Old Home Farm

Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

farm sign

Last Saturday was our annual Christmas tree decorating party. I started this event when my first grandchildren came along. We always have Christmas at my house with finger foods, family time, and a big artificial Christmas tree. All of the grandchildren are in charge of putting the ornaments on the tree. Each is unique, and has a story behind it. Some have been on my tree since I was a teenager. Some were specially handmade by friends. Some were gifts given by co-workers. Some are to represent each family member: a ballerina for Kaydence, a hunting dog for Drake, a sparkly high heeled shoe for Marlee, the space shuttle for Josiah, an owl for Calli, a drum for my son, a handmade frame with a picture of my daughter, snoopy on a sled for Greg, the dove my mother bought for the top of our tree when I was small, the memorial angel for my mother-in-law. Each is so special and placed with loving care.

1 decorating

When I was small, getting the Christmas tree was always a big event. We have a large cedar grove near the back of the property and every December Daddy would take his axe and off we would go to choose a tree. Artificial trees were only found in the city at that time, and we had plenty of cedars to spare. Most of the time there was snow on the ground, so we bundled up in warm boots and coats and it just added to the magic.

It would take some time to choose just the right tree. It had to fit in the corner of the living room without intruding too far into the room. Mom was very particular about the shape. She wanted one nicely rounded with a peak at the top. Once we got the tree home, it was placed in a metal gallon bucket and big rocks jammed around the trunk to hold it upright. Then we filled the bucket two-thirds full of water, and Mom draped some white towels around the bucket for a tree skirt. Then the decorating began. We had big glass balls for ornaments, some lights, and of course lots of icicles and tinsel.

2 me  Dad

We carried this tradition on right up to the time I married. The next Christmas I found myself in Great Britain, alone at Christmas for the first time in my life and with no Christmas tree. You see, there were lots of servicemen stationed there and everyone wanted a tree. To get one, you needed to be at the base exchange when the locals brought the lives trees in for sale. Or, you had to be there when the load of artificial trees arrived from the states. You think Black Friday is bad? You should have seen the servicemen waiting for Christmas trees! There was only one load delivered every December, and if you missed it, you didn't have a tree. And we missed it.

I was devastated. That night I called Mom and cried on her shoulder about it. Five days later, a huge package arrived. My Daddy had driven the 30 miles to town and bought me an artificial tree, packed it up and mailed it express to me. That doesn't sound like a real miracle, but you have to understand my Dad. First off, he didn't believe in putting more miles on the truck than necessary. We only made that trip to town a couple of times a month. Then, there was the cost. There weren't many artificial trees sold in our area, because it was farm country and everyone had cedars on their property. The stores in town had begun to carry a few artificial trees, but they were very high priced because they weren't much in demand. Then, there was the cost of shipping the big box express and overseas, so I could have it before Christmas. All told, that tree probably cost more than a months worth of groceries. It arrived in a dented box, and was a bit mangled when I pulled it out, but it was the most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever owned. It was a visual statement of just how much my Daddy loved me. We carried that tree around with us for the six years Greg served in the Air Force.

3 1st tree

Once we were settled back home and living next to my parents, we decided to go back to the live cedar trees and now my children got to share in the choosing of the perfect tree. It was a time that give us many wonderful memories. Then, in October of 1997 my Daddy passed away. That Christmas I just couldn't face going for a cedar tree, so I brought out the battered old tree that Daddy had sent me so many years ago. Looking at that tree brought back all the joy of first receiving it, and how much my Daddy loved me.

As the years went by, my poor little tree fell apart, and we began buying newer, bigger artificial trees. Then, this year, my son and his wife decided to go back to the cedar grove and cut a real tree for Christmas. Watching them carry on the family tradition brought back all of the love and special memories of a childhood gone by. And I realized its not the tree that matters, but the love and memories behind it. A Christmas tree is not a symbol of Christ, or a holy icon. It is a place for the family to gather and create memories that last a lifetime. Ornaments are not just decorations, but visual reminders of people and acts of kindness. They tell the story of who the family is. And that is really what Christmas is all about.

4 cutting the tree

A Tough Nut to Crack

farm sign 

The holiday season is upon us when a woman's fancy turns to baking! And one of the prime ingredients is nuts. Nuts in fudge, nuts in cookies, nuts in candies and cakes, nuts in salads and stuffings. And lets not forget peanut brittle! The most popular nut to bake with is the pecan. Followed by almonds and English walnuts. One of my personal favorites though is the black walnut.

Black walnuts are a basic part of farm life in the South. And they have had a bigger part in my life besides baking. When I was a child, there were two sure-fire ways for a youngster to make money. Collecting soda bottles (5 cents a return), or to sell black walnuts.

2 Walnuts on the ground

We have lots of black walnut trees on our 40 acres, but only three close to the house. They have been there all of my life. Years ago, Daddy would rake up the nuts and throw them in the dirt road that ran past our place so the cars would run over them and hull them for us. Then, usually in late October or early November, we would take empty burlap feed sacks, or gunny sacks as we called them, and stuff them full of the hulled nuts. We would load up the back of the pickup and drive 30 miles or so to the walnut factory where we could get as high as $7 for a load! And in the late '60s to mid-1970s that was a lot of cash.

1 Walnut trees

As a child, I was given a share of the profits which became my Christmas money for buying gifts. As I grew older, I could have more depending on how much work I put into bagging the nuts. One year I worked at it alone and gained the entire proceeds. How rich I was that year! I had enough money to buy Christmas presents and that new Carpenter album I wanted with money left over.

Probably why black walnuts are not very popular to cook with is the fact that they are so hard to harvest. I have never seen a harder nut to crack! How squirrels do it I will never know. Every fall, when we gathered our harvest to sell, Mom always kept a bushel basket for herself. Throughout the coming weeks, she would set outside and crack the walnuts with a hammer until she had a large plastic container full. Then she moved into the house and for the next few days she picked out the meat into a smaller container. This was accomplished in the evenings after chores and dinner were completed. She would settled down on the couch in front of her favorite show with the bowl of cracked nuts, an empty container, and a metal nut pick and work away. And when she was finished, there really wasn't much to show for it. That bushel basket of black walnuts might only give her four cups of nut meats or "goodies" as we called them. But it was worth it!

3 shelling process

There is nothing quite like the taste of black walnuts. Its a strong, earthy flavor that enhances so many dishes and just plain good to munch on as a snack. We could not afford pecans or other nuts, so all our baking was done with black walnuts. Mom never made fudge, but she did make cakes and pies with those goodies as well as putting them in fruit salads and jellos. And if there was enough left, they went into the Christmas stuffing.

4 bagged

We no longer harvest black walnuts for sale. In fact, I'm not sure there is even a place around here that buys them anymore. But my daughter-in-law and I still pick up a few for cooking purposes every year. Usually I sit out on the front porch to crack them on the front step with the exact same hammer my mother used and then take them into the house to finish them as Mom did, settled before a good movie while I pick out the goodies. My first bucket didn't yield much as you can see, but it will be enough for a stuffing I plan to make. And there are always more where those came from. That is, if I can beat the squirrels to them.