By Dave Lassam
I grew up in a small three-bedroom, turn of the century farmhouse in the Steveston area of Richmond. The times have certainly changed, it is now a city, formerly ‘The Municipality of Richmond’ and before that Lulu Island. Brighouse was the center of town, fruit and vegetable farms were plentiful, located on some of the best soil in the lower mainland.
I guess my dad would have been classified as a local pioneer. He was born in our house, back in the days when doctors still made house calls. The street we lived on was named after our family.
From the early 50’s to the late 60’s Mom and Dad kept having children. I am one of four brothers and have three sisters. In hindsight, maybe we were all needed to provide the labour required to keep up our large yard, garden, and back field.
The holiday season was always filled with many annual family Christmas traditions. Finding a live tree that my thrifty Dad didn’t have to pay for was first on the list. It started early December with a trip in the 65 Chevy suburban to the bogs of East Richmond. Wild, scraggly, and warped jack pines grew there.
Usually a few of us tagged along to help Dad find a perfect specimen in a sea of imperfect trees. Did I mention that it always seemed to be raining on these expeditions…ugh. His instructions were precise – the tree had to be six or seven feet tall with a thick, straight trunk. Besides watching where we stepped, the risk of being swallowed by the deep pools of the bog was an ever-present danger, we had to make sure we didn’t get lost.
We would pick out potential trees usually to be overruled by older siblings or by Dad who knew exactly what he was looking for. When it was finally found, he pulled out his old bow saw to cut it down. As us kids hauled it back to the truck, he would stop and study other warped trees, cutting small, medium, and large branches. We shared the ride home with that great pine smell that candle manufactures still try to imitate.
The tree and branches remained outside for most of the month as Dad didn’t want them in the house too early. He said they would dry up and be a fire hazard. We constantly nagged him to bring it in so we could decorate it. He pacified us by putting up our light bulb-sized, outdoor Christmas lights around the large cedar tree in our front yard. You could see these lights from a long distance away since they were so bright and Richmond so very flat. Everyone loved the lights except our neighbour across the street who wasn’t happy that the top light shone in through her front window.
As we got closer to Christmas, Dad finally relented, and operation ‘transform the odd-looking Jack pine’ began. The tree and branches were moved beside his workshop. He pulled out his drill and whittling knife and began filling in the empty spaces of the tree with appropriately sized branches. This took quite some time as he would try a branch, pull it out, then try another. Before too long though we had a full, perfectly proportioned Jack pine Christmas tree. The next step was getting it to sit straight in the stand and making sure this large fat, doctored-up tree, would fit through the doors into the house.
Us kids were wowed and awed at his handiwork as the tree was placed in our front room. His last duty was ensuring the lights were put on correctly so they wouldn’t be a fire hazard. In those days the lights heated up quickly and were hot to touch. This meant employing us kids to pull out the needles around the lights and put foil light reflectors around their base. When we plugged in the cord, the room lit up and created a special warm ambiance in our house. Now that his work was done, it was time for Dad to have another instant coffee and let us kids decorate.
Well at least some of us did, the rest were cheerleaders or assigned to handle the unbreakable ornaments. The great thing about Dad’s custom pine tree is that the branches were thick and the tree so full it could take a lot of decorations.
Glass ornaments were hung carefully by my older siblings and the spacing had to be perfect. Icicles were hung one at a time and this was the era when people threw them onto their trees in bunches. The star on top of the tree is a family heirloom and all of us handled it like the treasure it is.
Neighbours, friends, and relatives marvelled at how beautiful our tree was every year and where did such lovely pine trees grow.
Mom and Dad are gone now and us kids, now older adults, are scattered around the province. We all still treasure the holiday season and each of us in our own unique way have created new and different holiday traditions. When we get together, which is not as often as any of us would like, we constantly reminisce about the good times we experienced as a family.
It seemed to be a simpler time and we didn’t have a lot, but we had each other, and everyone contributed to make the holiday season fun.
Telling this story of Dads real/artificial tree brought back so many memories and smiles. Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Merry Christmas everyone!