December brought a different kind of hunting to our little homestead on Tater Knob. As Christmas approached, my brother, Doug, and I knew the day would soon come when our parents would announce it was time to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. It was called “tree cutting day” in our home and it was as much anticipated as the opening day of squirrel season.
If it had been up to my brother and me tree cutting day would have probably been in October. It was a day we looked forward to all fall. It was fun—a rural adventure to two little boys—and most importantly, it marked the beginning of the season of Christ’s birth. However, my mother knew just how quickly the Eastern Red Cedar would began shedding its needles once brought into the warm house; and it was she who set the Saturday that would be the “tree cutting” day, most years the first or second Saturday in December.
Usually the night before our special day, we would have spent hours going over our meager Christmas tree decorations. It took a long time to find the burned-out bulbs on the strings of brightly colored lights and to replace them so the string would light up. The time worn foil icicles had to be untangled and the colored balls had to have the wire hangers reattached. Then we would carefully, with respect, set up the manger scene that always had a sacred place under our tree. This was before the days of political correctness.
Tree cutting day would start with my mom briefing my dad, Doug, and me about just how big, and full, the tree had to be. She had a spot in the corner of the living room picked out and the tree had to be just right for that location.
After breakfast, Doug and I would put on our warm clothing and watch with excitement as our dad got his double-barreled LeFever down from the rack and put on his well-worn hunting vest. Then he would signal us to follow him out the back door.
We would begin the day with a rabbit hunt in the rocky, hillside cotton field that grew rabbits better than cotton. It would take us most of the morning to walk out the weedy row middles, sometimes jumping a rabbit, sometimes not, but it was fun either way.
Noon would find us building a fire next to the spring that ran from beneath a large limestone rock between the cotton field and the cedar thicket we called the Christmas tree field. Once the fire was going, my dad would boil us some fresh eggs in a small syrup bucket he had in his vest. The same bucket would boil water for hot cocoa and his coffee. My mom always made sure there were some biscuits and sausage in the vest. This was a special meal for my brother and me. Nothing fancy, just special because we were sharing our little adventure with the man we both loved dearly.
Following lunch, we ran to the “Christmas tree field” and the hunt began for “just the right” tree. We wanted more than anything else to see our mother smile with approval when we drug the tree up to the house.
Many times the hunt for the chosen tree was delayed because we would find a bird nest in a cedar from the summer before. Our dad would stop to tell us about the bird that called that tree home. He knew so much about nature, and we soaked it in.
The day would come to a close when the chosen tree was delivered to our front door step for our mom’s inspection. We knew we did well when Mom would smile and say, “I think Jesus will like this tree a lot.”