Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 26, 2014

From beast to beauty

Husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie, Mariya's girlfriend Miriam and I spent most of last Saturday finding and setting up our Christmas tree. It's a tradition I love and dread at the same time. I love it because it's something we do as a family. I dread it because it's a messy process.

If it were up to me, we would go to the local Optimist lot and find a nice reasonably-sized tree somewhere around Dec. 10 and have it decorated by the next day. Most of my family and friends don't even bother to do that. They go to their storage closets, pull their trees out of boxes, stack the pieces together, plug in the lights and "voil´┐Ż" - they're ready for Christmas!

On the other hand, Art loves going to a Christmas tree farm and selecting just the right one for our home. A Wisconsin native, he and his family traveled to the northern part of the state each Christmas season to cut evergreen trees for resale in their hometown of Appleton. So this tradition is part and parcel of his heritage and it's something he wants to continue as long as he can.

However, the process is a bit more difficult than it used to be. In the early part of our marriage, we bought our trees from Gallaher Tree Farm, just a couple of miles down the road. But now a plowed field sits where the trees once stood. So we've had to venture farther from home the last few Christmases. We bought a tree from a place between Manhattan and Wamego one time, but Art wasn't especially happy with how small the trees were. The last couple of years, we've driven to Lee's Christmas Trees in Junction City, about a 40-minute ride from our home.

We headed out around 11:30 Saturday, with Art and me in the pickup and Mariya, Katie and Miriam following in our old Cadillac. Once we got to Lee's, it didn't take long to make our selection. Most of the trees were nicely-shaped ones, but they were too small for Art's taste - only six-feet tall or less. The two or three he liked were 16-feet tall, which meant they would have to be topped out at eight feet to fit into our house. We picked the tree that looked the greenest and had the most symmetrical shape - or so we thought. Before long, the owner cut the tree, trimmed its lower branches, pulled it across the field in a small tractor and helped tie it down in our waiting pickup.

Then we began the slower trip back home.

"I hope we don't have to stop suddenly or that trunk would come right through the back window," Art said.

I turned around and looked. The seven-inch diameter trunk was directly behind my head.

"Oh, great," I said. "Well, just be careful!"

"If anything happens, just make certain you duck," he replied.

Luckily, it was a fairly nice sunny day and not too windy, so we didn't have to contend with weather issues.

Once we arrived home, I prepared for our new guest. I pushed the dining table and chairs to one side, got the tree stand from its storage spot in the basement, laid sheets on the floor to collect stray needles, and waited for Art and the girls to bring the beast into the house.

After several measurements, Art pronounced it would fit after trimming a bit more of the trunk. He and the girls then dragged the tree across our leaf-laden and somewhat mucky yard. The snow from a few days before had melted, leaving muddy spots here and there. When they got to the bottom of the deck stairs at the back of the house, Art told the girls they'd have to push as he walked the tree up the steps. He hoisted the trunk onto his shoulder and within just a few minutes, the tree lay on our deck.

Out came the tape measure again to make sure it wouldn't be too tall for our eight-foot ceiling. Next, he took the patio doors off long enough for him and the girls to haul the tree to its intended location. He quickly replaced the doors so our neighbor's curious kittens wouldn't keep scampering into the house.

Then Art hammered the tree stand onto the bottom and asked the girls to "walk it up" as he held the stand in place.

Once it was righted in the stand, everyone could rest a moment.

Although it's a somewhat arduous process, somehow it all seems worth it. Mariya enjoys it is done as a family. Katie likes that aspect as well as the fact that our trees are different every year. Art loves carrying on the family tradition.

And me? It took another two days before we had time and energy to string lights on the tree and add ornaments. But, just as in previous years, I can honestly say that the beast is now a thing of beauty.

Left: Miriam, Mariya and Katie beside the tree as the lower limbs are being removed; right: at home.

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