by Frances Edstrom
I begged, cajoled, whined and generally made myself so obnoxious that John finally agreed to take me along to get our Christmas tree. It really wasn’t a smart thing to do, as I had to be helped — by two people — quite gingerly down our front steps on crutches while the snow flurries increased. And then I had to be piled into the front seat of a pickup truck, all while not being able to really bend my leg very well. It makes for a nervous time all around, but I pretend it’s nothing.
But the ride was worth it. We drove south to Pickwick and beyond, along the winter river, large flakes of snow falling and melting immediately on the windshield. The buoys looked like markers in a slalom race, frozen into the river. Huge open spaces in the ice are testament to the current in the river — our water moving inexorably past those south of us and on to the Gulf of Mexico, where it suddenly loses its identity, all traces of its Minnesota roots gone.
The huge eagle nests high above the river, but strangely near to the major transportation routes, sit like guard turrets, awaiting the returning birds who will raise their broods there again. Past the campgrounds where boats and trailers are shrouded for the winter, past LaMoille, which in the winter looks like one of the Christmas villages we light in the dark days surrounding the solstice, we make our turn.
The road to Pickwick is familiar. At the house where the shadow silhouettes stand in the yard - as if the owner’s guards are having a party only they have been invited to — I notice something new, a poodle silhouette. I wonder how it would look on Washington Street. I see some of the old homes along the road are for sale. There are a few cars outside the Pickwick Inn, and the mill stands tall and imposing, the mill stream running and the whole picture like a living Christmas card. A couple kids play in the snow piles along the road near the mill. This is the first time I’ve seen the “new” road. I am very pleased that the county, and whoever else was responsible, has made it up to their safety standards, but not destroyed the essence of what is Pickwick, a precious jewel to be carefully guarded and looked at with wonder.
But we don’t take the new road. We turn left at Lake Louise and go on east, following the twists and turns of the road, which makes me nervous. We are in a pickup truck that is not ours, and I wonder if it will stick to that scary snow-covered surface, or… But we get there, and find our buddy, Dale. He has the perfect, and last, tree. Dale and we have a lot in common, mostly sad family stories and bad joints. This, however, is the last time we will make the trip. He and his wife are leaving the Pickwick countryside for La Crescent, closer to medical help and family, but farther from us.
Dale cuts the tree and he and John throw it on the pickup bed. I can’t see any of this, as it is all happening behind me. My brace doesn’t allow for much shifting around on the seat, so I use my imagination. We say our goodbyes.
On the trip home, I marvel again at the beauty of this spectacular place where we live, but I also have one eye on the side mirror of the truck, where I can just see part of the tree. I suppose I will yell “Stop!” if suddenly the tree jumps out of the mirror. Back at the house, it again takes two to maneuver me out of the truck and up the steps. They are relieved, and hope I don’t find another reason to leave the house for a long while.
But I couldn’t have missed saying goodbye to Dale. And I couldn’t have missed bringing home his last Christmas tree.