One Oregon Christmas, after my parents' divorce, my mom suggested we begin a new family tradition.
"Why don't you and Karlyn go to a tree farm and cut down our tree," she said.
My sister was 20 and attended Western Oregon State University; I was a sophomore at Oregon City High School and lived with my mom, an elementary school teacher, in a suburban neighborhood on the bluff overlooking the Willamette River and the falls. In those days, if the wind blew right, the lunch whistle from the east bank paper mill, Publishers, then Oregon City's largest employer, could be heard for miles around.
Today, I can't recall our initial reaction to my mom's suggestion. I do recall we all felt somewhat isolated and adrift in 1979 in a single-parent household and that my mom's suggestions always mattered.
Karlyn drove us in her blue 1974 VW Dasher, doubtless one of the worst cars ever manufactured. Later, it would stall on me in the Highway 99 tunnel and I'd nearly die making it to safety.
We made our way out Beavercreek Road. Or was it Redland Road? Or South End Road? Pretty much every road exiting Oregon City in those days transported a driver past a Christmas tree farm. They're all gone.
Karlyn and I didn't say much to each other on the way over, which was typical. The AM radio may have played.
At the farm, we hunted for what seemed like hours and I finally settled on a tree that looked juuuuust right for the forest green carpeted living room with its white vaulted and pebbled ceiling.
"It's too big," Karlyn said.
"We'll make it fit," I replied. We never measured it. I got that from Dad.
I cut down a plump Douglas fir with a rusty hand saw provided by the lot and we tried securing the tree to the top of the Dasher but the twine we'd brought along was inadequate to the task. On the way home, I stood up in the passenger seat with my torso out the window and my hands holding down the tree. I should say barely holding.
The tree fell off twice on the way home and we nearly caused a traffic accident. I swore a lot. As we carried the tree to the front door, it was obvious from 20 feet away that it would never fit into the house. We dropped it on the lawn and I pruned branches and chopped three feet off the bottom with a dull camp axe from my Cub Scout days.
The first attempt through the door met with total defeat. There was more swearing, all from me. "Why must you always talk like that?" my sister said. I didn't answer while I hacked more off the tree. When I was finished, it looked like someone had murdered a conifer.
We picked up the tree again and rammed it through the door. I mean we really rammed that son of a bitch in, both of us pushing it past the jamb, while the branches swept art and mirrors off the walls. After hauling the tree upstairs to the living room, we planted the tree upright, and... sheared the chandelier off the ceiling. Pebbles floated like so much snow.
Mom wasn't around.
Naturally, the tree wouldn't fit in the stand, so I found a steak knife in the kitchen, whittled it, and made it fit. The tree wouldn't stand erect despite adjusting the screws a dozen times. I went to the garage, came back with a rope, and tied the tree to the mantle over the fireplace. Then I sandbagged the bottom with curl weights. Duct tape was also involved. There was no way the tree could move now, even if Orson Welles circa Gallo Wines fell into it. I looked over at my sister. She was shaking her head, but smiling.
That was the only time we ever cut our own tree and the only time I really did anything with my sister on Christmas beside exchange gifts, none of which I can remember to this day.