WHITTLE: Finding the perfect Christmas tree

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DAN WHITTLE/ Columnist

"Oh, perfect Christmas tree, where are you?"

That was the exciting chant of my father, in search of the "perfect Christmas tree."

The year was a distant 1949, but I recall the snowy day vividly, as if it happened yesterday.

This farm boy's overall galluses had nearly burst with chest-swollen pride when Daddy decided I, at age 5, was old enough to be chosen to go with him in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

It was high drama that tundra-like wintry day, but the significance of the mission helped insulate us from the severe cold as snowflakes drifted silently through the trees.

It was when nearing the woods that Daddy broke out in song: "Oh, perfect Christmas tree, where are you?"

Finally, after what seemed like a lot of walking and talking, we spied our perfect Christmas tree almost at the same time.

"Shhh, Danny boy, do you see it?"

"Where?" I asked, yet to catch the vision.

"Over there," Daddy whispered.

Finally, the perfect tree came into my vision too.

Oh, the beauty of that old cedar still reigns reverently in my boyhood mind's eye.

But, I'm yet to understand why Daddy and I whispered as we approached the magical tree, as if it was a skittish deer about to bolt out of our vision.

My initial job was to use an old improvised cotton hoe to clear the vines and undergrowth out enough for Daddy Whittle to begin taking mighty strokes with his fine-sharpened chopping axe used to bring down that tree.

The sound, "whack, whack, whack," echoed through the trees as Daddy chopped away.

Within minutes, we were toting and dragging that tree back to our farm house.

The promise of Momma Whittle's hot sassafras tea heated on top of our Warm Morning coal stove helped motivate us to get back to the warmth of our farm house.

As soon as we thawed out a bit from the cold, it was time to bring the tree inside.

Older brother and sister had done their assigned duties of rounding up scrap lumber for Daddy to use as the base for our tree that was so high, it scraped the top of our farm house ceiling.

The joy of Christmas 1949 had started the night before, when we popped popcorn. What we didn't eat, we strung on some of Momma's sewing thread, along with discarded pieces of tin foil we'd saved down through the year.

This made for pretty and shiny strings of decoration on our tree. Momma had also saved bright pieces of red cloth to adorn our perfect Christmas tree.

This was before electricity. So, folks in our neck of rural America were yet to have store-bought glowing and sparkling Christmas lights.

Finally, after the finishing touches of carefully placing our homemade ornaments on our tree, it was time to go to bed and sleep on the promise that Santa would come with presents during the night.

Did I mention, that was the first and only "perfect Christmas tree" I've observed in my own blessed cycle of Christmases.

But if I listen close, I can still Daddy's axe echoing in woods as if Christmas 1949 happened last year.

(Editor's note: It was the last Christmas the writer shared with his father, who perished the next year in a grinding car crash.)

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Christmas, Dan Whittle
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