Glendenning: My Griswold Family Christmas
December 25, 2014
Growing up in South Florida, I spent a lot of time hanging out at my grandparents' Christmas-tree business. Snow-flocked trees were the closest thing we ever had to a white Christmas in Miami.
My grandfather started the business in 1959 as a fundraiser for a Little League team, but it grew into so much more. The early batches of trees were wild trees from Canada, but as the business grew over the years, Grandma and Grandpa ended up buying their own tree farms up in Michigan. The business expanded, and before long the "main lot," as we called it, sported two 200-by-80-foot tents. The front tent featured trees on display as well as flocking equipment, netting machines, poinsettias, lights and decorations.
For more than 50 years, my grandmother, Eloise Card, manned the cash register (Grandma finally retired and closed the business this year at the age of 93).
The back tent was where the inventory lived. It served as the home base for more than a dozen other tree lots strategically located around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and it also was a place where we kids would run around and play hide-and-seek or throw Nerf footballs around.
My uncle Jack ran the business with Grandma and Grandpa, becoming more involved after Grandpa died in 1985. My cousin Jonathan also joined in when he was old enough.
My mother and father also were involved over the years, mostly back in the 1980s and '90s, when my brother and I would invite our friends over to help bag trees and make a few bucks.
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Last New Year's Eve, when my mother died, the number of friends who wrote on my Facebook wall with memories of her was truly touching. One of the most surprising things about reading those messages was the number of comments about the tree lot. Our friends remembered being there and working, sure, but they mostly remembered how fun it was to be around our mom — or "Momma G," as everyone called her.
About six years ago, while living in Vail, I had my very first experience cutting down my own Christmas tree. When you grow up in a family that sells thousands of Christmas trees every year, you get the best of the best — full trees that are perfectly shaped because they're farmed. When my boyfriend, Ryan, and I drove up toward Vail's Piney Lake to find our "perfect" tree in 2008, nothing seemed good enough. He'd point out a potential winner, and I'd immediately shoot it down. None of the trees looked full enough. They were scrawny, subpar — unacceptable.
Finally we found one that still didn't satisfy me, but I gave in because it was cold outside and I was ready to move the operation indoors. Once we got it up and decorated, it grew on me. It was kind of nice to see the ornaments dangling down without so many tree branches swallowing them in.
Every year since that first year, we've taken the snowmobiles out for our annual tree hunt. Usually we'll ride on our double-seater sled and cruise several miles back into the forest to find the perfect tree — our Griswold tree — and then we bag it up and drag it out behind the sled. As new residents to the Roaring Fork Valley this year, we ventured off on an unknown trail at the top of McClure Pass a couple of weeks ago to find our tree.
The options were sparse, and many of the trees we did find didn't look healthy, so we kept cruising to look for a honey hole. And then there it was — our tree — almost all by itself in the middle of a snowy meadow. I felt like the Griswolds when they found theirs, except my eyes weren't frozen and Ryan remembered to bring the saw. All that was missing was the music and the glowing spotlight and halo.
But I did see a halo that day — it was my mom, right there with us for the ride. She always loved hearing the annual story about our snowmobile Christmas-tree run, and she couldn't wait to see pictures of the tree once it was up and decorated. Last year's tree, she told me, was one of my prettiest trees yet.
This year's tree is perhaps one of the scrawniest we've ever gotten, but it couldn't be more perfect. After Mom died, my brother and I divided up the childhood ornaments from her house, and each kept the ones that were most sentimental to us. So this year, my scrawny tree is decorated with memories from my childhood years back in Fort Lauderdale, when Mom was healthy and spirited and we kids were happy to be playing together at the Christmas-tree lot. Those were the days.
Lauren Glendenning is editor of The Aspen Times. Send letters to email@example.com.