As a child in Northern California, I was lucky enough to live about 10 minutes away from a real Christmas tree farm. Since my mom worked as a nurse on the weekends, it usually fell to my dad to take my two younger sisters and me to look for “our tree” on a chilly Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I remember it vividly—hot chocolate and snacks, wandering through Christmas trees, that pine-fresh scent, looking for holes and bent branches or anything else that might keep a tree from being ours that season.
Once we’d found “our tree,” Dad would do all the sawing, transporting, paying and tying to the roof while I kept my younger siblings busy. We’d drive it home, drag it in, and get it set up. Sometimes there’d be an issue, like the time we got it set up in the stand and got half the ornaments on before we realized it was crooked. Or the time we had to cut the top off because we’d measured wrong. But no matter what, hunting for the most perfect Christmas tree was TRADITION. Getting a real tree, with slippery needles and a scent that no candle can truly replicate, and even the responsibility of watering it (yup there’s a story for the time we forgot to water for a week); all of these things meant the holiday season for my family.
My father died eight years ago. He’s not around to hear how his grandkids get the same thrill when they pick out their “perfect tree” the same way his daughter did, and I can’t tell him I now understand the parental joy of watching my kids make memories. What I can do is share memories of my father with my kids. I can share the sweet along with the silly, like the time he was so frustrated when he couldn’t get that (insert expletive here) tree tied to the car, or how he wouldn’t stop working until our tree was secured and the lights were draped, so we could decorate it without having to wait another day.
These memories I share with my kids (highlights from a recent Christmas below) keep my father’s memory alive and help my kids get to know him, even if he’s no longer with us. And each year, with each live tree, with every strand of lights and every ornament we unwrap, and even in every pine needle I find months after the fact, I take comfort in the fact that I can still see and feel a little bit of my dad, too.
all photos: Gabby Cullen