The search for the perfect tree

Posted 12/24/20

We bought our Christmas tree this week. Acquiring our Fraser fir made for a voyage long and strange. We are thrilled to have brought it home.

My father would have laughed out loud if anyone in our …

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The search for the perfect tree

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We bought our Christmas tree this week. Acquiring our Fraser fir made for a voyage long and strange. We are thrilled to have brought it home.

My father would have laughed out loud if anyone in our family has suggested we spend cash money on a Christmas tree. We lived out in the county, where there were plenty of junipers and red cedars as tall as a man in the woods bordering our pastures, out among the Russian olive undergrowth. These are the trees I remember from days of Christmas on the farm. I remember my father dressed in his brown corduroy coat working a bow saw back and forth at the base of the trunk, his hot breath venting in steamy clouds in the cold December air. Come January, he would have me lop off all the branches to turn our annual Christmas tree into a fence post. He was frugal, as were most of his generation, letting nothing of value go to waste. And after growing up on a farm, nothing else I do seems like real work.

But I live in town now, and tree pickings are slim, reduced to a handful of short, scruffy cedars growing on the flood plain of the wet weather creek in our back yard. I very much wish to keep these tough little trees alive and rooted down by the rill; they help prevent erosion from the torrents of water gushing downhill with every thunderstorm. My wife and I lovingly refer to this muddy ditch as our “water feature.”

We started our tree hunt the usual way, by driving across Jordan Lake to see the folks from up above Boone who sell trees and wreaths in the grassy lot beside the Wilsonville General Store. The drive across the lake is always pretty, the Haw River is never boring and we sang along to the carols on the car radio.

But when we got to Wilsonville there was only a single tree left: a Fraser fir that reminded me of a sumo wrestler. Our house has high ceilings and zero floor space. We need something tall and thin, but we did not worry; we drove back across the lake and then the river, still singing, and stopped off at Phillips Farms on Hanks Chapel Road where we had purchased trees in the past. Again, the trees were either too short or too wide. On the drive back to Pittsboro I sensed my wife was getting nervous. She had stopped singing. We journeyed past Pittsboro Feed, Food Lion, Country Farm & Home and Noel’s produce stand at the Alpha Center without seeing a single stray needle, much less a tree. I had not seen trees for sale in Siler City earlier in the week, so we headed north.

The sun was noticeably low we rolled into Lowe’s parking lot where we saw three trees and two people. The people were busy yacking on their phones, so I snatched the biggest of the three and made a dash for the counter. It was not even 6 feet tall, dry to the touch and as light as a feather. On the drive home my wife looked out the window in silence. I knew she was unhappy with the tree, and as all husbands know, when the wife is not happy, the husband will not be happy, either. I dumped the little tree in a bucket of water on our back deck. We piled back into the car and turned north again on 15-501.

We were rolling towards Bynum when I saw a pick-up truck with a tree in the bed pulling out of B & L Supply. We stopped to size up the few trees they had left. My wife looked like she was about to cry until a man wearing a cowboy hat Charlie Daniels would have been proud of told us there might be trees at Cole Park Plaza. We thanked him and hit the road, racing the long shadows on the highway towards the county line.

And he was right; we found the perfect tree with the last of the daylight. A nice young man lashed it to the Buick. He left his loppers on the back seat of the car, so I drove back the next day to return them, but nobody was there.

The Lowe’s tree went to my neighbor after one posting on social media. It turns out that Christmas trees are as scarce as toilet paper this year.

That’s 2020 for you.

Dwayne Walls Jr., a contributor to the News + Record, has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the newspaper. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.


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