There's nothing that gets us in the mood for Christmas like getting a tree to decorate. Most of us have fond recollections of such an excursion. I have a memory of a time when I was young, and my mother and aunt decided to take my cousin Tony and me into the forest to find a tree. The excursion had an unexpected turn of events that none of us would soon forget.
If my momma had her way, we wouldn't have gone into the woods for our Christmas tree that year. She would have preferred having one of those flashy aluminum trees which were all the rage in the early 60's. Their silvery shine, alluringly illuminated by strategically placed spotlights in the window of Kressie's Department store, had caught her eye on our last visit to Waycross. She hinted how beautiful one would look in our house, to which my father snorted, "Why would I want to pay for a fake Christmas tree when we can go out in the woods and cut a real one!"
Momma had been after Daddy to cut us a tree, but he was busy with work and often didn't get in until after dark. Ever resourceful and more than a little miffed about not getting what she wanted, she took matters into her own hands. She called Aunt Lenora and suggested that the two of them, with Tony and me in tow, should go cut their own tree. Who said they had to wait on a man to cut down a tree and bring it in? Yes sir, even way back then, in 1963, my mother was a feminist!
We left our house early that Saturday morning in our little Ford Falcon. We drove only about fifteen minutes to reach our intended destination, an old farm place where a hundred years earlier hardy pioneer settlers had roughed it in this swampy, formidable part of southern Georgia. As a testament to their fortitude, part of the old fat lighter house was still standing. All around it, where there was once a vegetable garden and a barn, were many cedar trees of various shapes and sizes.
We trekked to the front of the house, Momma carrying the ax. Aunt Lenora had a ball of twine to wind around the limbs and tie the trees to the car. Momma and I wandered to the left of the house while Aunt Lenora and Tony took off to the right. The grownups called back and forth to one another when a likely prospect was sighted for inspection by the whole group. Although we were only six and four, Tony and I were given an equal vote in selecting the trees. After about thirty minutes, both households were satisfied that the perfect selections had been made.
The process of cutting the two trees was done in an efficient and practical manner; my mother and aunt both were used to gathering firewood since they were children. The first tree was felled, dragged to the car, and tied securely on top. We all headed back to finish and hurry home to hot chocolate and brownies.
We returned to the second tree, Tony and I playing tag, while Momma and Aunt Lenora discussed how far to trim branches and where to begin cutting.
It was Tony who first saw the wild boar that bolted into the clearing beyond where we were standing. Our boisterous game suddenly stopped because Tony was no longer running away from me. Instead, when he looked back over his shoulders to check on my progress, he froze in his tracks. His mouth became a perfect oval, his eyes widened, and a look of terror enveloped him. He mutely mouthed a warning. At first, I thought he was just trying to play a trick on me. Then I turned to look in the direction of his shaking, outstretched finger.
Immediately, I understood his look of fear. An enormous wild hog stood less than ten yards from us. The beast's sides, covered with muddy black and rust-colored fur, heaved with exertion. Protruding from his slobbering mouth were two razor-edged tusks. He seemed frozen too, and then he smacked his teeth together in a warning chomp. He snorted and charged in two short steps toward us. To us, it seemed as if his black, beady eyes were sizing us, trying to decide which one to eat first. We both began to scream shrilly, frightening the animal and ourselves.
Momma, who had been holding the ax, dropped it and began to run. Aunt Lenora followed closely on her heels. They continued screaming as they ran. The problem was, they weren't running to Tony and me, but instead were racing away in the opposite direction toward the road where the car was parked!
Tony and I stopped screaming. We were stunned. We couldn't believe we were being abandoned. As we watched helplessly our mothers disappeared around the bend in the road.
I remember looking over at Tony. His bottom lip was quivering like mine. We rushed together and hugged tightly. We tried bravely to reassure each other that everything would be all right. I began to pray that our daddies would come and save us.
By this time the boar had disappeared, probably frightened half to death by all the commotion and screaming. We were relieved when we glanced and found him gone. Our mothers, upon reaching the car and realizing they had left their only children to the mercy of a wild animal, rushed back to the tender scene of two young cousins trying to comfort each another.
We were gathered into their trembling arms and hugged to near unconsciousness before being released. Both mommas emphasized how it would be better if we didn't tell anyone about seeing that mean, nasty old hog, and what would we say to a trip to town for a dollar's worth of penny candy for both of us from Leviton's store.
Under our Christmas tree that year I reaped the bounty of my mother's guilt and perhaps, unintended bribery. That was the first Christmas I remember getting everything I asked Santa for, even that Barbie doll house that Momma had told me not to count on getting because Santa might run out of them before he got to our house.
You can bet one thing though--we had a beautiful six foot silver aluminum tree the very next year, and Momma and I both thought it was the prettiest Christmas tree in the whole wide world!