COLUMBUS _ It was time for that annual trek into the spruces to claim a Christmas tree. We pulled on boots, gloves, hats, donned our coats and launched out the door.

``Make it a skinny one,'' said Hon as the storm door shut behind me.

``Make it a skinny one,'' I repeated to the troops.

``I always go for a skinny one,'' said Uncle Chet.

``You're a dog,'' said his niece, holding the bow saw at a dangerous angle.

``Woof woof,'' he said, and on we marched, single file, following Buddy, the 7-year-old scout who knew every tree in these parts.

The snow was nearly a foot deep, fluffy on top, crunchy halfway down. Buddy's boots went only partway down and he glided forward easily. His sister's boots poked through every third or fourth step, frustrating her, and Uncle Chet and I plodded forward like noisy elephants.

``Glad we're not going to Kalamazoo,'' he said.

``So much for global warming,'' I said.

``It'll never last,'' he said. ``But it's nice to see a little real winter.''

``Actually, I love winter,'' I said, ``whenever I don't have to go out.''

"Can't beat it when the stove's cooking and wood box is full,'' he said.

We walked for a while in the crisp morning air until Buddy called out, ``I found one!'' As we pulled up, he was standing before the tallest tree in the stand, a behemoth, anchoring one side of a clearing.

``Way too big,'' said his big sister.

``She's right,'' I said. ``That's probably 25 feet tall.''

``We can cut it, Dad,'' he said.

``The top is nice,'' the 10th-grader reconsidered.

``If it's not a Christmas tree now, never will be,'' said Uncle Chet.

``Are you kidding me?'' I asked.

``It's crowding out everything else,'' he noted. ``But you'll have to cut it twice.''

``I should have brought the chain saw,'' I said.

``Should have,'' he agreed.

``Well, YOU wanted to cut it this year.'' I turned to the teenager, who was holding out the saw.

``I'll do the second cut,'' she said.

``And I'm a heart patient,'' said Uncle Chet.

``I guess that leaves me,'' I said.

``I'll do it!'' said Buddy.

``Let's do it together.'' I bent back a branch and we crawled in toward the trunk until we were kneeling by it, in the snow. I began sawing, tender elbows bumping up on twigs and needles, fragrant crumbs of wet, white wood sprinkling on my knees.

It was a workout, and I paced myself. Uncle Chet grabbed a branch when we got close and as the tree went over, he guided it to the ground.

``Right here's about nine feet from the top.'' He marked a place on the trunk.

``I'll get it.'' The little miscreant reclaimed the saw.

``Help yourself,'' I said.

``There's a tree's big enough for Caroline Kennedy,'' said Uncle Chet as we watched the younger generation take over.

``Senator Kennedy?'' I asked.

``Hope so,'' he said. ``It's hard to say why. Maybe it's her destiny, the only one left from Camelot, the girl on the pony riding onto the national stage to lead us from depression and war.''

``This tree's all twisty,'' said the teen, who was blowing steam.

``Keep it up,'' I said.

``Caroline's our Princess Di,'' he said. ``She's rich, but seems to understand how the other half lives. And with her Uncle Ted on the way out, she'll dedicate herself to the cause of his life: universal health care.''

``That's what we need, above all else,'' I said.

``And with Obama, Clinton, Franken and Kennedy pushing hard, Uncle Sam might give a subsidy to regular people instead of corporations. Open up Medicare to everyone, so you can opt in, for say, $1,000 a year, and then you're covered.''


Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.

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