My grandfather Charlie Knox bought 240 acres of land north of Stratford right around the time the Great Depression hit.
It wasn’t much of a farm by today’s standards, just two 80-acre plots of cropland separated by 80 acres of timber and hills. Those 80 acres of timber, though, provided lots of entertainment to Charlie’s many grandchildren who’d explore there, fish for minnows in a small stream and "help" their mothers gather all sorts of wild berries in the summer and a seeming ton of walnuts in the fall.
Every year about this time, though, Grandpa’d grab a hand saw and sneak off into the timber. Sometimes he’d spend most of a day traipsing around the hillside before his search ended.
When he found just the right prickly pine tree, he’d cut it down and haul it back up the hill. Grandma Hattie was awaiting his arrival, had everything prepared for Charlie’s tree.
There was a special place in the living room for the tree, right by a window that faced the gravel road leading past the farm. A piano stood against the adjoining wall.
Usually, the tree was set on a Friday; scores of grandchildren would be there on Saturday to help decorate the tree.
Grandma, moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins would all gather; no one would start decorating the tree until the last car had arrived.
Popcorn was popped. Kids were given needles and thread, bowls of popcorn and brightly colored wild berries. It was a tedious process, but one filled with laughter and strings of popcorn and berries were set on a table when finished.
Pine cones, gathered from the same timberland and painted white and red, were put on the tree and when that was finished, those strings of popcorn and berries were all hung around the tree, amid countless yelps as prickly pine needles took a toll on the happy kids. We always swore that Grandpa hadn’t sought the "best" tree for Christmas, just the prickliest.
Finally, lights were strung around the tree and it was a huge production as they went on to signal the official start of another Yule season.
Kids turned their attention to the popcorn left over – even though most had been nibbling throughout the day. Parents – at least those who wanted – dipped into Grandpa’s homemade wine to celebrate the occasion.
Gifts were placed under the tree and, as darkness fell, carloads of families drove off, headed toward their own homes, knowing they’d return in a couple of weeks to open gifts and once again share in the company of loved ones.
Grandpa knew he’d done a good job. He enjoyed watching all the kids as they opened their gifts, enjoyed seeing happiness fill the room.
Or was he just enjoying the fact that, once again, he’d been able to find the prickliest pine in the timber?