My father drove a 1966 Colony Park station wagon. It was the first new car my family ever owned. It was white with imitation wood panels that covered the sides and tail-gate. It had three rows of seats. The third row of seats faced rearwards and gave those back seat passengers the perspective of seeing the world from where they had already been. I always thought that seating design was a bit unusual. But, with five children, I suspect that my father’s purchase was more a matter of necessity than choice.
Each December, my family piled into that station wagon and drove to a farm in Hartford to buy our Christmas tree. Seating assignments for the trip were based upon seniority. To my great dismay, I was relegated to the rearward facing third row seat. That arrangement stayed with me for much of my childhood years. And so, while my older siblings had the opportunity to view the new horizons that lay before them, I shouldered the embarrassment of waving back to the family in the automobile immediately following behind us.
We would typically arrive at the tree farm on a cold and snowy Saturday morning. We were transported on a hay wagon through snow and mud to the farthest reaches of the farm where we would begin our search for the perfect Christmas tree. The selection of a tree was no easy task. Certain pre-determined specifications had to be met. The tree had to be the right size and shape; it had to be the correct shade of green; and it had to possess a satisfactory fullness. Pine cones, or a bird’s nest hidden deep within the branches, were highly prized attributes.
Invariably, a dispute would arise as to which of several trees best satisfied our criteria. We were each provided the opportunity to make an argument for or against a particular selection. When ample opportunity for persuasion was provided, my father would call for a vote. A majority vote ruled. Cold feet and hands insured that the vote remained uncontested. We’d cut down the chosen tree and haul it back to a waiting hay wagon for transport to our car. There, my father would tie the tree to the roof with twine and off we’d go. As the years passed, I learned to gauge how far into the Christmas Season our tree would last by noting the amount of pine needles that flickered past the rear window as we sped down the roadway on our drive back home.
Andy Williams’ music
By late afternoon, our Christmas tree stood upright in our living room and was fully decorated. Mother prepared a round of hot chocolate in celebration. My siblings and I sat at the kitchen table enjoying our treat and laughing as father danced with her under the mistletoe. The music of Andy Williams filled the background. I remember the words he sang; “I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols played. And mild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth good will to men.” Those words were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow back in 1867.
This year, I reflect on Christmas from the perspective of seeing the world from where I have already been. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., I struggle to understand how things could have changed so terribly over the ensuing years. I wonder where the love and happiness our society once offered the children of past generations have gone. Perhaps we’ve sacrificed those things for the materialism that now consumes our holy season, or for the greed and hatred that resides in our hearts. Maybe we’ve simply forgotten that Christmas is about the birth of a child and the family that cared for him so long ago on a deep and still night.
Sense of hope
I think back to the Christmases I’ve known in my own youth and I try to nurse a sense of hope. The music of Andy Williams plays in my mind again and I remember the words of Longfellow that he sang, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.” And, in the birth of Jesus I remember hope.
David Bobovnyik is an attorney who works for the state of Ohio and writes from time to time about his memories of growing up on Youngstown’s West Side.