A few months ago, on Memorial Day, we were privileged to attend an extremely rare Traditional Latin Mass offered at a cemetery. Two of the boys served the Mass on that very windy and rainy day…it was difficult to keep the candles lit, but the Mass was lovely, nonetheless.
Following the service, I was approached by an elderly man in uniform, a member of the VFW. He had been a parishioner and alumnus of the old school that had been attached to our parish. How fondly he recalled his days of serving the very same Mass he had just witnessed. Commending the boys for their devotion and for serving on Memorial Day, he made a very generous offer: a free Christmas tree. He handed me his card, scrawled “free tree” on the back and told me to call around Christmas – he’d be happy to let us choose a tree from his farm. The card was quickly filed in my wallet and forgotten throughout the summer and fall.
Until last week…
We typically purchase a Christmas tree rather late in the season. Choices are not always the best, but prices are lower and it also helps keep the focus on Advent, rather than the tree. This year our schedule and resources are as tight as ever, if not tighter, with all the medical expenses incurred. That free tree began to look very, very attractive. Noting that it was an hour drive from our home, we decided sooner rather than later would be best. I called Mr. Albert on Saturday and was thrilled that he remembered us and the offer.
“Make sure you come to the back entrance of the farm…by the red barn. You might not recognize me…” he said.
“Oh…I guess you won’t be in uniform this time?” I replied.
“Oh, I’ll be in uniform all right, just not the one you’re expecting!” he merrily replied.
We loaded up the children, grabbed a map and headed for Amanda, OH. Thinking we were just going to say hello to Mr. Albert and quickly pick up a tree…little did we know what he had in store for us!
As we approached the red barn decked in greenery, it was obvious this was not a small-time operation. The Albert Family Tree Farm has been in business for 33 years. Mr. Albert, his children and grandchildren have been raising these beautiful trees for most of my life! And they love it…which is quite obvious when one looks into the smiling faces of this beautiful family…though none quite so beautiful as Mr. Albert…who was decked from head to toe as Good Ol’ St. Nick. His eyes, how they twinkled…his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry…
Warmly welcomed, the children were quickly gathered into his arms and soon everyone was posing for a picture with St. Nick. While the children enjoyed hot cocoa and popcorn by the fire, Mom and Dad had a pleasant chat with Mr. Albert.
He soon arranged for his daughter to take us for a tractor ride to the back side of the farm to pick our tree. Hot chocolate in hand, we piled on the trailer and had a very cold, yet delightfully pleasant ride…winding through beautiful conifers of every shape and size…207 acres, to be exact.
Roseanne found the perfect spot and the hunt began. It didn’t take long. I’ve never seen such beautifully formed and well tended trees…uncrowded, each on display like a work of art. The children found the one they proclaimed as “our” tree, and Arthur was given the privilege of cutting it down.
Roseanne cut down a few other trees to place on display back at the barn and then took us back the long way…giving us an amazing sunset tour. Pale gold light streaming through the trees…it was memorable. I can’t imagine that we’ll ever be able to buy a tree from a lot again! It was a happy day…
Back at the barn, hot chocolate in hand once again, the tree wrapped in netting and tethered to the top of the van, we heartily thanked Mr. Albert for the gift of that day. A new tradition has been born for this family…we will do everything within our power to budget in a visit to this farm, every Christmas.
And then another generous offer. Mr. Albert noted that we homeschool and promptly offered a tour of his farm in the spring for our homeschool group. Complete with the offer of a picnic and the promise to try to secure a priest to offer Mass.
It was an incomparable gift of a day. The time spent, the memories made…though cold and tired, the trip home was extremely pleasant as each one recalled the kindness of the Albert family.
Our tree is waiting on the porch. Tonight we’ll put it in the stand and prepare for decorating, and as lovely as a decorated tree may be, this one will be decked in the memories of that day…I don’t own a single ornament that can compete!