As we savor the post-Christmas glow – or spend the day in the ring, as per Chris Jones – perhaps we have time for one more feel-good holiday story. This one comes from Kimberly Williams, proprietress of East Public Relations, and one of the most efficient and effective publicists we have working in bluegrass music. She shares a story of a vanishing slice of life, choosing a Christmas tree and cutting it down with her dad when she was just a little girl – and how that tradition returned in a surprise from her husband.
You would think that a publicist would be eager to share a story like this more widely, but we had to poke and prod to get her to agree. Kimberly is always glad to brag on her artists, but less so on herself. All the same, it’s a lovely story of a cherished Christmas memory, and we think you will enjoy recalling it with her.
I suspect that I am no different from a lot of folks this time of year who reflect on past Christmases. Like many people, my family didn’t have that much. We lived in a rent house most of my childhood with no central heat or air, out in the country on a hill in south-central Texas. Summers were blazing hot and winters were almost unbearably cold. We shut the entire north side of the house off during winter and our family of five lived in 2 rooms plus the kitchen and bathroom. Still, I remember being incredibly thankful for that feeling of standing in front of our propane ceramic block heater ’til my skin felt like it was going to burn off, and then jumping in my bed not daring to move a muscle until all the warmth was gone.
At Christmas, our family always had a live tree. When I was 8 years old, we moved from the trailer house that sat on the same property as my Grandparents place to that farmhouse on the hill. It sat on 272 acres that our landlord, Kenneth Riddle gave us free run on. We could walk the pastures and fish in the tanks (ponds) and become friendly with the many cows he kept on the property. It was just about perfect except for one thing – there wasn’t a cedar tree to be found on the whole place. Meanwhile, the land across the road was thick with them. My daddy called up the owner of that property, Jigger Alexander, and asked him if he’d let us cut a tree off it for Christmas, and Mr. Alexander was more than happy to oblige.
Now I don’t recall why, but Daddy thought it would be fun to pretend to be cat burglars when getting our tree. So Daddy and I (Mama stayed home with my brother Jonathan who was only 2 at the time) dressed in all black and snuck down our very long dirt road with only a hacksaw and a single flashlight in hand – which of course would only be used in the event of a dire emergency. The rule was that we would travel by the moonlight and if a car happened to come down the main road, we were to drop immediately to our bellies and hide. Of course, out there, 12 miles from town, that almost never happened in all the years we did this. We would then carefully walk across the cattle guard at the end of our drive – which terrified me in the daylight – run across the blacktop road, and make our way to Mr. Alexander’s property filled with cedar trees. Daddy would locate the barbed wire fence, find a section that was loose enough to stretch just a bit and direct me to crawl through. And I did, catching my coat or pants leg every time! Still, the flashlight was never used. Then, we’d weave our way through the mesquite brush, a few prickly pear plants, and find a cedar tree that appeared in the dark to be just the right size. Then, and only then, would Daddy turn the flashlight on the base of the tree to see where to start cutting, then he’d quickly turn it off. And he’d go to work with the hacksaw, with a blade that was always dull, and work and work and work until the tree fell to the ground. If getting the perfect tree wasn’t hard enough, the trip back home dragging it across the mesquite brush and prickly pair, and hoisting it over the barbed wire fence, certainly was.
The real fun was when we arrived back home with it, seeing it in the light of an unshaded single 100-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes it was the most perfect, full, A-shaped tree you’d ever see. More often, though, it was spindly and crooked with plenty of bare limbs. But regardless, in my eyes, it was the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever had. Every time!
This tradition carried on as long as we lived at that house. Jonathan soon was old enough to join us which meant Mama could go, although she sometimes opted to stay home, and my youngest brother, Jeffrey, came along and was able to join in, too. I missed the last couple years of this tradition when I moved away from home and eventually made my way to Tennessee, but the memory of it never left me. I longed to find a place where I could relive this adventure. It wasn’t until I met my future husband in 1995, and shared with him this great tale, that it happened again. Blake’s Daddy had been raised on a piece of property in White County, Tennessee, just outside of Sparta, and Blake had not been to visit it in years. His Daddy had moved from that land back in the ’50s so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go back, find a tree, and relive part of my childhood with the man I would soon marry. So we did. It wasn’t the same. But, it made me fall in love with Blake, more because he understood what it meant to me. We drug that tree back to my apartment in Nashville and placed it in front of my patio door. We decorated it and although you could see the light all the way through, it was the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever had.
Time moved on and the reality hit that because of our travels, having a live tree wasn’t the safest option for us any longer. So about 8 years ago, Blake and I went to Lowes and I bought my first ever artificial tree. I stood there in that store and sobbed like a child.
Last year, on the way home from church, Blake took an unexpected detour and found a fencerow on a backroad that was lined with cedar bushes. He pulled over and before I realized what was happening, he jumped out of the truck, reached in the bed for a pair of loppers, cut a cedar tree and threw it in the truck. I was so surprised and so touched by that gesture. I placed it on our front porch in a big 5 gallon crock and wrapped it in lights, burlap and berries from our Nandina. It was the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever had.