THE CHRISTMAS TREE....By-Terry Forster
Most people nowadays either have a real fir tree in their sitting room adorned with baubles and coloured flashing lights. Other people have a synthetic one stored in a box that has to be assembled every year.
Fifty years ago only the rich could afford a real fir tree standing in their living rooms, there were no coloured light then so home made streamers were attached to the ceiling and small trinkets adorned the tree.
Today almost everyone has an artificial tree stashed away somewhere in their house along with glass baubles and coloured flashing lights.
It was snowing quite heavily as Albert trudged his way through the woods. He carried with him a saw and a length of rope that was used as his wife’s washing line. He was looking for a holly bush, not just any holly bush but one that resembled the shape of a fir tree. He wasn’t the only man searching in the woods; other men were also there who lived in the same street as him looking for the same perfect holly bush.
“Morning Albert” the voice rang out in the cold crisp air making it sound as though it spoke inside an amphitheatre.
“Morning Ted” Albert replied as the echo of his voice echoed throughout the woods.
“Guess you are looking for the same thing I am looking for. It seems to get harder every year to find a nice one,”
“Ah! You are right there Albert, All the ones I have seen so far are no good. The kids will be really disappointed if I return home without a tree.”
“I saw a couple of real nice ones but they were on Lord Lambton’s land. The gamekeeper was roaming around but he didn’t spot me and I noticed he was carrying his shot gun with him.”
“You were right to back off there Ted, remember year before last when Joe had his rear end blasted with buckshot, it took his wife three or four hours to remove all the pellets from his rear end and he couldn’t sit down for a couple of weeks.” Both men laughed at what had happened to poor Joe and really it was no laughing matter.
“Fancy a walk along the river” asked Albert. “We might find something decent along there and as it’s not on the Lambton lands we can take our time looking.
The falling snow became quite thick as they walked side by side. The crunching of the snow beneath their rubber boots echoed along the banks of the river banks. Every now and again they jumped at the sound of a tree branch groaning as it bent downwards with the weight of the snow.
“There’s one” Ted shouted. Albert looked to where Ted was pointing.
“You are right there Ted, it looks a real good one; I guess it’s yours as you spotted it first. I’ll give you a hand to cut it down and then keep on searching; don’t want the kids to be disappointed if I go home without a tree.
Once the holly bush was cut down Ted tied his rope around the tree, hooked the free end of the rope over his shoulder and started his long walk homeward.
Albert searched for the rest of the morning but didn’t find another tree as good as the one Ted found. He was just about to give up and there, standing all alone was a most beautiful real fir tree. It was about eight foot tall and exactly what he wanted. “The family will be right pleased with a real fir tree this Year” he thought to himself.
Once cut down, he tied his washing line to the tree, slung the free end over his shoulder and started the long walk home.
Almost three hours later Albert arrived at his home soaking wet with both sweat and the melting snow on his clothes. His feet were almost numb despite having worn two pairs of woollen socks in his rubber boots
“Where in heavens name have you been” his wife Mary asked with an anxious frown on her face. “I was worried to death when I saw Ted arrive home and you were no where to be seen, Mind you, that is a beautiful tree you have their, you didn’t take it from Lord Lambton’s land did you.”
“No I didn’t take it from his land, I found it along the riverside just as I was about to give up and come home. Get me the pail while I get it into the house and then I can set it secure and the kids can help me dress it.”
Albert was busy outside shaping the tree to a point at the very top when he found something tangled amongst the branches. As he looked further inside the mass of fern needles and pushed his arm deeper his hand closed over something that felt like material. When he eventually managed to pull it out he was astonished to see it was a black Witch’s hat. Not knowing what to do with it at that moment he hung it on a nail inside his coal house. “I’ll check that out later” he said to himself.
Once the tree was set safely in the pail Jose and Tommy dressed the bottom half of the tree whilst Albert dressed the top half.
“We don’t have a fairy” cried Jose. “It’s not really a Christmas tree without a fairy on the top?” She sorrowfully cried out.
“Ah yes” replied her dad. “Mary” he shouted. “Bring me that paper bag on the kitchen bench will you please. “Here you are Jose, open the bag and you will see what is inside.”
Jose tore the paper bag into shreds and a fairy dropped to the floor. She didn’t move one inch as she stared in awe at the silver fairy with her wand clenched in her hand,
“Well aren’t you going to pick it up then, I’ll lift you up and you can put it on top of the tree.” Josie’s eyes were bulging like gobstoppers as she stared at the fairy. She snatched it from the floor and jumped into her dad’s arms and was lifted up high. She fiddled around somewhat until she had the fairy facing into the room and the point at the top of the tree was securely stuck up the fairy’s silver dress.
“There we are” pronounced Mary standing between the two children with one hand on each of their heads. “Don’t you think your dad deserved a massive big kiss from both of you?”
Both children jumped at the same time into Albert’s arms and kissed his face all over with their big sloppy kisses.
Christmas morning arrived. There were small presents for the two children when they awoke but, their dad would not be there to see them opening their small gifts. The mine was at the bottom of the hill and he had to go to work as he had to take his turn in checking the water pumps that pumped water from the mine onto the surface. The mine could be flooded if the pumps weren’t continually checked so, eight men had been chosen by the pit manager to check the pumps over Christmas and New Year. It was 6am when Albert entered the cage on the surface. Armed with his Davy lamp and helmet lamp he travelled downward into the darkness of the mine.
When the two children awoke from their sleep they rand down the stairs eager to what Santa Clause had left them beneath the tree. There was a fire engine for Tommy with a full crew of firemen and a large bag of sweets. When Jose opened her present she was at first very disappointed. It was a stick covered in red, black and green tinsel, it wasn’t until she tore the rest of the wrapping away, a wand just like the Fairy on top of the tree had in her hand, she gasped in utter surprise.
“It’s a magic wand mam” she cried out loudly towards the kitchen where her mother was making breakfast. “It’s a magic wand for sure and I will be able to make all my wishes come true.”
Her mother had just about finished making breakfast when Jose had cried out in delight. “Poor kid” she thought. “There are no magic wands in this world of ours; there is nothing that could make life easier than it is now. Maybe when she is my age things might be different but “I doubt it.” She thought as a tear formed in her eyes.
Albert arrived home around 12:30pm covered in coal dust. He had handed the job of looking after the pumps over to Ciril, a neighbour who lived three doors away from his door. After a good body wash with the aid of his wife Mary, he went to the coal house to hang up his pit clothes and spotted the witches hat he had hung on a nail the day before.
As his mind ticked over he knew what he was going to do with the witch’s hat. He dashed it on the coal house wall to rid it of any coal dust that might have accumulated on it while hanging on the coal house door and then sneaked upstairs and slipped the witches had beneath Jose’s bed. He would make some excuse after breakfast for her to go upstairs and look under her bed.
“Jose” he shouted as he was drying the breakfast dishes. Jose walked slowly into the kitchen with a face that would melt butter. “I think I dropped my pocket watch beside your bed this morning when I went up to your room to make sure you were still asleep. Please go up to our room and check for me will you, it might have rolled under your bed so please go and check for me will you.”
Jose wasn’t too pleased but, she did what she was told to do as children did exactly what their parents told them to do in those days.
There was a sudden scream of delight and Jose came running down the stairs with the witch’s hat on her head.
“Look dad, dad, look what I found under my bed, Santa Clause must have left it there for me when I was asleep during the night. It’s a pointed hat dad and it fits me perfectly, look dad look at me.”
Albert looked at his daughter and saw the happiness inside her with the hat he had found inside the branches of the fir tree
“My goodness, I think that is a witch’s hat you have on your head and you certainly do look like a real witch. All you need now is a magic wand and you would certainly be a real witch.”
Jose’s face changed into her thinking mode and suddenly she cried out, “Dad, I really do have a magic wand, it was underneath the Christmas tree this morning when I came downstairs to see if Santa had been.”
Jose turned and ran into the sitting room to collect the magic wand that was on the chair beside the window.
Now I am telling you this story because it really actually happened.
The little girl Jose was my first born daughter Shirley and, the boy was my first born son Terry. We lived in Esh Winning and it was Christmas. I did have to find a holly bush tree and did have to go down the mine to check all the pumps as I was one of the three engineers working at the mine. There really was a hat inside the tree, it was almost like a witch’s hat and my wife Heather covered it in a black material and changed it to really look like a real witch’s hat. Terry my son received a pedal racing car as he was mad about cars.
It was a happy year for us all and I was promoted when I moved to another colliery and we moved into a bigger and better house. You cannot compare life today with what it was like in the early sixties. They were happy days at times, especially at Christmas.