Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Christmas Tree

Christmas treeWe were dog-sitting over Thanksgiving weekend and on some of my walks with the dog, I noticed the number of homes in my area that already had trees up. Some, I’m sure were artificial trees. Ours went up last night.

It wasn’t that way growing up at least as a young kid. Living in urban Youngstown, we didn’t do the Christmas tree farm thing, probably the best way to get a good, fresh-cut tree. There used to be a vacant lot on the corner of South Maryland and Mahoning Avenue that we would buy our trees from, which would mean we’d only need to take it a block to our house.

Usually dad would get the tree in early December to ensure getting a good tree before the selection was picked over. Since we had a detached garage, he would cut the bottom of the tree so it would take water and put the tree trunk into a bucket of water to keep it well-watered. Then, about a week before Christmas, he’d bring the tree in, after he had put up our outside lights. As I recall, this was usually the time, if the tree wasn’t quite right, when you’d hear about it. “That trunk is crooked”, “It’s leaning too far to the right”. Sometimes he’d end up securing the tree with a bit of twine attached to something solid.

Then he would put up all the lights. He had the old fashioned lights with bulbs and the first thing was getting those strings untangled, usually with a few choice expressions. He would really fuss with the lights, putting “reflectors” on each light so they looked like miniature stars. Then he would position ornaments, garlands, and tinsel (remember tinsel?) so that each light reflected just right off of these. His trees were works of art. When I was a young child I could just sit for hours following the trail of lights around the tree and staring at the various ornaments.

For a year or so my dad worked in Baltimore during the weeks and came home on the weekends. Because my dad’s time at home was limited, my mom asked me to buy the tree. So I took our old red wagon up to the tree lot and tried to remember all that mom taught me about buying trees. Look at the trunk and make sure it was straight, about 6 1/2 feet high, check the needles to see if they are green or turning brown, shake the tree and see if needles fall off. I spent a long time studying all the trees there until I found one I thought met all of these criteria. Bought and paid, I brought it home, cut a section of the bottom of the trunk so it would take water, and stored it in the garage in a bucket of water.

I held my breath when dad came home. He still was the one to decorate the tree and I waited to see what he thought. He hauled it into the house, walked all around it and positioned it, and finally said those words that made my Christmas: “You bought a good tree.” I felt like I grew up that day in my dad’s eyes. That Christmas tree smelled especially good!

In later years, they bought an artificial tree and later yet, to stored the tree with the lights on it. We never did the silver trees with the rotating light that reflected off the tree in different colors. That just seemed too glitzy. About the same time, in the late ’60’s my wife’s parents bought an artificial tree. In later life, we inherited that tree. It is still stored somewhere in our utility room–we haven’t had the heart to pitch it yet.

There is something about the wonder of a lit tree in a darkened room that makes me want to just sit and look. I come no where close to my dad’s tree decorating skills. Is it childhood memories or simply the mute, shining beauty of the tree? Whatever it is, I love those moments and Christmas memories.

What are your memories of buying and putting up Christmas trees at your home?

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Christmas Tree

  1. We put our tree up 3 days before Christmas. My mom’s words still echo, ‘We don’t want to rush the season.’ We always had a real tree, probably from the lot on Mahoning Ave. We had the multi-colored lights that got burning hot. We learned the hard way not to touch them! My father gave us each a handful of silver icicles that needed to be put on oh so carefully. Magical times and sweet memories on the West Side.

  2. Bob
    We brought a live tree at the same lot. My Dad, brother and I would go. Dad always bargained with the lot man and kept bargaining until he was satisfied. As a child of the depression, he was very frugal.
    He often told the story of buying a tree and putting it up on Christmas Eve for my first Christmas. The tree smelled like pet urine. He pulled it lights and all and thru it outside and went on a search for a new tree at 10 pm. He bought the last tree on the lot–a pretty small sparse one. We shared this story many times about a Dad who wanted a special Christmas for his little girl.
    Merry Christmas to all who love YTown,
    Michelle

  3. My father was a prankster, lol. One particular Christmas when we lived on Market Street, not far from Midlothian, he got the biggest tree I have ever seen used for a Christmas tree! It was as big around as it was tall. As a matter of fact, he had to cut about a foot off the top and it still touched the ceiling. Then, being the prankster that he was, he took the piece he had cut from the top and placed it upstairs in my sisters bedroom as if it had come through the ceiling. She had a fit over it! Oh my that was funny!

  4. My Dad took me and my friends to an abandoned strip mine in PA close to the Ohio line where any tree you wanted was $1.00. !!! Plus you could have all the free branches you wanted. (To make wreaths, swags, etc.) The strip mine had been planted with pines, and trying to find the “perfect tree” took a lot of hiking around in the snow. We’d eventually settle on one for everybody, load em ‘up in the station wagon.,drink some hot chocolate and head for home.

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