2017 Submission to “Tell Your Christmas Story Lake Almanor!”
My boys were 8 and 10 the year their father left us. It was October. Quite unexpectedly and unceremoniously he walked out the door. A mid-life crisis I guess. But, in his crisis he found it most important to take all of our money with him, leaving myself and the boys in debt with few resources.
When the shock began to wear off, fear and depression came to visit and then suddenly it was December and our town came alive with decorations and holiday festivities. Everything depressed me, but the boys seemed to be riding the spirit of the season. They were strong mountain boys and enjoyed the things that winter had to offer. Making the trek to the community sled hill every Saturday after chores, was one of them. It took very little to make them happy, fishing, sledding, hiking with the dog. I was so grateful for the joy they found in simple things. It often served as an antidote to the gray and dismal world I found myself in.
As Christmas neared, tree cutting season was in full swing and they began to petition that we find a tree. In year’s past this had been a family event. The four of us would sometimes hike for miles looking for the perfect fir. We would plan our trip the night before. I packed lunches, made cookies and hot chocolate and never failed to surprise them with dry clothes for the trip home.
This year I didn’t have it in me to make the trek, let alone bake. But, the boys needed some bit of normalcy. So, I agreed to take them to the designated forest area near our community’s sled hill. It was close to town and would only be a 10-minute drive.
When we got to the sled hill I gave my oldest the saw and the forest map. We discussed the areas beyond the hill where it was legal to cut. He told me not to worry. They would find the perfect tree. I had decided to stay in the car. The day was cold, spitting a light snow under grey skies and I just couldn’t muster the lightness of spirit to go with them. I figured I would give them about 45 minutes to slug through the snow within hearing distance of the car. These boys grew up on this mountain. I wasn’t worried that they would get lost.
Well you can imagine my surprise when after only 20 minutes they came into site, dragging to my chagrin not a fir, but a pine tree! Cutting pine trees in the forest was off limits, unless you owned a logging company. Fir trees were the only approved trees for Christmas tree cutting! I knew without doubt that these boys knew the difference between a fir and a pine.
As they got closer I could see the look on their faces, pure joy. So, it took me a moment to phrase my disapproval. When at last I found my voice, I asked, “What possessed you to cut a pine tree instead of the fir our permit allows?”
My oldest smiled that darn engaging smile of a 10-year-old, his blond hair tussled by the wind coming off the hill, his blue eyes sparkling with the mischief I had seen in them countless times. He replied, “Mom, this is the perfect tree for us! And, now with it out of the way, the sled hill is so much better!”
Suddenly the air cleared, the spitting snow began to sparkle, the grey clouds seemed to change to something brighter, and I laughed. It was the best Christmas tree we ever had.