The Perfect Christmas Tree as told by M. Aileen Raihala
Today, I am going to share with you my own oral tradition from Northern Minnesota. I found this story in a family newsletter that my aunt Aileen published. She says, “There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas Tree. However, there are lots of memorable ones.” This story is a memory told from a ten year olds perspective, adapted and retold by Karleigh Bon.
All the music is by David Fesliyan Studios Licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution 4.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Transcripts and pod notes can be found at Karleighbon.com
The Perfect Christmas Tree as told by M. Aileen Raihala
One year, many years ago, us three oldest (children) were given the opportunity to go out into our 480 acre woods that our father had aptly named, Paradise Ranch, to bring home our idea of the perfect tree to decorate for Christmas. I seem to remember it was Lizzie, Henry, and I tasked with this particular job. We dressed warmly and set off to chop down our very own Christmas tree. We just knew this was going to be great, as we tramped off into the woods.
We had been on these paths many times, and we knew right where wild Christmas trees could be found. We followed the trail with the snow rattling up to our knees. We were going to be very particular in our search. The branches had to be perfect; there could be no broken limbs. The color had to be uniform. Oh, how we were the experts, and we rejected tree after tree, but most of all, we noticed how terribly small all those trees were. We wanted one that would reach the ceiling in our house and still have enough room to put that bright star on the very top. So, through the woods, we went.
Sometimes we rejected quickly. Sometimes we pondered. And then it happened as the snow deepened off the path and we turned a corner, we had found the perfect tree.
We circled it. We touched it. We almost decided it was so beautiful, it should stay as it was. We circled it and could find no flaws. We had our perfect Christmas Tree!
Then the real work began. We chopped, and we hacked at its trunk with our little hatchet, and we sawed at it with our little saw until the tree came crashing down. It was perfect! It was a perfect example of youthful enthusiasm and our unthinking lack of preparation, as we suddenly realized… we had no sled, and we had no canvas to wrap the boughs close in. We grabbed onto the lower branches, and began the long drag home.
Other minor things we had ignored in our excitement soon became apparent, like staying on or near the wooded path or staying near home. We tugged, and we grunted as we pulled our perfect tree through the bushes, and the bushes pulled back, as though reluctant to let the tree leave its place in the forest. The three of us became aware that some of the tree’s perfect branches were beginning to bend and crack.
Finally, making it to the path, there was this luminous moment when we realized It was getting dark, and we were freezing cold. The three of us glommed on and quickly tugged and pulled our prize along the snowy ground until the light from our yard came into view.
We dropped the tree in front of the back door , threw down the saw and ax, and rushed into the house announcing…, “It’s cold outside!”
We clamored into the kitchen. It was always the warmest room. Mittens, coats, boots, and wet socks came flying off, and we rubbed our hands and shivered as the heat from the kitchen stove slowly made its way into our innards. We shivered from being cold but we also shivered from the pure joy of being caressed by the warmth of the room and by the smiling faces of our parents.
“So, you did it. You got your tree. Dad said.
“And wait ’til you see it. It’s PERFECT!” we screamed in unison. We were so warm with the joy of our accomplishment that we started running for the door to show them our tree without our winter coverings.
“Whoa, up there,” Dad yelled. “It’s still cold out there. Get the coats and hats on. We’ll all go see.” Of course, we all wore boots and mittens as well as hats, scarves, and coats! It was December in Minnesota after all.
Once out in the yard, Dad reached down to stand the tree upright. There he stood, triumphant, with the perfect tree towering high above his head. The branches were relaxing and trying to push Dad away. Then we saw the horror of it all. The side that had slid all the way from out in the woods was scraped up, twisted, and broken. Our faces instantly fell, because our Perfect tree was ruined. Worst of all, we had done it by ourselves. I wiped a snowflake from my eyes. It wasn’t snowing, but I am sure I wasn’t crying either. It had to be snowflakes. The silence was scary. I felt as though I were standing outside — alone — and was slowly becoming a frozen snowman because we had ruined our perfect tree.
Dad’s voice was slowly seeping into my ears. I rubbed my nose on the back of my glove. I heard him saying, “This is not so bad. With a little trimming and adjustments, I’ll bet it will be just fine.
What did he say?” I thought. The three of us were all sadly standing at attention as Dad took charge.
“Liz, you help Ma clean the corner. Hank, you help me do some measuring. And you…” Dad stared down at me. “You keep the dogs and the cats from helping us — and Mom and Liz.” He winked. “They are a handful whenever we have a project. And this is one big project.”
I nodded with a renewed confidence, feeling like I had the most demanding job, but I could do it.
Dad cut off some of the bottom of the tree.
“That was a pretty good chunk,” I thought nervously.
Looks like that piece will end up in the fireplace on Christmas eve. Then Dad trimmed away the broken branches that had been scraped clean of all those green needles the evergreens kept dressed up in the year in and year out. They never really shed their needles like leafy trees shed their leaves.
“The needles are like hair,” Dad said. “Now and then, you find needles dried and brown on the ground. They just got pushed out of the branch.” he said as he and Hank concentrated on getting that tree cleaned up and inside.
I was busy going in and out of the house to keep the animals from annoying anyone who was really working. So it was that with a little planning and imagination, Dad put our tree up on its stand with the big star at the top. It was just barely touching the living room ceiling. When that was all done, and the stand had its water in it, the bright red cloth was wrapped around the base, and then it was time to trim the tree. We all helped at that. We never put the glass bulbs near the floor. The cats liked to hit them and make them shimmer and wink in the reflected colors and lights.
Our perfect tree was tucked in the corner of the room; the damaged side invisible. Dad made it fit just right. We didn’t even have to put trimming back there. Mom had removed furniture, and the front of the tree stretched way out to the center of the room.
I should never have doubted that my Dad and Mom could fix everything. We had a Perfect tree and a perfect Christmas that year.
My presents? They were okay for sure, but that really was a perfect Christmas tree, and I will remember it forever.