The fight broke out before we were out of sight of the house. “It’s my turn to carry the ax.”

The fight broke out before we were out of sight of the house. “It’s my turn to carry the ax.”

“You carried it last year.”

“Did not! Leon toted it out and you brought it home.”

I couldn’t remember for sure. David, as the youngest, usually got the short end of the stick. And he was probably right. But I wasn’t going to give in. “If you think you can take it, come and get it big boy.”

That, even by my standards, was pretty dumb. He plowed right into me, head first. I tried to raise the ax up out of his reach but it was too heavy. Leon grabbed that double bladed cleaver before somebody got hurt and Dave crowned me with a rock I didn’t see him pick up. I kicked him in the stomach as he reached for my throat. We rolled around in the light snow until Leon stepped between us. He was five years older than me: six and a half ahead of David Mark. “You guys stop it! We’ve got to find a Christmas tree. I’ll carry the stupid ax.”

David leaped off of me and went for Leon’s legs. I tried to pry the ax loose by jumping on Leon’s back. The only chance we had was to double team him…… Nobody died and left Leon in charge! We’d fight until somebody was bleeding and then we’d figure out taking turns with the ax might actually get us out to that big field beyond Archie Moore’s pond where, hopefully, a suitable tree waited. Common sense usually found its way to the surface AFTER we wore ourselves out wrestling around. 

It was all part of Christmas in 1955. Leon probably was in charge but that never crossed our minds; nor did the memories or camaraderie or Christmas spirit that we might be sharing or making. We were just out “living large” and enjoying the moment. And we were on a mission to find that special tree for Mom.

You had to take an ax or a saw and go looking back then. I don’t think they even made fake Christmas trees. At least, I don’t remember any of them down at J. A. Abernathy’s hardware. Of course, in early December I wasn’t at Mr. Abernathy’s looking at trees I guarantee you that! He had a basement full of Santa toys. I’d stroll through those packed aisles and drool. And let me tell you how lucky we were, we weren’t confined to “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday”. You could shop back then every day of the week! Except Sunday, of course……

“How about that big one over there?”

“Too tall, that would never fit in the house.”

“Look at this one?”

“Too skinny…..and it has a bare spot near the top.”

We could fight one minute and work together the next. The tree was for Mother. We didn’t say it exactly out loud. But we knew how much she loved the tree, the season, her family, the manger, the three wise men, the shepherds, the Heavenly hosts, the Star of David, the Price of Peace, the Lilly of the Valley, the Rose of Sharon, the Bright and Morning Star…..

She didn’t care one whit about getting a present. Oh, she didn’t say that mind you. And we didn’t notice it right off. But it became more obvious as the years rolled on. Her Christmas was seeing that we got the gifts! I could never understand that. We’d be down at Abernathy’s and she’d walk right with us up and down the toy aisles. It was like she was taking notes or something. I thought she should have been upstairs looking at dresses, robes with those peacocks spread across the back or frying pans. 

And me and Dave might pretend we were picking the tree. That we were “all grown up” and really helping……but Leon was going to find it and make the final decision. Now, my older brother was about half nuts. I have well documented that over the years. But let me tell you, he was as careful and as conscientious here in the Christmas tree selecting as Mozart working over his First Symphony.

It was for our Mother! And somehow, in Leon’s thought process, that made all the difference in the world. He would be listening to our small talk about wanting a Roy Roger’s gun and holster set or a genuine Case knife but he was really searching…… “Look at this one! What do you guys think?” We’d size it up from every angle. “Do you think Mom would like this one?” He was so careful to include us in the tree selection…..that he had already made! Kind of like Mother would have done. Only, of course, you don’t think about it till twenty or thirty years after the fact.

We would walk carefully around our prize tree and picture Mom, as I still can to this day, standing on the porch as we “presented” it before her. She would clasp her hands together and proclaim, “Perfect” to our happy ears. It also took a few more years to realize she would have said the exact same thing and went merrily to work to dress it up if we had brought home a broken oak limb with a rusty nail stuck in the side of it. 

Sadly, I don’t think that message is coming across today on 4G Network or Netflix. Of course, you never know. It took me a while to figure it out.

All those sermons about Christmas are correct!

We took great pains not to bend or break one sprig as we cut the tree down. We were so proud that we’d found the “best one out there” for our Mom. And me and Leon both let David Mark carry the ax back to the house.