The Days Before Christmas

As far back as I remember, we always had a pine tree for Christmas. About a week or so before Christmas, on a Saturday, my Dad would get out his tree cutting tools. They consisted of a small hatchet and a hand saw. Dad liked the saw because it didn’t make much noise!

Mom would get me bundled up in my winter clothes, hand knitted mittens and hat. Dad would let me carry the hatchet in spite of Mom’s protest! The hatchet blade was wrapped up with an old rag and tied, keeping me safe.
Off we would go down the old railroad tracks to a cart path crossroad (now Pinehurst Road). We would take the cart path into a pine grove of small trees. These pine trees were spreading into the pasture land of David Seager’s Farm.

Dad would select one a little taller than he could reach. He would send me in to trim the lowest branches with the hatchet. This was quite a task for a young kid.  Dad helped me those first few years. He would take his saw and, in short order, over the tree fell.

Now the task of dragging it home: Dad in front and me taking up the rear, trying to keep the tree from dragging along the ground, while still hanging onto my hatchet!
Finally we arrived home. I was pooped!
Oh no, we weren’t through. Dad had me gather up the bushel baskets stored in the barn. Into the back seat of the old Chevy they went. We now headed off to Pine Street.
About half way down Pine Street, we pulled over, across from the brick yard factory. We scrambled over the embankment, jumped over the brook and through the thick moss.

The moss-covered ground under the hemlock trees was ideal for Princess Pine to thrive. We would pick a basketful — how pretty those little tree-like plants were. A good crop of Trailing Ground Pine was also found growing through the Hemlock litter and moss.

With two full baskets, we headed back to the car. I would drag the lightest basket to the edge of the brook. Dad would carry it over the brook, up the bank, and into the Chevy. (I was back at the brook on my hands and knees having a cold drink, and boy was that water cold!)

Back home we unloaded the full baskets of greens. Dad got the round frames made of chicken wire down from the barn attic. They still had a few dried-up leftover greens from last year. I would clean them out and start weaving the Princess Pine into the frame.

I had watched Dad make these wreaths as long as I could remember. He would fix them up here and there where I messed up. During this time Dad was making a stand for the tree (no store-bought stand here!) Finally, late in the afternoon, we had three wreaths made and a tree ready for decorating.
Remember, this took place on a Saturday, so now what? Into the old Chevy and off to Sted’s. I, holding a five cent returnable bottle. Dad would get a bottle of Ballentine Ale and a cigar. I would exchange the bottle for a candy bar. After arriving home, the tree got dragged into the house to be decorated the next day.

Supper came and went. Now it was time for a few games of checkers. I, with a candy bar and a glass of milk. Dad, with a glass of ale and a cigar. As I look back, I lost most of the checkers games, but I won time with my Dad.

”The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” – Richard Paul Evans

by Ray Freden. The village of Seaview, Marshfield Ma.
P.S. I still have one Christmas tree ball from my first Christmas. It’s 85 years old!—- Now it’s 86! & now 87 !

8 Replies to “The Days Before Christmas”

  1. Growing up on Pine St., we would drink from that same brook, just about at that exact same spot. The hemlocks started to grow up there, just a little further west it was all pine and swamp maple. But the hemlocks grew on the banks and created a little ceiling like a natural fort-this is why we would walk up Pine to that exact place, to built forts by those trees. Just today I was out in the woods with the boy scouts, in the lowlands behind Pudding Hill, teaching them about the difference between upland and lowland flora and fauna. I talked about the hemlock we examined there, and the princess pine and the moss too. Its interesting how the skunk cabbage dies off completely without a trace, but equally interesting that next seasons' pointed cabbage heads are already poking up by an inch or two-so I learned something new as well. What a coincidence I read this tonight. You'll be happy to hear there are still fingerling trout in that book on Pine St.

  2. We too get our tree from the woods. Rick goes out onto our land – a mere 4 acres- and saws down a tree for me. Drags it to the GMA- no Chevie’s in this family and home it comes. Every year I beg for a small tree and the request seems to fall on deaf ears, as in today. Rick was out, I hear the truck pull up and in he drags another oversized, sort of straggly tree, growth stunted, on one side from living in the shadows, but one who needs adornment. The entire process..makes me smile.. Thanks Ray for sharing your memories with us! And a very Happy Christmas !

  3. Hi Brother Ray!
    Remember Dad takng me & doing similar tree cutting but girls were’t allowed to touch hatchets. He did let me pull the saw back & forth afew times . No lugging the moss but did help make wreaths!
    I loved helping dad get the sleigh packages all wrapped with the past year’s saved christmas wrap!
    So many special memories of mom baking too just like nana did! It makes it just as special each year as we bake cookies all together!
    Always inspiring you are!
    Love Deborah

  4. Great story and Marshfield memories~~ I grew up on Bayberry Point> called Cedar Acres Rd later~ picked princess pine at the Krusell’s many acres off Summer Street~~ fond memories of making wreaths and decorating the tree and cookie makings, and Christmas caroling in Marshfield Hills to shut ins and ill people~~~ Santa and the magical village at Jordan Marsh~~~

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