Our oldest son Brendan was still getting used to having a baby brother. Despite this, Brendan was terrific with Liam. One of his favorite activities was to make his brother laugh. He would clown around, make funny faces, and dance around the room until Liam would laugh so loud that even those in other venues would hear his giggling. Brendan also kept a close eye on Liam. He was often the first to notice when he was dozing off. “Time for a nap”, he would declare hoping for some alone time with his Mom or Dad.
During the holiday season of 1986, Liam’s second holiday season, Brendan was most interested in the upcoming holiday festivities. The big upcoming event was our annual Christmas tree hike. For the past two years I had taken Brendan with me and we had wandered about the woods in search for a wild Christmas tree. As we wandered about the woods we would look for the lessons that nature has to offer; a bird’s nest, an evergreen fern, and, of course, animal tracks. A few days before our Christmas tree journey we would read the story “The Littlest Christmas Tree”. This was the story of a small Christmas tree that couldn’t make the grade, but in the end was the Christmas tree for a large ship. We would end our story time by discussing just what kind of tree we were looking for and where we might find it in the forest. There was a lot of forest out there, and somewhere in those woods was the perfect tree for our family holiday.
The night before our trek into the woods, Brendan and I decided we would go out first thing in the morning. It was snowing that evening so we knew our adventure would be held in a good snow cover. I told him I would cook him a nice breakfast, we would put our winter clothes on, and hike out onto the mountain in search of the tree. Brendan was excited beyond belief. He did not want to stop talking about our upcoming adventure. Eventually I got him to sleep.
Later that evening before I crawled into bed I set the alarm for 6 o’clock in the morning. That was a little early for Brendan, but I thought could have a quiet cup of Joe and make some scrambled eggs for the two of us. As I lay in bed I said my nightly prayers and asked for good weather the next day. A nice bright blue sky against the snowy woods while searching for a Christmas day with my four year old son sounded like the perfect start to a wonderful holiday. With my head on the pillow, my last thought of the day was how much I needed a good night’s rest.
Before I could get a decent dream going I felt a tug on my arm. Brendan was standing there in the pitch black, his face only inches from mine.
“It’s time to get up Daddy”, Brendan said in a wide awake voice, “to get the Christmas tree in the woods”!
I turned on the light by the bed. The alarm clock had the little hand on the one and big hand on the six. Egad, I thought, this little guy is just a tad too excited.
“Well, silly, it’s still the middle of the night. The only thing we are going to find in the woods at this time is a big old hoot owl,” I said hoping to coax him back to bed.
“A big old hoot owl”, Brendan responded with excitement in his voice.
My sleepy response had stimulated Brendan. It had not lulled back to sleep.
“The owls will be just fine without us, “ I replied not wanting to encourage his middle of the night excitement, “let’s go back to bed and get up when we can see what we are doing”.
I helped Brendan back into his bed and he wanted to read a story. I suggested that sleep might be more appropriate, at least it was for me, and in a few minutes he settled down.
Back in bed I was glad that incident was finished and I slowly fell back into a light slumber.
I was just getting back into a deep sleep when a felt another tug on my arm. Sure enough, Brendan was ready to go Christmas tree hunting again. I turned on the light and there stood Brendan. This time he had attempted to climb into his snow suit without help. There was one small problem, it was on backwards.
“Daddy, is it time to go get the tree yet?” Brendan asked while gazing out the window to the dark, dark background.
I looked at the clock and the little hand was on the three and the big hand was on the twelve.
“Nope, kiddo, it is still too early. Here, let me help you out of your snow suit and we can go back to bed,” I said patiently.
As I helped him take off his snow suit I notice he still had his red PJ’s on underneath.
“You know, bub, it is a good ideas to get dressed into your day time clothes before you put your snow suit on,” I stated.
He just stared at me and I felt like he was wondering why that was necessary. I mean, egad, there was work to be done.
After about fifteen minutes I got him back to sleep and wandered back to my bed. I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow.
In what seemed like five minutes later, sure enough, Brendan was poking at my side. I was just about at my wit’s end. I turned on the light. The little hand was on the four and big hand was on the six.
“OK”, I said, “I can see we aren’t going to get much sleep tonight, let’s cook some breakfast”!
Brendan was very, very happy to get the day going. I was happy to not have my sleep interrupted.
As I cooked breakfast Brendan and I sang a few Raffi songs (his favorite singer at the time). It was certainly going to be a day to remember.
After a morning meal of farm fresh scrambled eggs with diced ham I helped Brendan on with his snow suit; this time we put it on frontwards. We tied up his little Sorrel boots and I put my winter clothes on. All bundled up we opened up the back door to go outside. It was still pitch black.
Alright, I thought, no turning back now so I went back inside to retrieve a flashlight. Once outside we gathered up a bow saw and a toboggan and headed out into the dark forest.
Brendan could not be happier. He chatted up a storm. After about 100 yards he was huffing and puffing from walking in the newly fallen snow so I suggested he hop on the toboggan. He liked the idea of touring about the woods on this sled without runners and off we went. Now it was me that was huffing and puffing as we traversed through the snowy forest.
As I pulled Brendan through the woods, a beam of light from the flash light guided us along. Brendan still chatted about our adventure; where would we find a tree, how would we be able to see it in the dark, how long would it take to get home? Under different circumstances I might have asked him to settle down, but this was different, I was happy that he was so excited. And so we forged ahead.
As we got to the top of the second hill in the woods behind our homestead daylight began to show its cheery head. There was now enough light to be able to see the trees before you ran into them. We were nearing an area where there was a stand of red spruce, not the best type of tree for a Christmas tree, but likely the best we would find on our property. As we approached the area I slipped and fell. Both of my hands pulled on the toboggan behind me so I went face down into the snow without breaking my fall.
I think a curse word might have crept out of my lips. That didn’t matter because Brendan was laughing and laughing. I soon found it funny myself and together we laughed up a storm.
As I wiped off my face I looked uphill I could see the stand of small red spruce in front of some larger hemlocks. Brendan had spied these trees just before I had noticed them. He hopped off the toboggan and ran up the hill. Not too far behind, although there was no way I was going to keep up with him over this 100 yard dash, I clambered through the snow to the spruce grove.
“Here it is daddy, the best Christmas tree!”,Brendan yelled as loud as he could.
The little spruce was pretty small but well formed for a wild tree. Perhaps there was a little too much space between the branches, and perhaps it could have been a little fuller, but in Brendan’s mind it was the most wonderful tree.
We stood there together marveling at the tree. His little hand was on my leg. My big hand was on his shoulder. We smiled together and created a timeless memory for me that will never fade.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in December of 2009.