Putting on the Big Boots

It’s more than the tree


The tree was a sapling spruce. Dad cut it from the fence line in the west pasture. A homemade star of foil-covered cardboard sparkled on the top spire. Strings of popcorn and cranberries draped over the scraggly boughs. The folks clipped brass candle holders onto the tips of the branches. Twenty-four small white pillars nestled among the short green needles and waited. Dad carefully lit each candle then nodded to Mom. She extinguished the lantern. On that Christmas Eve long ago, the reflection of the glowing candles sparkled in the eyes of a young mother, father and their small girl and boy. A sense of wonder surrounded them, and for three short, enchanting minutes they felt in their hearts that nothing could be more beautiful.

Years passed. Electricity came to the Midwest. On a frigid day late in December, Mom and the kids sat in the car in front of Nelson Hardware in De Smet. The wind pelted flecks of white into Dad’s heavy wool coat. He reached for one of the cut trees that leaned against the building. He held it up and looked at Mom through the windshield. On the fifth tree she smiled and nodded her approval.

The tree was a six-foot fir. Dad and the boys fastened the trunk into the Christmas tree holder they had made. They poured water into the large coffee can to keep the needles from drying out. They carefully turned the bare spot to the back and tucked the tree into the corner of the living room. A wonderful, woodsy scent surrounded us as we decorated that tree. Dad slid on the topper, a clear glass globe with a spire that reached for the heavens. Long, thin bubbler lights extended up from green wires. We stared in amazement as the liquid in the glass tubes warmed and bubbles rose to the top in constant succession. The older girls lifted fragile colored glass balls from their cardboard cartons and carefully looped the string over green needles. Colored paper Santas and reindeers, a collection of ornaments brought home from school, soon adorned nooks and crannies. At last, Mom unpacked the tinsel that we had carefully laid on a folded newspaper the Christmas before. Everyone strung tinsel. Silvery strands glistened in the light of the bubblers. The tree seemed to flow with the movement of the air.

Dorothy remembers squinting her eyes as she gazed at the shimmering sight “to make the lights sparkle more.” Six children and our parents admired our decorated tree that year. We decided that nothing could be more beautiful.

My siblings and I grew up and went out into the world. We established traditions and celebrated Christmas in our own ways. One family went to the farm every year to cut a tree. Each grandchild had a special saw, and they took turns making a few cuts. At last, the tree toppled, and everyone cheered. Other families bought live trees in town or from tree farms. Some of us bought artificial.

Stars and angels topped the trees in our various homes. Lights of large bulbs glowed in blobs of red, green and blue. Swags of gold and silver garland circled the trees. Each year special ornaments were added, some handmade, some gifts from loved ones far away. Each year we loved our Christmas trees.

Families grew and so did our trees. Red and white iridescent ropes of garland wrapped them in furry warmth. Large glass balls bent branches. Tiny pointed lights replaced the big colored bulbs. Some flashed on and off. Color schemes developed. Young hands hung ornaments that grew in numbers with each passing year. Reflections of sparkling lights danced in children’s eyes; tears of love glistened in their parents.’ Each year we thought this must be the best tree we ever had.

Tonight, I contemplate the sight before me--my Christmas tree that once belonged to our parents. Three small pieces of tinsel remain twisted on inner branches and make me smile. An angel, a gift from a daughter, glows from the top with “candles” of light in her outstretched hands. Multi-colored mini-lights sparkle amidst the white-and-silver garland. Ornaments cover the tree. Some are the same that decorated our parents’ tree years ago. Many were made by small hands. There is a paper Rudolph, his red nose colored haphazardly, and a candy cane of red and white beads on a pipe cleaner, the winner in an ornament contest. Cutouts of etched brass and framed photos whisper a greeting. Each holds a precious memory.

And so I remember….Christmases past….the reflections of wonder in a child’s eyes…. loved ones we have lost but hold forever in our hearts.

On the upper right side of the tree, a small golden angel revolves among the lights. The tiny chimes that surround her sing softly into the night. The word “Hope” inscribed in her gown sparkles clearly with every turn. Tears glisten in my eyes. Yes, I am absolutely certain THIS has to be the most wonderful Christmas tree ever!

Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates


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