As Christmas 1960 approached, I was in the midst of my first year at Newport News High School. The school was somewhat unique for its time as it was a five year high school covering grades eight through twelve. My brother was in the limelight group, a senior, and I was a lowly Mouse, that's what they called us, the first year "little people." But Big Brother was in a tizzy for he and several friends had promised to deliver a Christmas tree for their home room class and now they were having problems finding one big enough yet affordable. The goal: to win the award for the biggest and best home room Christmas tree in the school.
The upperclassmen were beginning to fret as the deadline neared for delivery. It was Wednesday and the tree was to be delivered on the weekend so that decorating could be done before Monday morning school opening. They had arranged with the school to have access, but they still had no tree and, being teenagers, extra money was always a shortfall. Finally, at dinner that night, my brother brought the subject up to dear old Mom, the one person who was always the problem-solver for all things impossible. Several of his friends also came over after dinner to continue the discussion and Mom listened attentively.
As they talked, she said she'd be right back and excused herself. she walked to the window and looked out, gazing to the left of the back yard. Since I was a typical little brother, hanging around as close as I could to the big boys, I was engrossed in their dilemma and I was watching Mom carefully. She was clearly devising a plan in her mind yet she wasn't prepared to say anything just yet.
Suddenly, I could see the light go on in her eyes and she returned to where they were gathered. She stood silently and then spoke.
"Boys, why don't you top that big evergreen right off the sun room in the back yard. It's way too big, it needs to be pruned and you fellows can take nine feet or so off the top. The question is, can you handle it without getting hurt or destroying something?"
Continuing, she said, "You boys are smart enough to figure out the rest, now devise your plan and let me know. If it makes sense I'll let you do it."
Brother Bobby huddled with friends Jerry and Philip and even I could see that the lights were rapidly coming on brightly. They then approached Mom, told her their plan and she nodded okay. Saturday morning they would carefully take down the top and, voila, they had their Christmas tree. Big Brother even said he'd let me come and help if I wanted to.
Saturday morning came and at nine o'clock sharp the group arrived to accomplish their mission. Mom stood by in the kitchen looking out the window, but she did come out on the back porch and advise them of the safety requirement one more time.
It was a cold morning, looking like it could possibly snow, and Philip arrived looking like a lumberjack. He volunteered to climb and cut, the job that had its dangers, but he was very athletic and capable of doing anything he wanted, so up the tree he went with rope and a large saw tied to a line. He stopped at a height of about twenty-four feet, tying two lines to the tree and waited patiently.
Philip then yelled down to the others, "Where's Jack? I can't start cutting until we have the winch in place."
As if on cue, Jack arrived with his father's tow truck, drove in the driveway as close to the tree as he could get and walked the cable out to the tree. He was able to throw the hook up below Philip, who grabbed it and carried it up to the point where he wanted to connect it, then he threw the other lines out on either side of the winch cable before lowering himself a safe distance below the cut point.
As Jack took the slack out of the tow cable from the truck, Jerry and Bobby manned the two other tie lines, pulling them taught so that the treetop cold safely fall where desired. My job was to be the spotter and step and fetch it, watching for anything looking to be going awry and for providing Philip with any other tools he might need.
The cutting began and Philip, in his usual dramatic fashion, began singing Christmas carols as he worked. He made short work of it and, right as planned, the treetop leaned and fell exactly where they wanted it. Mom was standing on the back porch and I do believe I saw a big sigh of relief. No runs, not hits and definitely no errors.
Quickly, they loaded the tree on the back of the wrecker and followed Jack to the high school. Other home rooms were there but none had a tree as large and full as the one they brought in the door. When decorated, it would be beautiful but, of course, I wasn't allowed to join them. But Tuesday night there would be a special Christmas PTA open house and it would be available for all to see.
Walking into the high school on Tuesday night, the entire school had a different aura. There were only ten more school days until Christmas and things were beautiful with lights, candles, trees and a variety of decorations, representing the Spirit of Christmas and the meaning of Hanukkah. But no home room in the entire school had a tree to match that big, beautiful treetop that came from our backyard. And it stayed as green as it looked on the day it was cut right on through the holidays. A little sugar added to the base water certainly didn't hurt.
As I think back about those days I'm saddened by the way society has tried to politically correct our thinking right out of Christmas. And I'm glad to see the Spirit returning strongly. Yes, it's based upon a very powerful religious message and birth, but it's also a grand time for all children to enjoy peace and light without the snark and animosity that w so often see today. It offers a hope that is of value to all people everywhere.
And there is one other point that I think is worthy of note. Can you imagine what would happen today if a widowed mother told some boys they could cut a tree in her back yard? The child welfare people would probably be called by a busy body and she'd end up in jail. We've so limited the ingenuity of people with overwhelming rules and regulations that common sense has disappeared. I'm certainly glad that my youth was spent in a time when teenagers could devise a good plan and then be left to their own wits to carry it out. We just aren't allowed to think anymore.
Merry Christmas, everyone and God bless you all.
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