My Irish Up: The perfect tree didn’t live on a farm

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

Curse these modern, eternal Christmas trees, lurking around the attic through the warm months, chuckling over their immortality, only their tinsel rusting. A-u-t-h-e-n-t-i-c-i-t-y, people!

In the Fifties, we didn’t waste oil manufacturing such artificial bagatelles, we wasted real trees! And at wasting trees, my father was the master, the woodsiest, persnicketiest, most stalwart and true Christmas tree chopper-downer in New England. He would have urged me to add, the brazenest. We owned no land that might possibly yield up the Perfect Tree, but Dad had his eye out all year long for a likely stretch of the Great Outdoors from which we might steal ourselves a beauty. One year, more than a half century ago now, my father decided to rob the state of New Hampshire and the United States of America. Those governmental units, after all, controlled a few quadrillion trees already and certainly wouldn't miss one, not even the most conical conifer in the vast wilds of the White Mountain National Forest.

We parked in a snowed-in rest area lot, right near the Maine state line, a few miles from our house in Shelburne, N.H. Dad hefted The Axe and handed my older brother Bob its smaller cousin, and he pointed into the woods, in the general direction of West Royce Mountain. “This year, my children,” Dad announced, “we go on a quest into these majestic hills, to find The Perfect Tree. I know it’s out there! You too must believe!” And his eyes were lit with what would have been a strange light — had we not all been so used to it.

Had there been Christmas tree farms then, Dad would not have gone near one. If you had to buy the thing, the Perfect Tree was not really perfect. Where was the challenge? Preferring a procurement plan based on stealth and theft, a tree stolen from the black market, as it were, my father would have considered it real cheating to purchase one of those artificially-conical, sissy, manicured, over-civilized trees you see on tree farms today. Dad didn’t mind scrounging. In fact, scrounging was a point of honor with the man.

Naturally, each of us wanted to be the one to spot the Perfect Tree. Just a few yards in, my sister Kathy found a candidate, a very shapely blue spruce, only about nine feet in height, nicely filled out. Dad inspected it critically. His Bunyan eye detected some infinitesimal imperfections on one side, however. But we all knew that the real problem was: we hadn’t yet suffered enough. There must be a mythical quality to the quest, some sort of Christian sacrifice required, an almost tangible experience of sufferance borne, or it couldn’t be the Perfect Tree. We kept looking.

We forded streams, we slid down hills, we fell down, we found ourselves trapped in old blackberry thickets, we fell down some more. We walked in sweeping loops for more than a mile through foot-deep snow. First to complain was littlest sister Martha. Dad ended up carrying her on his shoulders. Snow had worked its way up my sleeves. I was skinny and infamous for not being able to hold my body heat in with a mere six or seven layers of clothes. I shivered pitifully. Nobody cared. Bob and Dad chattered away like blue jays, pointing out this or that magnificent specimen of evergreenness, and then rejected each candidate as not quite beautiful enough. “Remember, this is for your mother,” Dad said. “It has to be perfect.”

So, we went on. And on. And on. Streams, hills, thickets, hibernating bears. We trudged along in a hushed winter twilight, shivering. Then, Dad halted, thunderstruck. Either the day was darkening or the end was near. The rest of the party stumbled to a halt. Some of us fell into a snow bank. Please God, let this be the one!

Perversely, despite incipient frostbite, my conservationist instincts kicked in. “But Dad, that one’s 40 freakin’ feet tall!” I complained. “You aren’t going to cut down the whole —“

Dad raised a gloved hand. Yes, he was going to cut down the whole — as long as his impeccable standards could be met. That was the point of the whole expedition, maybe even of life itself. And, like Ahab at last sighting the white whale, he had that gleam in his eye. “Ah, it’s probably only 30 feet or so,” he rationalized. “But just look at that top section! Perfect! Just look at it, kids!”

“I would,” Kathy complained, “but it’s too darn dark to see it. Cut the stupid thing down and let’s go home.” And then, finally realizing the folly of fault finding at that point in the ordeal, we three hangers-on were overcome by the saplust. “Chop it down, Dad! It’s perfect! Chop it! Chop it down! Chop it!”

Half hour later, as Bob and Dad lashed the Perfect Tree to the top of the car, the rest of us crowded around the heater like acolytes around a prophet. The afternoon’s experience began to take on a more golden glow. And at home, Mom had cocoa ready for us, and oatmeal cookies. We dragged the tree in by the back door and stood it in the hallway. Snow and ice still glittered from some of the needly branches, which popped and creaked stiffly. But the treetop was indeed graceful and shapely and the spruce sublimated a couple gallons of sap a minute to the warm air — oh, that scent was heavenly! Regarding the tapering branches from every perspective, Mother, who loved all things Christmas-y (as long as those things didn’t involve her going out into the cold), fairly danced around the aromatic beauty. Meanwhile, Dad grinned and regarded Mom from every perspective. My mother turned and blazed a smile at the Old Woodsman. “Oh, McGee,” she enthused, “you’ve done it again. It’s the Perfect Tree!”

And so it was.

Adapted from Mike’s manuscript of Fifties stories, Pat Boone and Hayley Mills Dance the Polka at the Star-Lite Drive-In.SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/wayne/Desktop/website%202/EP%20w52%20corrigan%20column.doc @font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }@font-face { font-family: "Arial-BoldMT"; }@font-face { font-family: "ArialMT"; }@font-face { font-family: "TimesNewRomanPSMT"; }@font-face { font-family: "TimesNewRomanPS-ItalicMT"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

EP w52 corrigan column

 

In the Fifties, the perfect tree didn't live on a farm

 

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

Curse these modern, eternal Christmas trees, lurking around the attic through the warm months, chuckling over their immortality, only their tinsel rusting. A-u-t-h-e-n-t-i-c-i-t-y, people!

In the Fifties, we didn’t waste oil manufacturing such artificial bagatelles, we wasted real trees! And at wasting trees, my father was the master, the woodsiest, persnicketiest, most stalwart and true Christmas tree chopper-downer in New England. He would have urged me to add, the brazenest. We owned no land that might possibly yield up the Perfect Tree, but Dad had his eye out all year long for a likely stretch of the Great Outdoors from which we might steal ourselves a beauty. One year, more than a half century ago now, my father decided to rob the state of New Hampshire and the United States of America. Those governmental units, after all, controlled a few quadrillion trees already and certainly wouldn't miss one, not even the most conical conifer in the vast wilds of the White Mountain National Forest.

We parked in a snowed-in rest area lot, right near the Maine state line, a few miles from our house in Shelburne, N.H. Dad hefted The Axe and handed my older brother Bob its smaller cousin, and he pointed into the woods, in the general direction of West Royce Mountain. “This year, my children,” Dad announced, “we go on a quest into these majestic hills, to find The Perfect Tree. I know it’s out there! You too must believe!” And his eyes were lit with what would have been a strange light — had we not all been so used to it.

Had there been Christmas tree farms then, Dad would not have gone near one. If you had to buy the thing, the Perfect Tree was not really perfect. Where was the challenge? Preferring a procurement plan based on stealth and theft, a tree stolen from the black market, as it were, my father would have considered it real cheating to purchase one of those artificially-conical, sissy, manicured, over-civilized trees you see on tree farms today. Dad didn’t mind scrounging. In fact, scrounging was a point of honor with the man.

Naturally, each of us wanted to be the one to spot the Perfect Tree. Just a few yards in, my sister Kathy found a candidate, a very shapely blue spruce, only about nine feet in height, nicely filled out. Dad inspected it critically. His Bunyan eye detected some infinitesimal imperfections on one side, however. But we all knew that the real problem was: we hadn’t yet suffered enough. There must be a mythical quality to the quest, some sort of Christian sacrifice required, an almost tangible experience of sufferance borne, or it couldn’t be the Perfect Tree. We kept looking.

We forded streams, we slid down hills, we fell down, we found ourselves trapped in old blackberry thickets, we fell down some more. We walked in sweeping loops for more than a mile through foot-deep snow. First to complain was littlest sister Martha. Dad ended up carrying her on his shoulders. Snow had worked its way up my sleeves. I was skinny and infamous for not being able to hold my body heat in with a mere six or seven layers of clothes. I shivered pitifully. Nobody cared. Bob and Dad chattered away like blue jays, pointing out this or that magnificent specimen of evergreenness, and then rejected each candidate as not quite beautiful enough. “Remember, this is for your mother,” Dad said. “It has to be perfect.”

So, we went on. And on. And on. Streams, hills, thickets, hibernating bears. We trudged along in a hushed winter twilight, shivering. Then, Dad halted, thunderstruck. Either the day was darkening or the end was near. The rest of the party stumbled to a halt. Some of us fell into a snow bank. Please God, let this be the one!

Perversely, despite incipient frostbite, my conservationist instincts kicked in. “But Dad, that one’s 40 freakin’ feet tall!” I complained. “You aren’t going to cut down the whole —“

Dad raised a gloved hand. Yes, he was going to cut down the whole — as long as his impeccable standards could be met. That was the point of the whole expedition, maybe even of life itself. And, like Ahab at last sighting the white whale, he had that gleam in his eye. “Ah, it’s probably only 30 feet or so,” he rationalized. “But just look at that top section! Perfect! Just look at it, kids!”

“I would,” Kathy complained, “but it’s too darn dark to see it. Cut the stupid thing down and let’s go home.” And then, finally realizing the folly of fault finding at that point in the ordeal, we three hangers-on were overcome by the saplust. “Chop it down, Dad! It’s perfect! Chop it! Chop it down! Chop it!”

Half hour later, as Bob and Dad lashed the Perfect Tree to the top of the car, the rest of us crowded around the heater like acolytes around a prophet. The afternoon’s experience began to take on a more golden glow. And at home, Mom had cocoa ready for us, and oatmeal cookies. We dragged the tree in by the back door and stood it in the hallway. Snow and ice still glittered from some of the needly branches, which popped and creaked stiffly. But the treetop was indeed graceful and shapely and the spruce sublimated a couple gallons of sap a minute to the warm air — oh, that scent was heavenly! Regarding the tapering branches from every perspective, Mother, who loved all things Christmas-y (as long as those things didn’t involve her going out into the cold), fairly danced around the aromatic beauty. Meanwhile, Dad grinned and regarded Mom from every perspective. My mother turned and blazed a smile at the Old Woodsman. “Oh, McGee,” she enthused, “you’ve done it again. It’s the Perfect Tree!”

And so it was.

Adapted from Mike’s manuscript of Fifties stories, Pat Boone and Hayley Mills Dance the Polka at the Star-Lite Drive-In.

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