Stories from the Smokies

 Painting - "Holiday Hideaway" - Terri Waters

     The mind jumps back to another December. A small boy and his older brother, younger sister and father walk in a woods of pine, spruce and fir, looking for the tree that will be perfect in the living room at home. The boy's mother is in that room, rearranging the furniture, clearing out a space by the front window where the tree will stand in all of its decorated glory for passers-by to admire and be uplifted by. 

     On this darkening December afternoon, the three children dash ahead of their father. The smaller boy scoops up a handful of new snow and quickly fashions it into an odd-shaped snowball, letting it fly toward his sister before she knows what is happening. The soft, loosely formed ball of snow hits her in the back of the head and clings, sparkling in her hair. She screams, yells to her father to make her brother stop, then begins to create her own weapon from the snow. the father calls out the small boy's name. the boy giggles and runs among the trees for protection from his sister. Meanwhile, the older brother frowns at all this child's plan. His main concern is to locate a tree that will be more than just a tree.

     The older brother knows what he is looking for. It must have the right taper, along with a full bough and a strong, pointed-just-right spire that will hold the star that has topped-off their Christmas trees for as long as he can remember. 

     These particular woods are easy to walk and look and run. The trees, most of them at least fourth generation trees, are not extremely close together. The are is not virgin. Christmas tree hunters, along with lumberjacks, early pioneers, and Indians have found certain needs met here. Their needs have left many of the trees sprouting in scattered patches. The selection has been diminished, greatly reduced since the times of the pioneers and the Indians. The boy can even see a change since the time he was as small as his brother and sister. 

     Then, topping the ridge of smooth fresh snow, he sees it. Set against the rapidly darkening sky, it is a thick, full, ideally framed balsam, standing out in comparison to other trees nearby. He calls for his father who has the saw. as the boy admires the prize find, he hears his little sister's laughing scream of "Stop!" as his little brother flings another snowball this runs to a tree for safety. His father arrives. Together, they admire the balsam. The father hands the boy the saw. The lowest branches of the tree tremble as the boy pushes the saw back and forth with clean, sure strokes.

     Later, the balsam fills the entire house with its wild fragrance. Mother brings in the box filled with trimmings. Excitement is in the air as another Christmas season is experienced.

~ Carl Mays