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Freshly cut Christmas tree

I was driving on Quarry Road in Moravia recently, and saw how big the pine trees on either side of the road had grown. They were looming over me large and tall, their branches shutting out the sunshine; it was like I was driving in a tunnel.

The land on both sides of the road used to be Dr. Bernard Hartnett’s Christmas Tree farm. Dr. Hartnett had let our churches' two Owasco Girl Scout troops camp there one summer long ago. Our tents were pitched around the large pond on his property. Around us in the mid 1970s were little newly planted pine trees.

One year he told Milo to take our minister, the Rev. Gordon Webster, up to the land and get our Christmas trees. It was a blistery cold day, and we girls stayed home while Milo and Gordon went to get the trees. It was just as well, because we would have looked and looked for the perfect tree. The guys drove in to the tree farm, got out of the car and selected the first two trees next to the truck. They just grinned and gave each other a secret smile and look as Lois and I oohed and approved of their perfect selections. Dr. Hartnett gave us permission to go there and “Cut your own Tree” in 1980. Someone was there on the weekends to take the money for our trees as many folk got their Christmas trees at Hartnett’s. We soon invited our friends, family and neighbors to join us for a Saturday outing in mid-December, which promised to be a fun-filled activity. There were 10 families involved, incuding Milo and I, Warren and Marilyn Birshner, Pat and Bill Valletta, June and Phil Duryea, Paul and Pam Grondin, Dick and Barbara Page, Lynne and Scott Stenberg, and John and Gerry Nedza. I can’t remember the other two families; forgive me but after all it was almost 40 years ago! I think they were my twin sister’s family.

We all drove to Frozen Ocean on a sunny afternoon. There was 6-8 inches of snow on the ground. Dick Page drove his Dodge stake-sided truck, and Milo drove our blue Ford truck that we used in the summer to deliver gladioli. The others followed in their cars.

Now, what could we do to keep straight which tree was ours? No problem.

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I devised a plan: Make large red-bordered tags complete with peppy verses and red ribbon to tie on each tree. Our tag said, “Please Mister Santa Claus, Take me to the Auchampaughs.” Lynne and Scotts said, “OH Boy, I think I’m pretty hot. I belong to Lynne and Scott.” Their tree traveled on the top of their Vega station wagon to Buffalo, where they both were in college. Lynne and I still keep our tree tag. It is placed on a whole page in our scrapbooks.

With much laughter, we trooped around the fields looking for that perfect Christmas tree. Soon the sounds of chain saws echoed in the pine forest as the men made short work of cutting the trees down. The two trucks were soon stacked high with Christmas trees, each tree sporting their identifying tag. The selected trees were different sizes, colors and shapes. Everyone was pleased and beaming. We went back home for hot chocolate and cake.

It was the great Christmas Tree Hunt. Over the past 39 years, all of our families have had trials and disappointments. We have lost five loved ones who are missed at holiday gatherings. There have been four divorces, as each new family coped with creating their own Christmas memories and traditions. Many pets are gone over the years too. This year I said goodbye to Bear, my 13-year-old labradoodle.

The joy of the holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas and their family traditions gives us courage and strength to go on. I look through my 18 scrapbooks filled with these memories of sharing the holidays with friends and family. The pictures record these memories and especially each story. In my heart I am content.

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Laurel Auchampaugh is the Owasco historian and can be reached at the Owasco Town Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons or at historian@owascony.gov.