"Yippee!" I jumped out of the car. The dogs ran through the sea of chickens. Barks and nervous clucks welcomed me to the farm again as they did with each new Christmas. Licks and tail thumps had grown familiar over the years but I was taller this year and they had to strain upward a few inches to meet my face.
"Rickey, you want to help with the packages this year?" dad called after me as I ran for the front door.
"Really?" I said. This was new.
"Well, yeah. You are big enough to carry a package or two. Here. Take these."
I grabbed them and began shaking them as I walked to the screened porch.
"No sense shaking those," dad shouted at me. "They aren't yours."
Fooey, I thought. The screen door slammed behind me. I entered the living room and deposited the gifts in a chair.
"Where's the tree?" There had always been a huge Christmas tree in front of the windows bedected with lights, garland and ornaments. The room was bare.
I ran back to the kitchen. Granma was at the wood stove cooking. She saw me come through and smiled.
"Come 'ere, chile." She waved me over and kissed me.
"Where's the Christmas tree?" I asked pulling myself away from the kissing.
"Well, your grandaddy didn't have time to get one yet. We decided to leave it to Robert but he and his family haven't arrived yet."
Dad walked through the door with mom. "I see you haven't gotten a tree up," he said.
"I was just tellin' the youngen here that his grandaddy didn't have time yet to get one and we were going to ask Robert to find one when he comes."
"No need," said dad. "I can fetch one. Where do they sell them?"
Granma chuckled. "Sell 'em," she says. "Why would you want to buy one? Right past the field we got hundreds of 'em. All you gotta do is walk out with an axe and chop it down. If you don't mind, we'd sure be grateful."
"Rickey, you wanna go find a tree with me?"
It was the first time my dad asked me to help. Well, there was the request ten minutes prior but this one was different. We were going to do something together like father and son.
"Yes, let's go," I shouted.
"Let's have a bite first. Then we can go find a tree.
I settled into a seat vexed we couldn't go right that minute. That passed when I saw what granma was making. Pancakes! Mom place three or four on a plate for me. I grabbed the home churned butter plate as she slid them in front of me. With a knife I cut slabs of that butter and lay them between pancakes. The jar of cane syrup, dark and thick, was so heavy I couldn't lift it. I had to stand up to grip that pitcher with both hands. It flowed very slowly covering the pile of griddle cakes with a heavy layer of rich sweetness.
Dad raised his cup of coffee to his lips as he watched me wolf down my breakfast.
"Ok," I said sliding my plate away. "I'm ready."
He finished his coffee. He put his cup in the saucer as he rose from his chair. "Alright, then let's find the axe."
I ran out the back door with a slam heading for the tool shed. Dad arrived as I walked out with a long handled one.
"I guess we head that way," he said pointing to the pine stand. We had to walk past the little house behind the house. There was a distinct aroma as we passed but it was less disturbing than the evil eyed chickens gathered around back. I kept my dad between me and them. Beyond that we approached a Christmas tree bonanza.
They were all sizes and shapes. We meandered about looking for the right one. Dad had an eye for the perfect tree, the perfect cone in height and fullness.
"How about this one!" I kept asking. I was in a hurry to do some chopping.
"Mmmm, maybe," he'd say still looking.
I saw his eyes light at the same time I decided we'd never find his ideal tree.
Pointing he said, "There. What do you think of that one?"
He had found it. The spot for the angel headed straight for the heavens. The base was completely circular with low hanging limbs crying out for ornaments. It was taller than dad who was a giant to me. He was right. It was the one.
"Can I chop? Can I chop?" I said repeatedly as I bounced around the tree.
"We'll see," he said. That was Dad's no. I settled down and watched him take a swing. Whock! The axe blade bit into the trunk. The cut came about as high as my forehead. Two more swings and the tree began to lean.
This is the part I'm a little hazy about. AS the tree leaned to one side dad said, "Hold on to this." He pointed in the direction of the trunk. AS I moved to grab it there was a loud thwack.
"Rickey! Are you alright?!" He was haloed by the light blue sky, a dark form leaning over me. There were cartoon birdies flying in circles tweeting away. My peripheral vison was dark. "Rickey!"
Dad seemed anxious that I answer.
"Wha happ...?" I mumbled.
"The trunk snapped back upright and hit you in the head. Are you alright?" He grabbed my hand and pulled me upright. My legs buckled. He grabbed me in both his hands and set me upright.
"Are you OK?" he asked again.
"Yuh, uh huh. Did I do alright? Did I help?"
"Oh yeah, you did a fine job. I couldn't have done it without you."
I smiled and straightened my wobbly legs. The tree lay on its side.
"We got a good one, didn't we?"
"We sure did, son," he said. "Here. You carry the axe. I'll get the tree."
Bulky as it was he lifted it onto his shoulder and we started back. My mishap was forgotten as we walked back home victoriusly bringing the tree.
When we arrived at the back door everyone was eying the voluptious tree dad was edging through the door. I followed him through. All of a sudden my mother screamed.
"Rickey! Look at the blood! What happened!" She dropped to her knee and began wiping my forehead. "Hand me that towel! Oh my lord! What did you do?"
Dad came back from the front room after dropping the tree.
"Don't get all upset. It's worse than it looks. He's fine. Ask him."
I had no idea what the fuss was about. Dad had taken it all in stride. What was the problem?
I saw the problem when the towel came from my face. It was saturated in blood. It had poured from the diagaonal cut between my eyes. The trunk of the tree had snapped back to its upright position when I had reached to hold whatever dad had asked me to hold. In its abrupt return my face was in the way and it knocked me to the ground where I had lain for several minutes, unconscious.
My mother grumbled for a while. Dad assured her I was fine for just as long. I sat while she cleaned the gash and bandaged it. My only thought was to decorate the tree. It was too much attention over a cut dad thought was nothing to worry about. After a bit the angst died down and we went into the front room to place the tree upright.
We waited until the evening, when the others arrived, to begin decorating. AS for me I have the best memory of that time along with a keepsake. I've carried the daigaonal scar between my eyes all my life. It fits right into my worry lines never noticed by anyone but me. When I look into the mirror I remember the first time I had a father son moment. There's always the faint twitter of cartoon birds flying in a circle when I remember dad telling me to shake it off.