© Another Day in the Country
Almost 40 years ago, my husband and I headed to Oregon with our two little girls to spend Christmas with my parents. Dad had retired and they were now living in the country on a little acreage we dubbed “the farm.”
Ironically, it had been a farm — a Christmas tree farm. Doubly ironic because my parents didn’t believe in Christmas trees and now they had a field full of them. My folks celebrated Christmas, being sure to remember the reason for the season, but they never had a tree in their home.
Santa Claus was a no-no and there were definitely no stockings hung by the chimney with care. We had a nativity set on our fireplace mantle and we always had presents, usually wrapped by Mom at the last minute while we did the supper dishes.
When I was a really small child, we used to come back to Ramona for the holidays. In fact it was in my Aunt Naomi’s house, just west of town, that I first learned about Santa Claus. My Dad’s cousin dressed up as a surprise for me, the first grandchild, and scared me to death.
You could probably guess that both my sister and I became avid Santa supporters as adults and in our very first homes, we had our very first Christmas trees. Christmas with all the hoop-la became my favorite holiday!
In anticipation of our first Christmas on the Christmas tree farm, I called Mom and asked, “Do you think the girls and I could cut a tree for Christmas?” and she seemed agreeable. “Maybe now that they have grandchildren, they’ve softened toward decorating trees,” I thought.
After all, Mom had Christmas trees when she was a kid. This was going to be fun this year. We’d cut a tree, grown right there on the farm — didn’t have to buy it — and we’d decorate it with simple things. For sure we wouldn’t use Christmas ornaments or have elves and Santa Claus — all the things Mom felt were of a pagan origin.
Twelve hours of driving was a long boring ride for two kids, so I suggested making decorations as we drove. I brought scissors, thread, cotton balls for stuffing, scraps of cloth and I cut these darling little teddy bear shapes out of felt, we stuffed them with cotton balls and dressed them up.
“Who do you want to see on the Christmas tree?” I’d ask the girls, and then we’d make what they called out: a baby bear, a bride bear, an Eskimo bear, a Raggedy Ann bear. We even had a pirate bear with a matchstick leg! By the time we got to Oregon, I’d finished a tree full of little 3” teddy bears. Now all we needed was the tree — and Dad had plenty of those.
The next day, the girls were excited as we set out to find just the right sized tree for our bear collection. Like Goldilocks, our tree couldn’t be too big or too small. It couldn’t be too fat or too skinny. It had to be just right! What a wonderful tale to tell in years to come — how we found just the right tree, cut it down, brought it back, put it up in the living room, decorated it, and we all lived happily ever after. Not!
By the time we arrived back at the house with our tree, something was definitely wrong in the kitchen. Dad was there, for one thing, and Mom was wringing her hands and looking distraught.
“Your Mother doesn’t want the tree in her house,” Dad said. “You must have misunderstood. You can put it up out in the storeroom in the garage.”
What? We’d talked about this. I’d asked, told the girls. And who puts a tree in the garage? A tree was for gathering around, putting presents under, a thing of beauty, fresh from nature, not commercial, simple, something for the girls to decorate with these little bears.
“You wouldn’t want your mother to compromise her belief,” Dad said, “Now would you?”
Of course I wouldn’t.
I wish I could tell you that all was well that Christmas in Oregon; but it wasn’t. Something that started out so innocent — making teddy bears as we drove home for Christmas — cast a pall over the holidays. We did our best. The girls asked a lot of questions. I tried to give good answers. Mom felt bad. I felt bad. We all felt sad.
I wish we could have found some other answer to our dilemma than putting up the tree in the storage room. I wish Mom could have lived with a tree in the living room for a day or even an hour. I wish I’d known better than to ask — I should have known better. People have a hard time changing. There was no tree put up anywhere on the farm! Ever.
My daughter and grandson are coming this week. We’ve been decorating everywhere to celebrate this occasion — it will be their first Christmas Day in Ramona! I got out those teddy bears and I found just the right sized tree. Dagfinnr and I will put them up while I tell him the story of the day long ago when his mother was just his same age at Christmas and we made all these little bears that didn’t get used that year.
I hope he learns that it’s never too late to write a new ending to an old story — even the one about the teddy bears who dreamt of their very own tree, on another day in the country.