Growing up, my family had two distinctive Christmas tree periods: the Real Tree years of my early childhood, followed by the Fake Tree years.
For much of my childhood, putting up the Christmas tree meant skipping all that bothersome outdoorsy business. Not only did we take a pass on trudging through woods, we didn't so much as inconvenience ourselves with something as small as a quick trip to the fresh-tree parking lot.
No, instead we hauled down an awkward, oblong box from the attic. We'd blow off the dust, open the box, set up the “trunk,'' then insert the “limbs,'' taking care to fluff up the individual “branches.'' All in all, our fake tree looked pretty real, and for a few years there, this was the source of bitter disappointment to me.
After all, some of my friends' families had the really cool trees - those twirling aluminum spikes with the ever-changing hue, thanks to the color wheel beneath.
Hey, what can I say. My childhood spanned the late '50s and early '60s, an era of fondue pots and Christmas trees so aggressively artificial they were made of metal, not wood.
But eventually I returned to consciousness, recovering from my long-running flirtation with aluminum trees right around the time I gave up worship of the Monkees, and came to value real pine needles once more.
Hey, what can I say. The 1970s arrived in all its earthy-crunchy splendor. Real 'n' green beat aluminum 'n' fake once and for all. By the time my husband and I bought a tree for our first Christmas as newlyweds, it was a done deal: We began married life as bona fide Real Tree people.
We still are.
For virtually every year of our married life, we have driven miles out of our way to visit the same tree farm in a far southwestern suburb (a graceful way of saying “middle of nowhere'').
When any fellow west-side friends ask us where we find our trees, our answer usually generates the same response year after year. “Where's that? Never heard of it.''
Well, who could ever blame them? There's precious little about our favorite tree farm that makes it stand apart from any other. It's just a few acres of trees.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Once, well-intended friends invited us to join them at one of those places that's almost more theme park than tree farm. You know: hot cider and chocolate, donuts, a petting zoo, sleigh rides, carolers, photos with Santa, a Ferris wheel.
OK, I'm kidding about the Ferris wheel. But you get the point. This is one of those tree farms that strives to turn the annual pilgrimage into an entertainment extravaganza.
At first, I was tempted. It sounded like fun, especially for the resident child. But then I recalled something the same child had said the year before, as we tromped through fresh snow into that section of “our'' tree farm where a large grove of pines had been left to grow defiantly tall, sticking straight up into the sky like spires.
“Mom,'' marveled the child, her whisper interrupting the only other sound, which was the soft wind brushing pine needles, “look up! It's like a cathedral out here!''
It is not nearby or especially convenient, “our'' tree farm. It is not even terribly amusing.
But, Lord, it sure is peaceful.