I was in my early 20s when I discovered the truth about the perfect Christmas trees my sister and I found each year in the forest behind my grandparents’ farmhouse.
When we were growing up, Colleen and I rode the train 300 miles from Seattle to Spokane every summer and Christmas vacation. Then we took a taxi five miles to the Greyhound terminal, where we’d wait two hours for the bus to Loon Lake. Forty miles and another hour later, we would hop out at the Loon Lake post office, where Granddad and Gammie met us with smiling faces and Granddad’s green 1954 Chevy pickup.
Our warmest childhood memories are of their farm on Grouse River Road. We bumped along on the broad back of their horse, Jenny, who was 15 hands high and blind in one eye. We milked cows and goats, slopped the pigs, ate berries off the vine and ran through newly plowed fields with dirt squishing between our toes, gathering worms for the chickens.
Christmases were always white at Loon Lake, with snow piled deep for building forts and playing with Blondie, our grandparents’ cocker spaniel. Before we finally ran inside to warm up, little balls of snow dangled from her long fur like Christmas ornaments. (For a modern Christmas, these advent calendars are great for the whole family.)
But the fondest memory of all was when Granddad would hitch up Jenny and we’d trudge up the hill into the forest behind their house. It was slow going, partly because Colleen and I couldn’t resist flopping down regularly to make angels in the untouched snow. Then we’d search the grove of pine trees looking for that special one to honor as our Christmas tree. The search always involved excited chatter, for all three of us had to agree that we’d found the perfect tree before Granddad would swing his trusty ax.
After we girls gently guided the cut tree to the ground, Granddad would hitch it to Jenny and drag it back to the house. As we returned, we followed the snow angels back to our little bit of heaven on earth.
Granddad passed away when my sister and I were grown. Only then did Gammie reveal his secret: He’d pick out a tree early each spring, then trim and shape it through the summer and fall so it would be ready for our big day in December.
As Colleen and I raced through the trees searching for the perfect tree, he would cleverly guide us toward its location, without actually pointing it out. We always thought we’d discovered it ourselves.
As Gammie told us this story, we realized that was why she always had that extra twinkle in her eye when we came rushing in the door, bursting with excitement about how this year we’d found the best Christmas tree ever.
Of all the Christmas presents we ever received, none is more special than the memory of Granddad’s secret gift. It remains as bright and beautiful as the snow on a clear December day or the twinkle in Gammie’s eyes.