1982. Christmas Eve.
“Gido, why don’t you have a Christmas Tree in your house?” I’d always wondered but had never asked before. I just assumed it was because we were Ukrainian and it wasn’t part of our tradition. We did other things. Celebrated on a different day.
My grandpa smiled and told me to put on my parka and boots. “Let’s get some more wood for the fire.”
Once outside, we trudged through the deep snow past the row of evergreens in the side yard that served as both a fence and shelter from the harsh prairie winds. In the center of the row was a giant spruce that towered over the old farmhouse. We stopped directly in front of it and my grandpa crouched down and dug gently in the snow to reveal a spruce sapling. He rose and placed his hand on my shoulder, looked down at me and then at the little sapling. ”Some day it will be as big as its mother.” We stood there silently for a moment before we continued on to the woodpile.
We rooted through the woodpile until we found some nice birch logs because birch burns hottest and it was a particularly cold night. I learned a lot about trees from Gido. Pine grows straight and tall and makes the best lumber. Maple gives us syrup and is excellent for fine furniture. My Grandpa fought in WWII and instilled in us the utmost respect for life and freedom. Every tree is alive and if you take a life it must serve a higher purpose: to shelter us, to stave off the winter cold.
Just behind the woodpile stood a small fir, about 6 feet tall. He walked over and patted it gently and proudly like I’d seen him do with the cattle or his horse. ”This tree is about your age,” he said as he handed me an ax. “It’d make a beautiful Christmas Tree.”
“That’s ok Gido. We don’t need one.”