The Christmases I remember most as a kid in New Jersey are the ones that began
late at night on Christmas Eve when the snow was on the ground and all the
stores had closed. We waited for them to close because we knew that their
outdoor Christmas tree stands would be closed too. Then we would leave and go
downtown, and that's when the marvel began.
My mother never went with us; it was always me and my father. She used to say it was too cold and she'd remind us as we put on our coats that we wanted a big one and a full one. I knew that was no problem though; it would be both by the time my father got through.
There wasn't much money then. My father had two jobs; one at the Gas Works and one at home each night and on the weekends when he fixed neighbors' cars. I would hold the flashlight for him and hand him tools, like a nurse does with a surgeon, until we both got too cold to stay out in the yard anymore.
"Come on, Wimp (that was my nickname then), let's go," and we were off.
My father would take the car beyond its usual path to downtown and start at the end of Potter Street where the Texaco gas station used to be.
Then he'd stop at each place that had sold Christmas trees. And each place was about the same; the trees that didn't sell were still there, lined up in
front of the store window, all leaning against a rope, and each with a price tag hanging from one of the upper branches so the people did not have to lean over to see how much it was. Of course, when we got there the trees were all over the place. Some were still standing in front of the window, some leaning over on each other, and most just scattered around on the sidewalk.
My father would stop the car at each place and I would approach the trees. He would just sit behind the wheel watching me through the frosted
window. Without saying a word, I would hold each tree up so he could see it. He didn't say anything either; he'd just study it for a while and then shake his head and I'd go on to the next one. At that time of night on Christmas Eve there were no shapely trees left. We went on like that until he nodded yes. And that was it; I'd put the tree in the car and then I'd collect an armful of broken branches that were always lying about. I'd put them into the car too, and then we'd leave. I didn't think about it until years later, but we never took anything but a tree and some branches. There were always tree stands (wood and metal) that we could have taken, and sometimes some wreathes that the shopkeeper had left hanging on pegs. But we never touched them. We just got our tree and branches and left. Then the marvel began to take shape.
The branches I gathered were very important. As I said before, at that time on Christmas Eve there were never any really good trees left. All of
them had a bad side, a large gap somewhere or crooked branches. But it really didn't make much difference for as soon as we got home and showed what we had to my mother my father and I would take everything into the cellar. He would take off his coat, put the tree into an old wooden stand he had made a number of years before and then study it. He'd stand in one place, then another, turn the tree, adjust the stand, then straighten it up and move it again. He never said much when he was doing this. He'd just walk around it, stop, look at it then do it again. After a few minutes he'd get his drill (it was a hand drill in those days). With just his eye and no measures taken he would drill a hole in the trunk and then take one of the branches I had gathered and put it in the hole (usually after whittling it down a bit so the fit was tight). And he'd do that until the bad side, the gap, and the crooked branches disappeared. It was marvelous. When he finished, the tree looked just like the ones in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. Then we'd take it upstairs and decorate it. Sometimes he would wait until the morning to decorate it. It depended a lot on how cold it was and how many branches he had to insert.
I haven't had a tree like that since I left home. My dad's gone now, but not the marvel. I feel it every time I see a boy pulling a tree out of
the pile and turning it to see how it looks. If he only knew what he could do with it with the right father and a cellar like the one I had.
Judge Schafer's Web Site = http://hometown.aol.com/boppananny/index.html
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