Tuesday, December 25, 2018

'The Christmas Tree' by Mark E. Lefebvre (My Dad)

My father had only one rule for Christmas—it had to be snowing when we went for the tree. Snow had to be in the air. My father had a reverence for seasons. He also believed in magic. This was, after all, the man who in late October would sit at dawn in his duck skiff waiting for the Mallards to rise in the morning mist. It was all about reverence and magic.

So, I would sit anxiously looking out my bedroom window at the grey, smudged sky waiting for it to open, waiting for God to make our neighborhood a gently shaken snow globe. My father expected patience. In the tradition of his own boyhood, the tree would not be put up and decorated until Christmas Eve. We had time.

Then it happened. It always happened. The heavens began to sift snow down on our little town of De Pere. The wind coming off the Fox River blew it up between the houses and the adventure would begin. Sherpas in search of our destiny! We bundled into the car and headed for the Hockers Farm on the outskirts of town, a little way beyond the city limits, just past the Mile-Away Tavern.

It was a working farm that was transformed each December. Snow fencing was run around the barnyard and Christmas lights were strung on poles. The Hockers brothers had harvested the trees and they were set against the fencing and leaned against the barn. The lights, the trees, the smells from the warm barn, the snow swirling about awakened our imaginations to the possibilities of the days ahead. If I had fretted by my bedroom window in anticipation, I was now a dizzy snow angel.

It was always a time of ritual when Doc Lefebvre arrived at Hockers. Large of heart, but with little means, the brothers relied on my father’s kindness throughout the year. There were, of course, the eggs that would appear on the porch in an old wire basket and the occasional plucked chicken arrived in time for Sunday dinner, but it was the ritual of the tree where the Hockers expressed their deepest appreciation to my father. Their affection was real and even as a boy, I could feel it though my fingers and toes were numb, numb from waiting in the snow for the adventure to unfold.

It seemed to me that we inspected every tree in the yard, discussed its merits and then, ultimately, heard the brothers’ verdict—it was not good enough. Then, finally, frostbitten and tired, we would come upon the tree, the tree that the brothers had hand selected much earlier. It was hidden for that special moment of discovery and revelation. The procession of carrying the tree and tying it to the car was done with the greatest reverence—it outdid the celebration of Midnight Mass. As always, it was a gift, no payment could be negotiated despite my father’s protests.

This was the way we celebrated the choosing of the Christmas tree during the first half of the 1950s. It was a time of joy when simple friendship and kindness guided us to the perfect tree.

My father had been ill for a long time. Diagnosed with cancer in 1946, he struggled to live until the autumn of 1956. He died two weeks after my eighth birthday on a clear October day when the ducks were flying out over Green Bay. I was bewildered and lost.

My mother had never gone to get the Christmas tree with us. I heard her on the telephone talking to one of the Hockers brothers telling him that we would be by. When we arrived on a late, cold, snowless afternoon, the brothers were standing in the yard holding a perfect tree. They tied it on the car without saying a word. My mother did not say anything either. As we drove off, I could see these big men in their overalls and huge coats wiping tears from their eyes with their red kerchiefs.

It was the last year that my mother and I would ever have a tree. In the years that followed, we would pack ourselves up and visit family elsewhere. We never talked about the Christmas tree or the Hockers. We never talked about my father.

I keep a snow globe on my desk and when Christmas approaches, I gently shake it and I look closely to see if a small boy and his father make it to the barnyard illuminated with lights, the barnyard that lives on in my memory.

I tell this story now, years later, to honor my father and to remind myself of the lessons I learned from him. I hope that they hold meaning for you—this is my prayer in the close and holy darkness of Christmas.


A beautiful remembrance my friend.
Michael Norman

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home