A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

(Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

Three little figures resembling the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man’s offspring weave in and out of the maze of spruce, firs and pines in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Immune to cold fingers and dripping noses, the threesome separates and soon their voices, muffled by the wind, are heard shouting through the dense man-made forest, staking claim on a tree.

As their parents who have been carefully watching this ritual from a distance approach, they overhear the protests.

“No, that one’s too short,” one sibling tells the other.

“Your tree is too fat,” another comments.

The parents call for a vote. Everyone carefully mulls over the pros and cons of each tree and places their vote carefully. “This one?” the father asks when it’s all done and said. The family stands by their decision.  The child whose tree has been chosen rejoices. Once again, we have found the perfect tree.

In our family it has become a long-honored tradition to trek to various tree farms throughout Berkshire County in search of the perfect tree. From the top of Windsor Mountain to the back roads of Washington to one of our favorite little tree farms on Barker Road in Pittsfield, no farm is too far for the McIlquham family as long as the trip produces the picture-perfect Christmas tree — not too short or too tall, nor too fat or too skinny, with soft, evergreen needles releasing their pungent pine scent — and each of us gets a chance at the saw.

Last year we forewent the car ride and the trek to distances far and wide and ventured into our backyard, which just so happens to be 100-acres of forested land. During a hiking expedition earlier in the fall, McKenna and Mark had found our tree tucked neatly between another mammoth pine and a barricade of pricker bushes; but nevertheless — it was perfect.

This year, we strayed from tradition and our children were none too happy. With basketball games and practices seemingly on the schedule 24/7 and feeling a bit overloaded by the impending holidays and early deadlines at work, my husband and I were struggling to find a day, hour or second to squeeze in a trip to a tree farm or even the nearby woods. And then fate stepped in.

My husband appeared at the front door, tree in hand, cut down from our friends’ yard.

“What do you think of this one?” he asked proudly admiring the tree and himself for finding a solution to our Christmas tree woes.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him how “Charlie Brownish” his trophy tree was looking and besides, he pulled out the “Green Mama” card.

“It’s a recycled tree, honey. How much greener can you get than that?”

But our children weren’t convinced and had no problem at all telling us what they really thought.

It was too bare, too prickly, too skinny, too nontraditional, too short, too sticky and on and on they went.

“What?” Shea asked through an exasperated sigh. “We aren’t going to cut down our own tree?”

Yikes! What were we doing to Christmas? Had our stressed-out, overworked, overtired selves turned my husband and I into Grinches? I wasn’t so sure, but continued to sell the tree to my children.

After unconvincingly assuring Shea and our other two children that although we were breaking tradition we would still have the “perfect tree,” and with a promise (that we have yet to keep) that we would head into the woods at a later date to gather material for a homemade wreathe, their protests finally quieted and they half-heartedly accepted that this scraggly specimen of pine needles and wood would grace our living for the next few weeks.

Now it was time to make it ours.

My husband somehow managed to get the tree into its stand by himself and called for my help getting it into the house. As I ventured outside he tossed me a glove. “You’re going to need this,” he warned.

Let’s just say the pricker barricade in the woods last year had nothing on this tree. The razor-sharp needles grabbed at my arms and threatened to breach the leather barrier between my fingers and its assaulting branches.

We managed to wrangle it into the houses (no stitches were required) and then spent the next hour trying to find our tree’s “best angle.” Placing it in a corner helped, but the sickly looking thing must have been crowded betweens its siblings on the edge of our friends’ driveway where it previously stood because its growth had seriously been stunted on one entire side and then some. But we made due … then it was time to send my husband in for the lights.

Another hour passed, and the battle wounds my husband incurred had us questioning whether this tree would have faired better on the top of our burn pile, but our quest to turn this deadly barbed porcupine disguised as a tree into the perfect tree could not be deterred.

After the first couple of scratches and periodic “ouches” my kids quickly learned how to manipulate the branches and their ornaments (and their gloved hands) in a way that produced the least amount of blood and displayed their decorations in the best light.

With each new ornament placed on the branches of our recycled tree, it began to resemble our perfect trees from the past and soon the jagged arms that had rendered us bruised and bloodied earlier, seemed to relax and soften before our eyes. As the kids shared each ornament’s story — who’s it was, when it was received and how it ended up on our— their eyes began to sparkle as brightly as the multicolored lights on the tree and their frowns of disappointment were replaced with smiles of a tradition not forgotten.

And when the kids were done hanging the last decoration and everyone took a step back to admire the finished project, just as Linus’ decorated tree had been unveiled to his friends, so too was our perfect Christmas tree.


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com


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