It was 1968. I was thirteen, and the only kid at home with my parents by this time–since my two siblings were out of the house, being six and seven years older than me. My parents and I were like the Three Musketeers: everywhere they went, I went–whether I wanted to or not. But my parents were pretty nice, and fairly “cool for their age” (forty-something) — and they actually enjoyed my company. Or so I like to think (smile). And I mostly enjoyed theirs, when I wasn’t being a silly, self-centered young teen.
Arriving in Leadville, Colorado, for my dad’s new position at Climax Molybdenum Mine, my parents chose for the first time to build a house from scratch–in a new subdivision on the outskirts of town. The very modest house on Lodestone Drive seemed like a mansion at the time. Maybe 1000 square feet in size, with an unfinished basement until Dad made an office/bedroom down there. Oh yes…and his Worm Farm took over part of it later on.
But we were all excited: a brand new house! We were living in these pre-War two-story apartments that weren’t all that great. But that was it at the time for temp housing, in Leadville. Since we’d just moved from a very nice house in Connecticut, we weren’t thrilled but made the best of it; noisy two/three-story apartment housing, strange neighbors, no yard.
The house was almost done–probably finishing up inside–but Christmas was coming. I’d just found a German Shepherd-mix puppy loitering near the apartments; he was maybe four or five months old. I begged my parents to keep him, but they firmly said NO–but being dog-lovers, agreed to letting him stay “a couple of days to find his owners.”
As we say now: SWEET. I loved every dog I met, so I was happy. Plus, I missed my own dog, Schaefer–a scruffy black terrier-mix that liked to ‘grin’ when he was happy, named after an Eastern brand of beer. We’d had to foster him out to friends on the Western Slope until the house was done.
It was Christmas Break with little to do in those apartments but play with weird kids in the parking lot. The snow had been insane; so deep that ten to twelve-foot drifts banked to the building. Some adults–and kids–entertained themselves by jumping from the ROOF into the drifts.
Remember how the building was three stories high? Yeah…my mom wouldn’t let me do it. New to the mountains, we hadn’t yet gone “tubing” or learned to ski. Hey, my folks didn’t even hike.
My dad, being a do-it-yourself kind of guy, said we were going to cut our own tree for Christmas. We’d drive to the mountains and find one, and he’d chop it with his trusty miniature hatchet. He made it sound fun!
My mom looked at him, pursed her lips, and said nothing. We had never done this before, and it sounded like a Grand Adventure to me, so I was all-in. We loaded into the Ford Falcon, puppy included, and off we went in search of the Perfect Tree.
This was the mountains, right? The snow was so high that kids jumped from the apartment building roof into it! The mountains were covered with pine trees…how hard could this be? Dad drove and drove on snowy roads, up and up…somewhere. It was likely up Tennessee Pass.
There weren’t many places to pull off, but he found a spot and we bundled up and set out, following Dad. I think Mom came along–at least for awhile. We huffed and puffed up the hillside, looking for a tree (I didn’t know at the time about National Forest regulations, but my parents weren’t law-breakers so…)
The snow was DEEP. We nearly lost the pup a few times–though he was gangly-legged and pouncing around, enjoying himself. After looking at a few prospective trees but none that were “just right,” the cold set in.
Stumping through the hills got harder. I complained, probably, and Mom returned to the car to warm up taking the pup with her. Did I mention how smart my mom was? Finally, Dad realized I was pretty frozen–and so was he. We were like…”Okay, this tree is IT. Not looking any more!” Chop, chop. Done and done, drug that tree back to the car. Dad tied it on top–or it might have fit in the trunk, actually. Off we went back ‘home.’
Within hours, the puppy’s owners called and picked him up. I was sad…I wanted to keep him so badly. And then–the house was finished and we could move in…’if we wanted to?’ the contractor said. He knew it was over Christmas…but did we want to?
Well…heck YEAH. We were out of that apartment fast, and into the new house. Christmas at our new home!
Dad brought in the tree, which had been soaking in a bucket of water in the garage as per usual. Mom had been busy setting the house in order, I guess, and by evening was ready to decorate the tree. Not all the decorations had been found, but we didn’t care. Christmas felt like Christmas with a TREE. So the tree had to come in!
Dad set it up in a stand. We stood back and studied it. “Hmmm,” Dad said. “Um,” I said.
Mom started laughing. “That is a Charlie Brown tree if ever I saw one!”
We had just watched the classic cartoon on the TV. After Dad got over being offended, he finally agreed. Only about five feet high–in the stand maybe six feet–it lacked, shall we say, a FEW branches? And it was a LITTLE crooked. Yet we decorated it with what we had, and it was true: even the funniest, saddest little pine tree can be beautiful when decorated. Especially when you view it with Love in the True Spirit of Christmas.
I wish I could find the picture—I think there is one, somewhere–of that Christmas and our “Charlie Brown tree.” Instead, here’s a pic of that beloved one from that beloved Christmas special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It will have to do, for now. The message stands.
“6 For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to His rule and His peace, upon the throne of David and over his nation. He will build it to last and keep it strong with what is right and fair and good from that time and forever. The work of the Lord of All will do this.” Isaiah 9:6-7