by J Pinsent
At the reunion in 2005, Roland
Clarke, in his address to the closing banquet, related some humorous stories of
his past as Principal of HMA/GA. One being about a bunch of boys going out to
cut a Christmas tree, didn’t return in a prescribed period of time and a search
party had to be sent out to ensure their safety was secure. I smiled to myself
as he spoke. I had completely forgotten about that incident. Roland didn’t
disclose the culprits who created that excitable situation but I knew who they
were. Well, at least some of them. Of course myself being one of them. Roy
Rideout was also one, I think Willie Taylor was another and the fourth I cannot
remember. Maybe Gene Simms.
It was a plan a bunch of us 10/11 year olds came up with as
a way to escape from the classroom on a winter’s afternoon and also to try and
enact what are parents did each Christmas, to go cut a Christmas tree. We told
our teacher of our plan on how us boys could cut a tree for the classroom.
After a lot of persuasion she gave us permission to take time off from school
to cut a tree. We thought it would be an easy chore so to ensure we wouldn’t get
back too early we went down past the Army Side to make sure we wouldn’t. We did
get a tree. Much bigger and a lot more difficult than we imagined. It was
getting dark by the time we were met by a bunch of men looking for us. Just
walking up the road, dragging this humungous tree behind us. Like we told them.
We weren’t lost, we knew where we were. Just a little late getting back that was
all. Looking back at it now I can understand their concerns and I’m sure our
teacher took responsibility for the situation.
It was a ritual. Every year just prior to Christmas our
parents would go out and cut the Christmas tree. When I say
parents, I mean the fathers cut the tree and our mothers gave their approval
whether or not it was acceptable to be erected in their living rooms. Most of
our parents were from out ports where trees were not very pretty, having to
endure those ghastly north east winds along the coast. Maybe that’s why some of
those old pictures showed some pretty horrible looking Christmas trees compared
to the artificial ones we are accustomed with today.
A few prerequisites. It had to be a fir tree and it had to
have a shape similar to trees as seen in magazines. Maybe a branch would have to
be added with the correct skills and if tools were available. To us kids those
trees, when decorated, would prove to be beautiful.
The tree would be put aside to await the day of the grand
entrance. There were some preparations for the event. First it was cut to an
appropriate height. Then a tree stand had to be made. Generally it was two
pieces of board. nailed together in the form of an ‘X’ and then fastened with a
big 4 inch nail, to the bottom of the tree. A couple of nails would later be
driven into the walls to anchor supporting wire/string to prevent the tree from
tipping over on it’s makeshift stand. Not like the tree stands of today where
there would be a water receptacle to prevent the tree from drying. No sir, that
tree had a life span measured in hours before it started to drop its needles
once it encountered the heat of the living room.
The decorations would also be prepared to inspect for
light bulb outages. One bulb goes out, they all go out. Replacement bulbs would
be bought but not too many. Didn’t want to waste any money here. Then it was
checking to see if there were enough tinfoil icicles left over from last year.
For some reason those icicles were never in any great quantity at the store.
Maybe because everyone saved them the year before and there was never a great
demand for new ones. The glass ornaments were packed away with great care from
the year before and would be opened for inspection. Plastic ones were not very
popular or available. It seemed as if there were always a broken ornament and
that would bring out a complaint from mom about someone being careless and how
valuable they were. The garland would also be unwound to check for breaks and
joined if necessary. The garland was limited and sometime supplemented by red
and green crepe ribbon paper. Later I read about how some would make garland
from cranberries or popcorn. Never did that. A waste of good food some would
say. Not that popcorn could be classed as good food.
As far as I was concerned, I wanted the tree to go up
right then and there, but no, we had to wait till Christmas arrived. Back then
Christmas arrived on Christmas eve and that was when the tree would go up. Some
years, because of circumstances in the planning of social events, the tree was
put up a day or two before Christmas eve. Then the decorating would take place.
Dad’s job was first securing the tree in an earth quake
proof fashion, lashing it tightly to the wall . It was also his responsibility
to put on the lights and give the final lighting test. The remaining decorating
was left to mom and us kids. When we finished with using all of the ornaments,
garland and icicles, the blank areas would be filled in with hanging Christmas
cards or bows made from satin ribbon. Then the tree would be lit. Most times
there would be one string of lights that wouldn’t turn on. My dad would sputter
about how we decorated the tree without due care and that we must have loosened
or damaged one of the bulbs. Then he would go to the process of removing each
bulb and testing it. After what we would consider an eternity, he would find the
troublesome bulb and the tree would be completely lit. A sight to behold. Mom
would say, “It is a lot nicer than last years tree”. And we would all agree.
The lights were never left on for very long. For several
reasons. Drying out the tree, might cause a fire and burning extra “juice”, as
dad would say. When ever we would have a visitor during Christmas, the lights
would be turned on. Once the appropriate compliments were made by the visitor,
they would be turned off. It was a rule that you always gave a favorable
compliment about your host’s tree. I can remember saying to my mother after
leaving a neighbor’s home. “Mom, that tree wasn’t very nice”. She would say
“Hush! It’s not very nice to say that” and smile at me in agreement.
The odor of the evergreen tree would be permeating
throughout our house as the needles fell from a drying tree, for the twelve days
of Christmas. It was on that day, always referred to as Old Christmas day, the
tree would come down and set outside for the garbage truck. The decoration would
be packed and put away for another year. And mom would say to dad, “ maybe next
year we should get some new decorations”.
Morley & I