Often, December days were a steel gray that usually meant it's going to start snowing any minute, and that early Saturday morning in mid-December 1956 was no exception. Eagerly scanning the sky from the great picture window in the living room, the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, it was both my birthday — I was 10 years old today! — and Daddy would be home any minute from working the night shift where he was the manager of the local airport, Preston Glenn Airport it was called back then, in Lynchburg, Virginia, my home town. It was not only my birthday, but this was the day Daddy had promised we were going on our annual Christmas tree hunt! And "Rinty," my beloved German Shepherd named after the famous TV hero dog, Rin Tin Tin, was going, too! I couldn't go anywhere without my best friend and faithful companion who was sleeping by the warm floor furnace, raising her head each time I would impatiently fidget from one foot to the other watching for Daddy to come down the street. My mother was in the kitchen stirring oatmeal on the stove and becoming impatient as well — with me. "Honey, he'll be here when he gets here" she must have told me a dozen times already!
A bowl of hot oatmeal gulped down without tasting and less than an hour later, I was bundled in layers of flannel, warm boots and a wooly cap sitting in the front seat of our old '49 Plymouth, with Rinty in the back, honking the horn and shouting "hurry up" as Daddy loaded up his papa's old shotgun (the only way to get mistletoe out of tall trees was to blast it out with buckshot!), an axe and a coil of rope in the trunk. We pulled away with my mother waving from the picture window and my 5-year-old sister crying because she was being left behind. We were finally on our way to the uncharted, undeveloped wilderness surrounding the airport for miles and miles called the Old City Farm, where the many abandoned buildings that once housed state prison work gangs from long ago still stood, their wooden frames weathered and rotting, covered in vines, underbrush thick with Kudzu and haven to all kinds of unseen creatures. It was all so creepy and scary, and I loved every bit of it! Besides, I had my daddy and Rinty with me. I'm a big girl now and I'm not afraid of anything! I knew it would take all day to find it, but I knew it was out there — that perfect tree — just waiting to be found.
Just before dark, cold, hungry, arms full of running cedar and mistletoe, mom met us at the door to help relieve us of our bounty. As Daddy dragged our prize through the door, Mom looked it up and down and said what she had said every year since I could remember: "I hope it's not too big so we don't have to cut half of it off like we always do." It was, and we did.
By bedtime our prize "catch" was adorned with treasures carefully packed away in the attic from Christmases past and stood proudly in its honored place before that large picture window. With Rinty beside me, I climbed into bed exhausted but quite satisfied.
Fifty-four years have passed, as have both Mom and Daddy, since that day. There has never been another Christmas quite like that one. That's because, after all, there can be only one Perfect Tree.