Country Christmas trees make the best memories

Published 11:42 am Friday, December 22, 2023

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There is something to be learned from how the McDermotts put up our Christmas trees way back in my days as a farm kid, which of course was a long time ago. A granddaughter once innocently asked me if I was alive at the turn of the century.

Not quite. But I do remember the Christmas trees of long ago,

They were cut on our farm, but that doesn’t mean we had a crop of Christmas trees from which to choose. No, these were always scraggly trees most likely planted after the pine cone-bearing seeds were consumed or, perhaps planted, by birds or squirrels. Misguided failures can become your successes.

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Often, these trees appeared to be deformed, with a trunk that seemingly started out on a good path but then got distracted by reaching too hard for a bright sun and began growing in a direction unsuitable for decorating. Then somehow, perhaps through prevailing winds or more abundant sunshine, they straightened themselves, making an occasional bend before reaching a height that grabbed our eye. If you wait long enough and believe, even the misguided will find their way back to the right path.

The tree stand was made of lumber sawn from trees on the farm, nailed together and somehow positioned in a way that a tree with a not-too-large trunk fit nicely into it. The stand was a monster, heavier than the tree and capable of holding it upright even in the midst of brothers wrestling on the living room floor, or Roy Rogers (me) racing into the room and bringing his trusty make-believe horse Trigger to a sliding stop up against the tree in time to save his love, Dale Evans. Build a good foundation, and your tree will survive. Love somebody.

The decorations were mostly homemade. Mama baked cookies with holes in them, ran ribbons through the holes and decorated them. I think they were sugar cookies–hard enough to stop a horse and not particularly tasty after being on the tree for a while. The ones that didn’t make the tree because they were in some way not attractive enough became dessert after supper or a snack while decorating. Being imperfect never limits our usefulness.

These were the Christmases of a poor farm family. There was never a lot under the tree, but there was always something. We tried to create some laughter in the midst of it all, often at the expense of my younger sister, Pat. There was the year she wanted a ring, a cheap thing but nonetheless on her list. Her evil brothers, who tormented her about her colossal kitchen failures, put a charred potato in a box Mama wrapped with the skill of a department store. When she opened it Christmas morning, she howled with laughter and then moved on to the next gift box for her. She knew from the bent and crinkled wrapping paper and excess tape that it was the work of her older brother–me. She expected another gag. Instead, the ring was inside. To this day, it is a lasting memory. Have fun, but don’t hurt anyone.

The “angel” atop the tree was a rag doll Mama made. She made most of our clothes, so we didn’t consider the doll to be nearly as valuable as the shirts we wore. Who knows how the angel got away from the family, but it was lost long ago, perhaps replaced by a China-made angel looking more like what we saw on TV and came to believe it was better. Maybe her doll was tattered and torn, and Mama had gotten too old to make a replacement. Save your simplest family creations, for the day will come when they are priceless.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at