Snowmobile Gas, Scraped Ceilings, and Pine Needles: What Christmas Memories are Made Of

I can’t remember the last time I went out and helped cut down a Christmas tree. By my estimation, it’s been about twenty years.

While that hardly seems possible, my mental tally confirms that all-too-big number. However, this past weekend I rectified that tree-cutting deficiency. We went out to Saratoga and hunted down a trophy worthy of mounting in the living room. It stands over eight feet tall, just shy of scraping the nine foot ceilings in our living room, and our children decorated it beautifully. Well, to be more accurate, they thoroughly decorated the bottom four feet with slightly smashed ornaments that they made last year, but I think it’s perfect.

That tree-cutting event brought back some of my very favorite Christmas tree hunting memories. One tree in particular stands out in my memory. The behemoth. The one that scraped the sparkly textured ceiling, causing Mom to scream and yell in horror. I was six years old at the time, and it was GRAND.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Snowmobile Gas
The tree came from the back of our farm. That year it was snowy, so we fired up our snowmobiles for the tree hunt. That alone made the tree hunting wonderful. Our snowmobiles, which we always referred to by their given names, the Panther and El Tigre, were the tree hunting vehicles. I rode in the Cat Cutter, hooked onto the back of one of the snowmobiles. The Cat Cutter was a magnificent 1970’s snowcoach that hooked on the back of a snowmobile, meant for hauling an extra kid or two. We would usually wedge in at least three of us. I knew back then that the Cat Cutter was the essence of cool. I loved hopping in and getting rides, and I still remember the tiger print fabric on the inside.

So we rode out in snowmobiles to the back of the farm. We parked in front of the towering evergreen trees. I remember struggling to plow my short legs through the deep snow to get closer to the trees. Then, like brothers and sisters are supposed to do, a good half dozen of my older siblings proceeded to argue and discuss which tree top would make the best Christmas tree. At six, I had no voting power, so I mostly stayed quiet.

Settling on a good tree, one of my brothers (either David or Mike) climbed up the giant evergreen while carrying the hand saw, and slowly lopped off the top. I remember watching the tree top wiggle and shake, and finally, seeing the awesome crash of the tree top falling to the ground. TIMBER! It was fabulous.

If I remember correctly, on this particular year, we misjudged the height of the tree top from our vantage point on the ground, and the first one that he lopped off was way too short. I recall some choice angry words over who was to blame for the short tree snafu. Somehow, while standing hot and sweaty in the cold snow, it didn’t sound appealing to my brother to climb another tree, perch in branches, and wield a saw to lop off another magical Christmas memory. Nonetheless, he climbed up another tree and sawed off another tree top.

It seems that we erred on the side of long on the second go round, but we didn’t fully know that until later.

Task accomplished, my brothers jerked the starter cords a few times to fire up the snowmobiles, filling the cold winter air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of snowmobile gas. I do love that smell. To me, the scent of snowmobile gas, like the scent of wood smoke, is the smell of a good time.

We piled back on the snowmobiles and I climbed into the Cat Cutter. Flashes of the ride back to the house forever etched themselves in my memory: cold, crisp air that burned in my nose when I sucked in, red cheeks, wiping my runny nose on my mittens, a fine spray of snow blowing into my face, ducking my head out of the wind, holding out my mitten-covered hands to catch the snow, and the smell of snowmobile gas and the sound of engines through it all.

Runny nose?  Cold?  Snow spray in the face?  As an adult it doesn’t sound all that appealing. As a kid, though, I was a little Minnesotan girl in winter heaven. I was six years old, out with my brothers and sisters on a Christmas tree mission, riding home on snowmobiles and dragging a tree after cutting it down and watching it fall. I knew it was one of the most glorious moments of my life, one of those moments so spectacular that I couldn’t believe it was real, and I didn’t want it to end.

Scraped Ceilings
That wonderful tree, like the Grinch’s heart, seemingly grew several sizes. We arrived home and after stuffing, tugging, and pushing, they crammed the tree through the front door, and then SCRAAAAAPE! A long scratch, forever commemorating that year’s tree, gouged into Mom’s sparkly textured ceiling. Mom’s ensuing yelling? Yep, I still remember that, too. As horrifying as wrecking Mom’s ceiling was, oh man, that tree was ever so grand.

They perched the tree under the peak of our vaulted ceiling, and it nearly touched the peak when upright, soaring over twice as tall as most of the people in my family at the time. It filled a gigantic area in our gigantic living room, and of course, it was all the more glorious to my six-year-old perspective.

My sister, Sues, took a Christmas morning picture of me in front of that tree. In the picture I’m sitting in blue rose pajamas. I remember not liking those pajamas that mom made for one of my older brothers, and I remember thinking that my hair was messy, so I didn’t want my picture taken. But now I look back at that, and I love it. In the background is an astonishing mound of Christmas presents. If we got something, it usually came to us at Christmas time. We didn’t get birthday presents, so that was the one gift time of the year. With a dozen siblings, most still living at home at the time, Christmas day was huge.

That year was also the year of The Cabbage Patch Kid baby. THE one, that I longingly looked at every time we went into the hardware store in Plainview.

On Christmas morning, I was the first one awake. I sifted through the wrapped boxes and pulled out what I thought was my Cabbage Patch. I set it aside on the couch, ready to be opened as soon as I had the green light go ahead when everyone else got out of bed. After patiently waiting through the Today Show, everyone finally came downstairs, and I finally got to open my doll. Like a six-year-old dreams, it was just the one that I’d wanted. I finally could hold it in my arms. I think it’s still floating around in the toy box at my mom’s house, and my six-year-old daughter now occasionally plays with it.

Of all my childhood Christmases, that is probably the Christmas I remember the best: At six, I was at the peak of believing in all the magic of Christmas. We rode out on snowmobiles to get a gigantic tree that forever scratched the ceiling, and Santa brought the very doll that I’d longingly wanted for months.

kathy tree 2012

Kathy, circa 2012, sawing a few lumberjack swipes at this year’s tree with her family in the background.

Pine Needles
With my own kids, I don’t know what memories will forever etch into their hearts. I don’t know yet what they’ll look back on and laughingly tell stories about when they’re grown up. I do know, though, that Christmas this year is special. It is our first Christmas in our new house, the house we are going to live in “forever”, and we have four young kids who believe in the magic of Santa and the wonder of Christmas. I think heading out and sawing down our tree is a good start on the holiday. Timber!

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