Family traditions at this time of year are important. They can even transcend the holidays themselves, crucial because of the strong link they provide across time. For 15 of our daughter's 16 years on this Earth, we left our west side house to make the drive south to suburban Whitehouse in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
We did not mean for the Disher Tree Farm to become integral to our Christmas, but it did. For some reason, we went there in 1990, went back the following year, and again the next. Habit turned into tradition. We never dreamed of going anywhere else.
Over the years, well-intentioned people tried to woo us to fancier tree farms. They pitied us because Disher's didn't offer sleigh rides, hot cocoa, or strolling carolers.
We were always hard-pressed to explain that it was the very absence of such things that earned our devotion. Getting a tree from Disher's just involved tromping through a pine forest, and if that sounds too simple to be special, then I have done a disservice in describing our tradition.
At the rear of the property, there was an area we called "the cathedral," a section of uncut pines which now shot straight up into the sky. A person could stand in this generous grove of trees and hear nothing but the wind high overhead and the soft creak of limbs yielding to the wind's will.
It was church, I tell you.
And then we drove there this year, and found an empty parking lot graced only by a "closed" sign thanking everyone for years of business, and it felt a little like a death in the family.
We drove off in doleful search of another tree farm. The first one we tried was so much like a jammed shopping mall - even the parking lot was crowded with people - that we turned right around and left.
We did stumble upon another tree farm. It wasn't crowded. It wasn't fancy. It wasn't the same as Disher's, either, but hey. Life is
What surprised me was how well-tended the trees were. At Disher's, I don't think anyone ever pruned the trees into perfect triangles. Why else had we trudged around, circling pines for maybe an hour or so, scouting for gaps that might be too big or limbs too out of proportion?
But this year, it took no time at all to choose. They were all perfect trees. All we had to ponder was whether to buy a Fraser or Douglas fir.
When our daughter grinned and pointed to one particular tree, I felt my disappointment lift. It was almost perfect, but not quite. A few unruly branches made it stand out from all the rest, and we chopped it down and took it home in gloriously imperfect triumph.