All Christmas tree lots looked pretty much the same in the city.
They popped up in vacant lots and parking lots all over town.
Bright colored lights and spot lights swung on wires to beacon you in.
A small forest of trees in tidy rows, sprinkled with sawdust on the ground.
The aromas of firs, cedar and pine was strong and fresh.
The smell of Christmas!
It never snowed at Christmas where I grew up.
Not even once.
But it did drop below freezing...
sometimes icing the trees with frost and sawdust.
Other times fog swirled around,
making the forest even more magical to my kid eyes.
The salesmen stomped their feet and warmed their hands
over an oil drum fire... lurching toward any car that entered the lot...
eager to make a sale.
The old man waved them off saying
"We're just looking for now."
All the little bunnies would look at each other, worried.
What did he mean by that?
The bunnies scattered...
the oldest two could wander as they wished.
The next two had to stay together.
Being the youngest,
my mother's hand firmly grasped my coat hood like a leash.
I tried in vain to steer them to the "manger" that held the flocked trees.
I honestly believed that a bright pink fuzzy tree was just the ticket.
mother would say,
tugging me toward the long rows of unflocked trees.
Well, it never hurt to try.
The idea was for each of us to pick our tree...
and try to remember what row it was on.
Once everyone had chosen, we would meet
and show off our choices to each other.
Then the parents would be the judge who picked "the tree".
My parents would give me clues.
"Look how full this one is."
"Doesn't this one smell fresh!"
I had my own criteria.
Different things caught my eye.
One had a bird's nest.
"Birds nests have germs."
Another had a neat crooked trunk.
"We want a nice straight tree."
A skinny one might leave more room for presents.
The parents laughed at that idea.
When we reached the end of the tree rows...
the other bunnies had returned, begging to show off their choices.
Father made a big deal out of looking by age...
we started at the oldest and made our way down.
Each tree Father would pull out into the aisle.
Mother would walk around it,
searching for holes or flat spots.
It went that way for four trees...
then it was my turn!
I would sadly turn my gaze at the bright pink fuzzy tree,
saying good-bye in my head.
Then try to recall which of the trees seemed to have made mother happiest.
I might have been the youngest, but this was a serious competition.
I was out to win the honor of picking "the tree".
I didn't always win,
but being with the parents as they talked about them
helped me to pick a number of winners over the years.
Of course it got easier as I got older and the other bunnies grew up and away.
But much of the luster of the game was gone by then...
along with belief in that old guy in the red suit.
My father would string us along...
sometimes pacing back and forth and returning
for second looks...
Mother would whisper in his ear...
letting the tension build.
Then he would announce their choice.
One of the older bunnies would go for a salesman
while the rest of us guarded our tree.
Father would dicker the price, if he could.
Accept it if he could not.
The tree had been chosen and no other tree would do.
The salesman would try to sell him a nice
wooden cross stand to hold it up.
Father steadfastly refused.
Money exchanged hands...
and all the bunnies followed the tree to the car.
Father would wince as the salesman tossed it on top of the Buick,
worried about his paint job more than the tree.
We sang carols all the way home
with slightly less enthusiasm.
The excitement of the day was wearing us down.
My own eyes would begin to droop.
By the time the station wagon rolled up the drive,
I was ready for bed.
Buying the tree was a very big deal.
But it never was decorated the day of purchase...
inspite of the decorations neatly laid out.
Father would have to drag it inside,
stand it up and wait for my mother to decide
where the top and the bottom needed to be trimmed.
Once that was done,
it needed to be wrestled into it's stand
and the stand filled with water.
Father had worked a full day.
It was time for a beer.
The bunnies were sent off to bed.
I lay there and listened to the parents below.
They laughed about different trees and things said by silly little bunnies.
If I could keep my eyes open long enough...
I would hear the happy sounds of my father swearing
as he tied the big old heavy strings of lights onto the tree...
mother giving him directions.
The magic of Christmas had begun.