The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

Columnist Sherryanne De La Boise
(her mother resides in Stronghurst)

Acquisition of the Christmas Tree

This will be the first year, since 1931, that there will be no 12' tree in the front hall. That year, Grandfather gave Grandmother an elegant pink silk davenport. It arrived in a crate that Grandfather used to make the Christmas tree stand. Upon finishing the tree stand, he took a nap, leaving a body print on that new sofa, upon which he napped, every Sunday, for the next 40 years.

He planted seven pine trees in front of the house that grew to be five stories tall. Oh, did they blow in the winds that come off of Lake Michigan! My husband thought we could save a few bucks and top one for our Christmas tree. He climbed right up and tossed a rope to me inside the attic window. "Hold this as a brace, so it won't fall on me." He tied ropes to cars, the fence and the flagpole. Then, he started sawing. And sawing. And sawing. There was a loud "Crack." Suddenly, all that U.S.M.C. training came into use: he came flying down out of that tree and was on the ground and running before it toppled. But, being so well tied off, when it fell, it was suspended, stuck upside down, 15' in the air. Stuck in the branches of the surrounding six pine trees.

He had topped 25' off that tree. He did manage to get it down without breaking the delicate top. But, not only did we have a beautiful tree, but greenery everywhere (even in the loo).

For the next six years, we topped trees. In the eighth year, Uncle Bill generously went to the very elegant Chalet Nursery and ordered a "Fresh 12' Frasier Fir for Standing Delivery." The tree was absolutely perfect. This one was cut specially "Fresh" the next day and delivered in a beautiful red iron 5' wide stand. It did not need for us to wire branches to fill voids. It did not need to be rotated a certain direction to look straight. It did not lose a single needle. He did not know it cost $250 until one month later when the bill arrived. He had signed for it on credit, thinking he was getting one of the $100 trees on the lot. He thought "Standing Delivery" was two boards in an "X" nailed to the trunk.

The next year, we took the children to a tree farm. They had horse drawn sleighs to bring your cut tree back to the cash register. While we were negotiating the benefits of tree "A" over tree "B" or tree "C," our 8 year old decided to be a lumberjack and singlehandedly cut down a tree, which promptly fell on him. Luckily, the snow was deep and soft, so he was not hurt. Our tree selection made and felled, the horse drawn sleigh took it to the car, and we headed home.

The weather abruptly changed and a gust of wind took the semi-truck ahead of us right off the road. The next gust took that tree right off the roof of our car. We watched it go a-flying into a nearby field. "Drive!" said my husband. "There isn't enough left of that tree to make a decent wreath." Back to Chalet Nursery we went.

The following year, I was working at Rosehill Cemetery. A family had complained that their neighbor's evergreen was covering their markers and wanted it removed. Since their complaint was in November, guess from where our next tree hailed? Yup. Loaded it onto the back of a cherry red pickup truck, with the words, "Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum" painted on the sides and drove it right up to the front door.

Grandmother was furious. "Could you not have parked that truck in the alley?" Well, no. The tree goes in the front hall. We would have had to carry a huge tree through the backyard and around the house to the front door. "Everyone is going to think the "Old Dear' has died," she fumed. Hard to get her to understand that no one would ever do her removal in a red pickup truck.

It was during this time that the Presbyterians started selling trees. They were sensible 8-10' pines. In the spirit of community, we paid for one, with no intention of picking it up. We would cover for the person who orders and does not pay. Unfortunately, a well-intended Deacon took ours home, and called. And called. And called. Finally, I went over and collected the bedraggled thing off her back porch. After that, I was more clear that I was paying for someone who suddenly was short of cash at Christmas to have a sensible Presbyterian tree.

In the meantime, the Catholics were also selling trees, giant ones. We snuck over to their sale, loaded a 14' tree onto our Ford Escort. The tree overhung every direction! We took the back streets and alleys home. We did not want to get caught with a Catholic tree on our car. When the minister called, he commented on how that packette of sprinkle stuff really helps a tree to fill out.

One year, a neighbor's all-white short-haired cat, "Sushi," snuck in when we were carrying in the tree and proceeded to do what all cats do: nap and then spend the night snooping. Sushi dove into bed with Aunt Anne, who awoke and was convinced that an armadillo or an opossum was in her room.

It takes Mother three or four days to hang the lights. She has a special method of twisting and turning that the Chinese have yet to copy. She uses 42 strands of 150 non-led (too bright) Italian lights. There are outlets on either side of the room, each to a different circuit breaker. If one strand too many gets plugged in, half the tree blows. We all are experts on changing those little fuses in light strands.

The past few years, I have tried to do the lights for her. I do not have the patience to do it perfectly and can have the tree lit using only 38 strands. "I can see the difference," Mother sighs, as she enters the front door. Fed up, my husband paid his paralegal to hang the lights. My husband's paralegal is a very nice man, but he had to surrender after four hours. Being Jewish, he only knows how to do eight lights in a row. A friend stepped in. Seven hours later the tree was lit. I offered to pay, but she said I had consumed seven hours of her life, so she wanted seven hours of mine and made me paint frosting onto cookies (which actually was a wonderful time with her in her kitchen).

All this is done so that we can have a Christmas Open House. We have only missed the year Grandmother died (since 1930). There are so many funny stories from the Open House parties! From the young attorney who asked Aunt Anne where to go to the bathroom. "Behind the tree," she said. Incredulously, he asked my husband if there was indeed a place to go behind the tree. Ever the military man, my husband replied, "Yes, there's a can back there."

This year, in spite of COVID, we are going to host a Christmas Open Driveway. Drive-up and we will fill your cup. So, we decorated the five remaining pine trees in the front yard. For only the second time, since 1931, there will be no tree in the front hall.