by Brien Sorne, Publisher
One of my fondest Christmas memories comes from my boyhood in Seattle. Winters there are unpredictable. Some are wet and cold, some wet and not so cold. Then again, some are downright polar with massive snowfall and freezing temperatures. Winter of ’68-’69 was like that. In fact it’s on record as one of Seattle’s most severe. After weeks of snow and ice, most of the roads were impassible and ground traffic reduced to a few major thoroughfares being maintained by over-worked road crews.
For me, school closures and snowball fights were early Christmas gifts. For my father, getting to work and back was a nightmare, especially when the bus lines were delayed or even cancelled from day to day. My mother was showing the stress, too. Her pre-Christmas shopping plans were pretty much shot. Even her normal errand-running and grocery shopping trips were severely restricted, being unwilling to risk driving unless absolutely necessary. Then, of course, being cooped up with my sister and I wasn’t helping. Bickering and doldrums became the status quo as the days dragged on, and I began to realize that these conditions were unlikely to improve. Like most self-centered thirteen year old kids, I took to sulking and whining and just wanted somebody to fix it.
So it was this one Christmas when winter weather was having its way with us and we were wondering whether Christmas would come at all. Visiting family members across town was out of the question. So was our traditional pre-Christmas dinner at our favorite restaurant and special church concerts and services. Outdoor lights and decorations might be limited to a wreath on the door, nothing close to the glittering spectacle that was our custom. Then, there was the question of our Christmas tree. How were we possibly going to make that trip?
Being Swedish, a fresh Christmas tree was a big deal for my dad. Even more so than his home-made pickled herring and the traditional candlelight Christmas Eve church service, this was the centerpiece of what Christmas was for him. Fruit cake, holiday parties and gift giving could be set aside, but not this. Having overcome the circumstances of a horrific childhood and persevering to make a life for himself and for us, this one tradition symbolized endurance and hope above all else. I think for him, it represented his faith, his culture and his personal triumphs. All that to say, the added impending disappointment of going without a Christmas tree turned him from agitated and annoyed to despondent. This was not going to be a merry Christmas.
And then, more snow. A week before Christmas and the hope of being able to venture out was buried in another three feet of it. I remember looking out my bedroom window that Saturday morning at the brilliant, beautiful landscape of snow-covered fir trees and hillsides. How strange that something so delightful was making us all miserable. It certainly didn’t make any sense to me. Even then I thought, this would be a Christmas I would long remember.
From the kitchen, I heard my parents talking as they prepared our family breakfast of link sausage, spiced peaches, lingonberries and fresh-baked bread. Fortunately for us, my mother’s depression-era Mormon upbringing meant we always had a freezer and pantry full of stores. Remarkably, the two of them seemed rather pleasant with each other, even slightly cheerful, quite a contrast to the last few weeks.
I took my place at the dining room table and waited for my parents to bring our morning feast. My mother came first with the warm bread as she called for my sister to join us. Her eyes lit up as she said “We’re going to get a tree!” Before I could ask, she told me that we were going to walk to the local grocery store with my over-sized sled. It was seven feet long and plenty of sled for whatever tree we might find. My dad’s expectations had been “adjusted” considering that any tree would be better than no tree at all.
We bundled up, I grabbed my sled and we began our trek. The store was less than a mile from our home, but the deep snow kept us at a labored pace. Along the way, we took delight in the unusual shapes the snow had formed over stumps and boulders and bushes. The icicles that glistened in the morning sunlight added delightful ornaments to the snow-laden fir tree branches, now bent low. The fresh snow added a solemn hush to everything around us and we observed it with our own silence. Even the soft snow-crunching sound of our footsteps seemed muted. It was peaceful and quieting.
We made our selection quickly and without debate. There wasn’t much to choose from, but it didn’t matter. We were getting our tree. Most of all, we were enjoying the simplicity of the moment in this fresh Christmas snow and for the first time in awhile, it felt good to be together. We were reassured that despite our circumstances, Christmas would come again in its own way and we would be better for it.