By Emmett A. Conway, The Olde Forester

Story Originally told to the THE CHILDREN’S PROGRAM
Recently Retold by The Olde Forester

It must have been in December, 1975, because the terrible snow storm of 1978 had not happened which wiped out all the Bob White Quail, Carolina Wrens, and many other small birds.

Mrs. Grace Nunnemaker, the eldest member of the McArthur Presbyterian Church of McArthur, Ohio, volunteered to direct the Christmas Program. She was reminded that there weren’t so many children in Sunday School as in earlier days, probably, because of the pill.  That didn’t bother Grace. She said I’ll just borrow children from the Methodist and Christian Churches. And she did.

First thing she did was to tell The Olde Forester, she didn’t bother to ask, for that was her habit for getting things done, that she wanted a Christmas tree about four feet tall. Her plan was to have the little children decorate the tree during the program. Grace knew that The Olde Forester and his wife, Myrt, had been growing Christmas trees as a sideline to his regular forestry work in order to help put his six children through college. We always supplied a large tree for the Presbyterian Church, but Grace wanted only a kid-sized one. Nuff ced!

On a cold, clear frosty morning in December, I went to the tree farm along Raccoon Creek west of  Zaleski to pick and cut a small tree for the church before going to Ohio University at Athens, for the day.

In December, the sun doesn’t come up very early. All along the six miles in driving to the farm I went past pasture and woodland.  I noticed the silver of Hoar Frost on everything. In the grey dawn, no brown showed on the trees and grassland. They were silver-white. These Hoar Frost days are rare, indeed, and to be enjoyed.

The gravel road runs near Raccoon Creek in lowland where you can see beaver cuttings and an occasional wood duck and the crow-sized Pileated Woodpeckers. The woodchucks are all fast asleep in their dens.   The uncut tall dry stems of Joe Pye Weed, golden rod, and the dead stalk of a Canada Lily, which thrilled me to find in the summer, were grey-white with the frost. I passed the culvert which the beaver plugged for his easy impoundment, much to the disgust of the township trustee.

At that spot one June just as daylight was dawning and my tree farm helpers were arriving to start work at six AM, we had startled a huge owl on the road with a fresh caught rabbit. It circled away and we saw it return as we opened the gate about a hundred yards away.

Back to Grace Nunnemaker’s Christmas tree request. It is easy to start reminiscing about that ninety acre tree farm which we had purchased in 1946 as a little security for people raised during the Great Depression. I called that farm No. 1 and the second tract, No. 2. Daughter, Sandy, told me much, much later than it happened, that she always had to explain to her visiting friends what Daddy meant when he said that he was going out to No. 1 or 2.

The sun had not peeked over the ridge to the east when I walked about two hundred yards through the taller pines to where the smaller patch was located. On the way I kicked up a rabbit which reminded me of how much Barney Bighouse of Zaleski enjoyed bringing his beagle, Olde Charlie, out to run rabbits. Barney would loose his beagle and then sit on a rock to listen to him run. That’s the fun of it. Generations of rabbits were called, “Olde Ranger”, according to Barney. He said Olde Ranger would head for the lowland along Raccoon and then work his way back to the ridge, and so on until the rabbit went into its den. Then Charlie would come in for a little rest and off he would go again.

The Christmas tree for Grace!!  Looking over the silver covered Scotch pines near the pond, I picked out a beauty. Down on my knees to saw it off with my Sandvik bow saw, I noted that the stem was crooked. People have fits about crooked butts on Christmas trees. I call them “Clubfooted,” but not in disrespect for people who are so unfortunate to have an unnatural foot.

Well, I’ll find another one, I thought. Walking on a little way, I was startled in my concentration by a covey of quail bursting from near me. So sad that we don’t have them after the Blizzard of 1978. Morning was moving on and I had to finish my task.

When back near the clubfooted tree, the brilliant sun peeped over the ridge and a line of sunlight moved across the shiny field of Christmas trees. The warming rays touched the frosty branches of my first pick and, I’ll swear, that the melting frost made me think of tear drops. The tree changed from silver to blue green of that choice variety of Spanish Scotch pine.

The frost wasn’t the only thing to melt that cold morning. It shouldn’t be so very hard to mount on a stand, I thought, and back down on my knees I went again and felled that little tree.

When Grace Nunnemaker heard my story, in brief I might say, she asked me to repeat the tale during the Children’s Christmas program at the Presbyterian Church. That is how my story of “The Clubfooted Christmas Tree” came about.

The children: Methodists, Christian Church, Presbyterian and Episcopal all sat around the tree which they had just decorated while I told about picking out the tree for them. We had wonderful musical accompaniment by our son, Richard Conway, just home from the Air Force, who played, “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How lovely are your branches, etc.,” all the way through on his guitar. When I told of the rabbit and quail springing up, he would rake the strings loudly. This made the children and the audience jump. Then, he returned to the tune.

Today, in December, 1999, our elderly friends all nodded in agreement as to how lovely the silvery hoar frost touches the brown leaves on the ground and naked trees and bushes of winter. Likewise, they seemed to delight in thinking that the little Clubfooted Christmas Tree actually cried when I was about to pass it by.

The End

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