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Sunday, November 27, 2011

No. 89 Wades Shore Christmas Trees

“Wades Shore Christmas Trees”
(originally published in ©The Mailboat Christmas 1990)

Among the most happy and lasting memories of my youth are those of the brisk December afternoons when my father would take my brother Teff and me to Shackleford Banks in search of Christmas trees. We would head to Wade’s Shore, at the west end of the Banks, and the last place on Shackleford where cedars still could be found in abundance. Daddy had gotten the family’s Christmas tree from there since before any of us could remember and there was no reason to go somewhere else. In retrospect, a Wade’s Shore tree was pretty much a family tradition.

We would anchor our skiff far enough from the shore to make sure that the outgoing tide couldn’t leave us high and dry. Then Daddy would take me and Teff on his back, together at the same time, as he waded to dry land. Carrying only a big-toothed saw and a hatchet, he would lead us through the first row of the tree line into the thickest part of the woods. Once there it would take only a few minutes for Daddy to pick out what was going to decorate our living room for the next two weeks or more.

Just to make sure that Mama wouldn’t be disappointed with his selection, Daddy usually cut a couple of extra trees. The others could be shared with any of several families in our neighborhood after Mama had exercised her preference. We would haul the trees through the woods and over the sand hills back to the shore. Daddy then would take turns delivering the trees, and finallyTeff and me to the skiff of the trip back home.

Although fall northwesters blew squarely in our faces as we crossed Back Sound, the trip home seemed to last but a few minutes. Almost before we knew it we were back at our landing, running towards home, and inviting Mama to come to the shore and inspect our harvest.

Sometime that same evening our home would radiate with the smell of fresh cedar as Mama and my sisters began the trimming. My sister, Ella Dee, would make special concoction from Fab detergent that rendered a garnishing of “snow” to several of the higher branches. A few ceramic bulbs, two strings of lights, and a big star to adorn the top where all that were needed to finish off the highlight of our Holiday decorations.

By the time I was a teenager, in the late 1960s, our family had abandoned the practice of cutting trees at the Banks. We began to purchase fir trees from the Colonial grocery store in Beaufort like most of our neighbors. A couple of years later found us with a synthetic tree so void of fragrance that Mama had to buy aerosol cans of “evergreen” scent to try and recapture some of the holiday flavor that had been lost with the advent of our more modern Christmas observance.

But two decades later I still recall with a special fondness the pleasure and satisfaction of the Wade’s Shore trees that once were a part of every Christmas. My family now always has a “real” Christmas tree that smells much the same as the ones that we used to cut with Daddy’s saw. But even if the fragrance is the same, I still miss the other sensations that were a part of felling our very own tree. It was like many other aspects of life that take on a meaning beyond the tangible sum of its parts. It was the process itself as much as the results that made it special.

So it is that Christmas memories always will be more of doing and being than or getting any particular gift. That’s what makes them so special, the fact that they are suspended in time and cannot be bought or sold. I can buy a fir tree many times larger and much more shapely than the stunted cedars that Teff and I used to pull through the sand hills of Wade’s Shore. But none could every buy, or sell, the special place in our hearts reserved for this and the many other of our Christmas memories.

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