The other day I was in my home town and driving through the streets. I am able to return to the city a few times a year and when I do there is always some memory that resonates in my thoughts and heart. When driving through the streets, it seemed as though time has stood still. Each building in the same place as it was in 1970 but much older than I remember. While the names on the buildings were changed there was very little that had changed near Uptown and Roosevelt road. Unlike big metropolitan cities, Kenosha, Wisconsin has had little development. I would like to say it was quaint and charming but really it was old and showing the age of time.
While the city’s age sadden me, my memories were overflowing with enchantment. The streets narrow, houses primitive reflecting a time when life was focused on familial values. Remnants of the minimalistic culture of an auto manufacturing city complete with assembly lines and blue collar stood still in time. A tradition of its own, with men and women proud for the ability to support their family, buy a home and live an ample life. At 7 am I remembered the streets would be filled with locally made automobiles in route to the plant for a full days labor. The end of the 8 hour shift would be announced by the sound of a whistle that could be heard for several blocks surrounding the plant. Blue collared men and women exhausted from a true days physical labor would make their way home to families for the solidarity of the evening family meal. Principle lifestyle, no cell phones, no internet when employees were paid not expected to work overtime can be only remembered.
As I was driving, the Christmas tree lot up ahead caught my eye. At first I was unsure why I was inspired to stop at the lot and reminisce about the rows and rows of pine trees. Then it occurred to me it was the same lot that my father took me each year to get our Christmas tree. It was a very simple lot, with Wisconsin grown trees sold by a short, burly older man named Earl. Earl was proud of his trees and worked feverishly to sell them all before the Christmas season was complete. He shouted “Any tree on the lot $5.99”, I remember. This of course include a few strong high school kids to hoist the tree on the car roof and twine to tie it down. Dad was always compelled to find the biggest tree on the lot. It had to be perfectly tall and wholly cone-shaped supporting each of Mom’s ornaments she had collected for years and years.
Dad and I would spend little time picking out the tree honestly, as he was eager to get it home, cut and attach it to the stand. Every year our tree had some memory attached to it whether, too tall, too wide, crooked trunk, or too long of needles. There is one particular year that will be etched in our memory forever. It is hard to know what exactly what happened to the tree that year. It was the most beautiful Dad had ever brought home. It was perfect. The right height, shape and circumference to fit into our living room. It was a deep forest green with amazingly brilliant branches. Everyone who visited said it was the best Christmas tree they had ever seen.
Christmas was approaching, the gifts were wrapped, cookies baked and lights were hung throughout the house. Our family was finally ready for Christmas. We anticipated enjoying the spirit of the season sharing it with friends and family. It was the weekend before Christmas and we were hustling around cleaning the house getting it ready to celebrate the season. Suddenly, Mom said, “What is that sound? Listen?, Dad swiftly said with a smile and wink,”Oh it is nothing, just a few needles falling of the tree onto the presents .”
As Christmas Eve approached, we noticed that as someone was walking throughout the living room, needles continued to fall on the presents. When someone was walking in the kitchen, needles would fall from the tree, if someone was walking up and down the stairs, needles would fall from the tree. Then in all of its wonder our perfect tree, would lose dozens and dozens of needles over the next few days. I remembered the most needles fell when Mom would stamp her feet because our perfect Christmas tree was not exactly perfect Yule. Before we knew it, our perfectly shaped, brilliantly green colored tree was barren. Sporting the likes of a Charley Brown Christmas, we had the most fun that holiday season and created a memory that will last forever. The most important instrument of the Epiphany that year, was our coal shovel needed to remove the needles from our living room floor.