Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 25, 2015
"Not to get it done, but to have fun!"
On Sunday morning, husband Art and I headed into town to meet daughters Mariya and Katie and Mariya's girlfriend Miriam. Then we were off to get a Christmas tree. Art and I took the pickup and they followed in my car. The past few years, we've been traveling to Lee's Christmas Trees in Junction City, about 20 miles from Manhattan, to get a live one.
When I had called to check if they were open on Sunday, I learned the family has been in the tree business since 1960. Their lot is open from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas Eve.
After we had walked the entire lot and had selected our tree, I talked with Nadine Lee and her son Ralph. Nadine said they planted seedlings in 1960, and it took a few years before they grew large enough to cut. She said Ralph was about 3 when they started. Now another family member has become part of the business. Ralph's 13-year-old son was working as the cashier on the day we were there.
Ralph chuckled when he recalled an incident when he was in third grade.
"I took a hand saw and 'whittled' off a tree for a guy," he said. "That man was very patient with me. The saw was pretty dull."
He also remembered the challenge of fastening an eight-foot tree to a customer's Volkswagen Beetle.
As in any business involving the public, they have seen a variety of people.
"Some people see a tree they like right away and go for it," Ralph said. "But one person looked at trees over two days and took several hours to pick one."
While they see new customers each year, many are repeats.
"One customer has been coming on Thanksgiving Day for 48 or 49 years - ever since she was a little girl," Ralph said. "Well, this Thanksgiving was wet and icy and miserable." She told him that maybe she had taken that particular tradition too far!
Nadine said they used to sell trees to churches, including some rural churches in nearby Morris County, but they don't have any large enough now.
Drought and heavy snow have been problems as well. And it's hard work. Every year, beginning in May or June, Ralph and his wife prune the trees.
But Nadine and Ralph said for the most part, they have enjoyed meeting people. Ralph said it's fun when little children come along with the adults.
"They sort of figure out what Christmas is about," he said. "One wanted to make sure they left the bottom two feet of the trunk without branches so more presents would fit under it."
He said the past week or so his father Norman had begun whittling Christmas and other figures. I bought one of his Santas and a reindeer last year, and purchased small Santas for the girls this year. Along with Christmas items, he has made cowboys, buffaloes, chickens, owls and other figures.
While I was chatting with the Lees, Art and the girls tied the tree into the pickup. The tree we chose is not as large as some years, but it's very green and symmetric. We all agreed it was perfect.
Once home, Art and Mariya carried it on their shoulders up to our deck. It fit perfectly into the tree stand - no trimming was necessary this year. And it slid easily into the house, unlike some years when we had to remove part of the deck doorway.
Art began stringing the lights while the girls made a pizza run and I brought the ornaments up from the basement.
When they returned, we ate pizza, decorated the tree and put National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation" into the DVD player. Later, I made kettle corn and hot chocolate. Looking back, it was a great day.
But it hadn't started that way. I had awakened in a bit of a funk - complete with a headache and a knot in my stomach. With only five days remaining until Christmas, my mind was racing with a list of things to do - buy and decorate the tree, write our annual Christmas newsletter, put together our 2016 family calendar, grade my last student papers, and wrap gifts.
"Not a great day to transport a large tree in a pickup," I had grumbled to myself when I looked out at the gloomy skies. The forecast was for heavy winds and rain.
I had also been worrying about Mom. She had recently fallen in her home. That was followed by a few days in the hospital and then a move to a rehabilitation facility so she would be strong enough to go home. That was not exactly the Christmas present I would have wanted for her.
I had shuffled from the bedroom to the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and then joined husband Art in the living room, where he was already working on a Christmas project for the girls.
He took one look at me and then told me to sit down. He told me he had already decided NOT to try to get his annual family history account done before Christmas.
"If I get it done later, fine, and if not, that's fine, too," he said. "And I think we need to decide what our priorities are here. If all we get done today is find a tree and decorate it with the girls, I think that's great. The idea is not to get it done, but to have fun!"
With those few words, a weight had been lifted. Being with Art and the girls, choosing and decorating the tree, chatting with the Lees and all the rest had meant it was a great day! Art had later said to Katie, "You know, attitude adjustments aren't just for kids. Sometimes we adults need them too."
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Left: (l-r) Mariya, Katie, Miriam and Gloria with our selection; top-right: Mariya and Art carrying the tree from the truck to the house; bottom-right: sign for Lee's lot.