyon or Rist Canyon. It was an all afternoon drive “up to the mountains” to find a suitable tree. Dad started singing his Christmas songs when we left the farm, but after singing then three or four times before we got to the tree he wanted … he was not singing any more.
After parking, getting us out of the car, he headed up the side of a mountain with saw in hand. He located the proper tree that “Mom would like.” I remember Mom’s instructions were “Not too big John.” Another problem was getting it in the trunk of the car, a black Chevy. After a few pushes and a big shove, he slammed the trunk door, loaded us back in the front seat of the car, made a U-turn in the middle of the road and off we went down to Fort Collins, across the city and headed east to the farm. He never sang ONE song! The only comment I can remember from Dad on the way home wasn “We are never doing THIS again!”
The other comment I DO remember is: Mom said she did not like the tree! Dad built a wooden stand, nailed the tree to it and hauled it in the house. He set it in the corner of the living room. He turned around and stomped out of the house. Mom told us to start decorating and with her help we filled in the bare spots, trimmed some of the broken branches and threw tinsel all over it with great glee.
The next year Mom picked out the tree in a big lot full of already cut green pine trees in Fort Collins. Dad hauled it back to the farm in his old International pickup. This is the year Mom had a great idea that she had heard about — put the tree in a bucket of wet sand so it would not dry out. Dad jammed the tree into the sand and shoved it back in the corner. We all stood back to see if it was straight. The tree started to lean, flipped out of the bucket and threw sand everywhere. It crashed to the floor, leaving pine needles slowly falling off the tree.
Dad took one look at Mom, she ran for the vacuum cleaner, as Dad jerked up the tree, dragged it out the door, leaving pine needles and sand in a trail behind him. Mom never said a word! We all helped pick up pine needles and stood out of the way, watching the expression on Mom’s face.
About an hour later, Dad stomped back into the house with the tree about 2 feet shorter, homemade wooden stand nailed to the bottom, jammed it in the corner. He turned around like a wooden soldier and marched back out the door. THEN we got to decorate after waiting by the big boxes of ornaments for hours! That tree was very pretty that year, but Mom would not let us throw tinsel on it. She said it was messy and she was not about to clean up another mess.
After I was married in 1955 and we lived on dimes and nickels, the kids’ Dad did get Christmas trees from somewhere, but he had the same attitude as Dad except much worse. I had to put them in a stand that I inherited from Mom — a round three-legged one with screws to hold it in place. Whoever invented those three-legged things ought to be shot! After you get the tree screwed in, it still leaned. After you set it in the house on the three legged stand, it still leaned or fell over. I actually tacked one tree with twine to the window frame one year to keep it from falling over.
1967: In Alaska it was David’s self-appointed job to find a nice Christmas tree. We refer to Alaskan pine trees as “Charlie Brown Trees.” David started in the summer and fall watching for a nice Christmas tree. He usually he did a great job. The trees that were not full of branches like the Colorado trees. We just hung more decoration in the bare spots.
1967: Susan had a very wonderful first- and second-grade teacher, Mrs. Waring. She was from a warmer climate. That Christmas, she had her children (as she called her kids in the class) put on warm boots, mittens, hats and jackets as she donned her heavy black mutton parka, boots and gloves and went looking for a tree to put in the class room. This was the old school, North Kenai Elementry now North Kenai Recreation Center. What wonderful afternoon that was for “the children” and her. Most of “her children” were from warmer climates themselves as that year,1967, a lot of families whose Dads were welders and workers in the oil field transferred here from the much warmer states. We had 42 different states represented in the school that year. After the tree was set up in the warm room, the children decorated it with homemade construction paper rings made into rope and assorted decorations they made. It was a most beautiful tree and one that everyone of the children were so proud of. Some had never seen snow. Most were so happy to go out in the snow during school. They loved Mrs. Waring! We all did. I wonder where she is today? This is a memory that Susan cherishes to this day.
1969: When we lived on Daniels Lake we “procured” a big tree from the empty lot next to us. It was hauled in and four large pieces of 2-by-4 sawed from a pallet were nailed and screwed to the tree. We used a big sheet to cover the base. It was fun to decorate with some homemade decoration that winter. We only had two strands of lights but it was still beautiful. Thank you neighbor for your tree!
1970: We moved to Eagle River and David had scoped out a tree in the early fall. When December came, he had a snowmachine to go get it. He also enlisted Susan’s help. He cut down the large tree, told Susan she was driving the snowmachine back to the house while he held the tree upright so it would be just perfect when they got it to the house that we built way up on the side of a hill. The only problem was Susan could not see. She would go in spurts, take off in fast lunges! Go as far as she could see and then stop, take off again, stop to see and so on. David was hanging on to the tree, he either fell off backward or lost the tree. They ended up pulling the tree behind them in the snow. It was almost a perfect tree, except we had to let the snow and gravel melt off from being drug behind the snow machine before we could put it up. It was almost perfect! David was our Christmas tree provider for years. He did a great job.
1985: Bob was the “tree getter” for a while before we broke down and bought a nice fake tree with twinkle lights already built in. Bob solved the “Charlie Brown Tree” problem but cutting two or three sparse “Charlie Brown Trees.” He jammed them together, bound them with wire and nailed it to a large board. They were full and looked like Colorado trees. Bob was also the master at decorating the tree, the house, the windows, the walls and the doors of our cabin. He used lots of lights and rope and large piles of cotton batting for the base. The first two years we lived in the cabin, he made a platform on the outside of our big window, cut down three or four trees, wired them together, nailed it to the platform. He put cotton batting and lots of lights all over it. We hung dry bread, pieces of oranges and apples and bird seed on the tree for the birds and squirrels. We also had one inside too, because grandson, Arleigh was 1 and 2 years old and we had to have somewhere to put wrapped toys.
1989: When we built our house, Bob put a small tree outside our big window for us to watch the birds and squirrels. We had a fake one inside. Bob used every bit of decorations I had amassed in our 30 years. No place in the house ever went undecorated. Lights twinkled everywhere. In the past few years, we have a fake tree we put up and Bob helps with the decorations, although that has dwindled, as the decorations have worn out and are discarded. Bob decorates his cave with lights and some of the funny Christmas presents we have received. We like where we live and we especially love Christmas.
The Grannie Annie series is written by longtime Nikiski resident Ann Berg. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at email@example.com.