It’s always a mistake to paint a mythological picture of farm life. The Norman Rockwell image never really existed. However, there are pieces of my childhood on the farm that my children never experienced, nor will my now three-month-old granddaughter. Christmas is one of those times.
My Christmas memories are of the farm because that’s where I grew up. Our 235 acres were nestled in among walls of tall pines in deep East Texas, in Newton County. We raised cattle and hay and for a time tried both the dairy and the hog business. Christmas was never an extravagant affair, but my Mom and Dad always managed to make it special.
The locating and harvesting of our Christmas tree is the memory that really sticks with me. Finding trees is not a problem in the Piney Woods. In addition to Loblolly, Longleaf and Slash pines, there is a lot of cedar. This is the tree that our family tradition demands. Though I have not lived in Newton County for more than 30 years, and have only rarely participated since moving away, I remember it with a rush of nostalgia.
Scouting was the first step. My brother and I would saddle up Smokey and Dan and look for cedars close enough to approach with a wheeled vehicle. When we reported back to Mom, a date would be set. Sometimes invitations would go out to cousins and friends, but usually it was my brother, four sisters, my parents and one or both of my grandparents, who lived on the farm with us.
Dad or Paw would drive the tractor. Later on, my brother or I would inherit this coveted position. We would pull a low boy trailer, with hay bales for seating, into the woods and check out some of the trees we’d located. I shudder to think what OSHA would think of our enterprise. The first tree we came upon, I seem to remember, was never good enough, though we sometimes came back to it. When the selection was finally made, we’d saw it down and head home. A decorating party would follow, complete with popcorn, hot chocolate and much laughter. Finally, we’d wait for my father to announce every year, without fail, “I think this is the best one we’ve ever had.” Somehow, it always was. The tradition continues to this day.
I have other memories. I remember how hard it was to ride my new bicycle on dirt roads, thinking that my cousins in town had a much easier time of it. I remember some Decembers when cattle prices were low. Even so, there was always something for everyone under that cedar tree.
Farmers and ranchers today, thanks to communications and farm to market roads, are not as isolated as they once were. Traditions like this one have fallen away over the years. I know that one year, perhaps soon, this tradition will fade into our family history. When it does, we will have lost something that we’ll never get back.
I hope the readers of this blog will post their favorite Christmas memories, on the farm and otherwise.