The Fair-Weather Christmas Tree | Midwest Living

The Fair-Weather Christmas Tree

Mel Tormé and Bing Crosby have been looping on the 24-hour Christmas radio station for couple of weeks now. Santa has already shuttled a few dozen kids across his lap at the outdoor superstore down the road. And all that’s before most of us have even bought the Thanksgiving turkey.

This constant creep of the Christmas season drives traditionalists crazy and throws off the year’s rhythm, but it does have advantages. Like making a selection at the Christmas tree farm before cold weather turns it into an Arctic survival exercise. You may not find such service at every farm, but after several years of buying at Rettig’s near our Iowa home, we’ve been granted early-shopping privileges. So when a 60-degree November Saturday arrives, we head to the farm and tag a tree while enjoying a nice autumn walk. After Thanksgiving, we swoop back in thick clothes, cut the tree, and beat a hasty retreat home to decorate and sip cider in comfort.

This year’s visit occurred under towering thunderheads that presented a sky more appropriate to softball than Yuletide shopping. The kids ran around the farm in shirt-sleeves, hiding from each other in rows of firs and pines arranged as neatly as headstones at Arlington. We dithered over the choice between pine and fir. We debated how tall was too tall. Then we finally stuck our pink reservation tag on a 7-foot fir and tried to memorize the location for Phase 2 of the operation. We noticed a few folks had thought ahead, wrapping bright yarn around their tree so they could spot it like a black wheelie bag coming off a luggage carousel.

At the driveway, we ran into Mr. Rettig, who had just parked his John Deere after shredding a field of cornstalks. He pushed his hands deep in the pockets of his coveralls and leaned heavily on them, relaxing in the farmer’s unique way of grabbing some rest in the middle of an open field. He sniffed a lot as the breeze cooled down with the setting sun.

“I hope you have some good plans with family for Thanksgiving,” my wife said. Last Christmas, we handed the check for our tree to Mrs. Rettig. Then a few months later, we received the tree farm’s newsletter saying that she had passed away.

The old farmer glanced at the brick ranch house behind us. “Yep,” he said, and sniffed at the wind. “That cancer. Boy, it’s pretty nasty stuff.”

We shuffled. “It sure is,” my wife said. “Do you have family nearby?”

“Yep,” Mr. Rettig said. “Her sister’s been coming out to help with the trees.”

We paused, wondering where to take the conversation next.

“Hey,” he said with a smile, getting back to business. “Did you get your tag on a tree?”

“Sure did,” I said.

“Well, good. Don’t forget where it was. And we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

And with that, he headed into the house, and we headed home, glad to realize that pushing Christmas a little earlier means a few more weeks of folks dropping in to help Mr. Rettig pass the time.