Rushing the (Christmas) Season
by LeAnn R. Ralph
Rural Route 2/Christmas In Dairyland
Every year when November arrived, I started to wonder when it would snow.
And this year was no exception.
Thanksgiving was only a week and a half away, and we still didn't have any snow on the ground yet.
Mom and Dad had arrived home from grocery shopping a few minutes ago. Since my mother couldn't drive because of the polio, Dad would take her into town and help her with the shopping.
Although today happened to be Saturday, a trip to town for groceries could occur on any day of the week (except Sunday), all depending upon the farm work.
During the summer, Mom and Dad went to town on rainy days when Dad couldn't be out in the field cutting, raking or baling hay. During the winter, their trips to town were on days when it wasn't snowing and when it wasn't below zero. My mother didn't like to go outside when it was below zero. She said the polio paralysis caused her to have poor circulation and that she was afraid she would get frostbite.
On my way across the yard, I zipped up the lined denim jacket that I wore for helping Dad with the chores. I had remembered to grab my stocking cap before leaving the house, but I had neglected to take my mittens. A cold east wind quickly turned my hands into what felt like little blocks of ice.
Yesterday morning the sky had been bright and sunny, but by afternoon, a thin layer of hazy clouds made the sun look like someone had covered it with gauze. Today, the sky was filled with low gray clouds that seemed as if they were only a few feet above the treetops on the hill behind our barn.
"Think you can carry this?" Dad asked when I reached the car. He held out a brown paper bag.
"What's in it?”
"Oh," he said, lifting the bag up, as if to test the weight, "about twenty pounds, I guess."
"That's our turkey," Mom explained. "For Thanksgiving. Take it out to the freezer, please."
The air felt so cold that I was pretty sure we could leave the turkey outside on the porch and it would stay frozen. But I also knew that if we left the turkey outside, our dog, Needles -- or the barn cats -- would have a grand time feasting on frozen turkey. Or least they would try to have a grand time feasting on frozen turkey. No one had to tell me that tooth marks in our turkey wouldn't make my mother very happy.
I grabbed the grocery bag that Dad held, hoping the handles wouldn't break. No one had to tell me that dropping the turkey in the dirt wouldn't sit too well with Mom, either.
Before I reached the machine shed where we kept the chest freezer, something cold and wet landed on my cheek and then on my nose and lips.
I could hardly believe my eyes.
It was a snowing!
By the time I had rearranged some packages of green beans and sweet corn to make room in the freezer for the turkey and had carefully shut, and latched the door of the little room Dad had built around the freezer to keep out the dust and dirt, the ground was already covered with a thin layer of white.
On my way back to the car, I glanced across the yard and noticed it was so snowing so hard I could barely see the woods across the road at the back of our neighbor's farm .
Last year we had gotten a snowstorm before Thanksgiving too.
And then I remembered something else.
Every year, Dad and I went to one of our pine plantations to cut a Christmas tree. The trees had been planted on dry, sandy slopes to stop soil erosion. A few times when we went on our annual Christmas tree expedition, there was no snow at all, but more often than not, we had at least a few inches. Last year, it had started snowing before Thanksgiving, and by the middle of December, we had more snow on the ground than we sometimes got all year, making it almost impossible to drive through our fields to reach the pine plantation.
'What if we get that much snow again this year?' I wondered as I lifted the trunk lid and took out the last two bags of groceries.
I shut the trunk, and then I turned and headed toward the house.
Mom was putting away groceries and Dad was changing into his work shoes when I walked into the kitchen.
"Dad, when can we get a Christmas tree?" I asked, as I closed the door behind me. My hands still felt like little blocks of ice, although I figured they would be warm again soon now that I was back in the house.
Before my father could reply, Mom spoke up. She was holding a can of cranberry sauce that she had intended to put in the cupboard. Instead, she set it down on the counter with a firm thump.
"Christmas tree?" she said. "It's not even Thanksgiving!"
"I WON'T have a Christmas tree before the middle of December," she continued, warming to the subject.
"Christmas tree! The very idea. Turkey's not even thawed and she's talking about a Christmas tree."
As I set the two bags of groceries on the table, Dad and I exchanged glances. For as long as I could remember, I had known that my mother did not believe it was proper to put up a Christmas tree until well into December. I hadn't realized she would react this way, though.
"But Mom --"
"Don't you 'but Mom' me. If I had my way, we wouldn't decorate our tree until Christmas Eve. It's ridiculous the way they keep trying to stretch out the Christmas season. The next thing you know, we'll be starting our Christmas shopping before Halloween. A tree! In November!"
"Ma," Dad said quietly. "Don't you want to hear what she has to say?"
"Christmas tree! I haven't hardly had time to think about Thanksgiving, much less Christmas! Which reminds me. We forgot to buy sweet potatoes. If we're going to have sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, someone is going to have to make another trip to the store. Unless we want to skip them for Thanksgiving and have them at Christmas instead. Although, come to think of it, I don't know why I should even bother with Thanksgiving. A Christmas tree! In November!"
Dad looked at me and sighed.
"Getting a Christmas tree now is almost as bad as those guys who bought trees from us one year so they could sell them at Christmas!" Mom exclaimed as she made her way over to the table to sit down. "Said they had to cut them early. I'll say it was early. September, no less. I've always pitied the poor people who bought those trees. Must have been all dried out and absolutely good for nothing by Christmas."
Dad cleared his throat.
As Mom drew another deep breath, she glanced at me. "Oh, all right. I suppose I should let you get a word in edgewise. What about a Christmas tree?"
"I just thought," I said meekly, "that if we get our tree right after Thanksgiving this year, we probably won't have so much snow."
"That's right," Dad added. "Last year, we waited until the middle of December and we couldn't take the pickup. Even had trouble getting the tractor back in the field. We almost got stuck."
"Hmmphhh! A Christmas tree!" Mom grumbled. "The very idea. In November!"
"But Mom," I said, "look at how hard it's snowing."
"A Christmas tree," she muttered. "The next thing you know, she'll be pestering me about decorating it the day after Thanksgiving!"
After a while, my mother finally calmed down. Dad and I didn't dare mention cutting a tree again until December, and by that time there was so much snow, it wasn't a matter of 'almost' getting stuck with the tractor, we did get stuck, even with chains on the tires.
Dad was pretty upset about it, too. It was one thing to get stuck with the pickup because you could always pull the truck out with the tractor. But what do you do when the tractor is stuck?
You shovel an awful lot of snow away from the tires, that's what…
From the book: Christmas In Dairyland (True Stories From a Wisconsin Farm)
LeAnn R. Ralph is a freelance writer for two newspapers in west central Wisconsin, is the editor of the Wisconsin Regional Writer (the quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Assoc.) and is the author of the book, Christmas In Dairyland (True Stories From a Wisconsin Farm),
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