Launching a Holiday Tradition
By Trudy Chambers Price
It was my idea to put a lighted tree on top of our seventy-foot Harvestore silo. I thought something so out of the ordinary would surely liven up the holiday season, and it was an inexpensive way to cheer people. My family was not so thrilled with the idea.
The little girl in me still found magic in holiday lights. I loved getting the tree into the house early so I could enjoy it for several weeks before Christmas. I’d lie on the couch and dream back to when I knew for certain there would be a new doll under the tree—every single Christmas until I was fifteen. For me, the tree lost its magic as soon as the gifts were opened, although I kept it in the house well into January. And now, the idea of a lighted tree on top of the silo—awesome!
After I suggested several more times that we put a tree on the silo, Ron and the boys finally agreed to do it if I would help. “I’ll buy the lights and help pick out a tree,” I said enthusiastically.
“That’s not the sort of help we had in mind,” Ron replied.
“We want you to actually help put the tree up there.”
“You mean climb up the silo?” I asked. They nodded in unison.
They knew I was afraid of heights. They’d been trying for years to get me up on that silo but I had no desire to do so. In the fall, after the silo was full, someone had to climb to the top and sweep off the haylage that accumulated as it was blown into the top pipe (this was basically for esthetics—there was no actual need to do this). I couldn’t even watch as Ron, Kyle or Travis, tied with a rope from his waist to the rail around the catwalk, walked out onto the slanted silo top and swept it clean, let alone do it myself.
“Mom, you would be so glad if you did it,” Kyle coaxed.
“The view is great. You can see all around, for miles. Come on, won’t you?”
“No, I won’t,” I replied, “and I’ll take your word about the view. Besides, I think it’s mean of you to try to bribe me just because you know how much I want a tree up there.”
“Think of it as a challenge,” Ron said.
I thought about the tree for several days. Then I purchased the lights—four strings of twenty-five each. At supper I announced that I had bought the lights and that I would help put up the tree. They seemed surprised and I’m not certain they believed me. Secretly I thought that surely if they took time to cut a tree and I helped with the preparations, they wouldn’t back out at the last minute if I refused to climb the silo. Would they? When my parents arrived for Thanksgiving, I told them about our plan.
“Quite an ambitious project, isn’t it?” my father asked.
I knew by his voice that the idea intrigued him. After Thanksgiving dinner, we went to the pasture and chose a large tree. Then, with my father directing from below, Kyle and Travis tied a pulley to the top of the silo and looped a rope through it. At the bottom, Ron tied the tree to one end of the rope and the other end to the bucket of the tractor. As I backed the tractor slowly away from the silo, the tree rose to the top. That was the easy part. I was relieved that the tree was finally up there and I had not been asked to climb. Using the rope and pulley, we sent up a bucket filled with four strings of lights. Then Ron climbed the sixty-five- foot ladder on the side of the silo. He and the boys attached the lights and wired the tree upright to the rails of the catwalk. It was not yet dark when Dad and I connected several extension cords and plugged them into a barn outlet to check for broken or burned-out bulbs.
“Mom,” Kyle shouted down, “where are the spare bulbs?”
“In my pocket. Do you need some?” “Yes,” he answered. “Bring them up.” “Who, me?”
“Yes, Mom. Come on.”
He’s got me now, I thought. I should have gone back to the house after the tree was up.
I drew a deep breath, reached for the ladder and slowly placed my foot on the bottom rung. I stopped and looked up, even though there was a cage all around me, my heart was pounding.
“Don’t look up, Mom,” Travis advised. “Just look at each step as you go. You can do it.” I took several more steps up and looked down.
“Don’t look down, either,” Kyle said. “What if I fall?” I asked.
“You can’t fall,” Kyle said. “We need the bulbs if you want this tree to look pretty.”
I kept climbing, but to this day, I don’t know how I did it. When I reached the top, I peeked up over the edge of the silo. I clung, white-knuckled, with one hand on the top rung. With the other hand, I reached into my pocket for the spare bulbs. Without looking up, I held them up over the edge.
“This is the top, up here where we are,” Kyle insisted.
“If I go up over the edge, I’ll never be able to back off onto the ladder again,” I said. “If you want these bulbs, you’ll have to come here and get them because I’m not going one more inch.”
Without looking sideways, I started my slow descent, exhausted when my feet finally touched the ground again.
“I did it,” I said to my father. “My first and last trip up the silo.”
After dark we all piled into my father’s car. First we drove to the top of The Ridge, and then we went in four different directions to admire the lighted Christmas tree from every possible vantage point. We received so many favorable comments, including those in letters from people we didn’t even know, that when the holidays rolled around again, we put up another tree. Ron and Kyle did the job with my mother fretting, unable to watch, and my mother-in-law peering out the window every few minutes, predicting that someone would fall. The third year, fall work ran into winter and there didn’t seem to be time to put up the tree. After Christmas, Ron remarked, “You wouldn’t believe how many people have asked why we didn’t put a Christmas tree on the silo this year. Guess we’ll have to make it a priority for next year.”
The fourth year Kyle and a college fraternity brother launched the tree. Several days after the lighting, we received a letter from a neighbor, eight-year-old Lynn Keller. She thanked us for putting the tree up again and said how she had missed it the year before.
“How can we not keep on doing it?” Ron asked after reading her letter. “Looks as though it has become a Christmas tradition.”
The fifth year wasn’t as easy. Kyle had lost his enthusiasm. Ron reminded him that we had started a tradition, so with persuasion and the luck of an unseasonably warm day the first week of December, Kyle gave in. Berna, our second Saint Bernard, watched curiously while we “dressed” the tree on the ground and snugged the branches together with rope. Before launching the tree, we plugged in the lights to test for burned-out bulbs. Berna barked her approval.
When the tree was in place on top of the silo and the lights turned on, I remarked to Kyle how beautiful it looked. “I probably wouldn’t have agreed to it,” he said, “except Dad says it makes you happy.”
It did make me happy, and a lot of other people, too. Maine winters are long, and the tree was a cheerful sight when I headed out to the barn in the early morning darkness of December.
Family dairy farms are disappearing in Maine and with them, a way of life. In The Cows Are Out! author Trudy Chambers Price has captured the daily joys and struggles of the family farm in a way that ensures this Maine way of life will not be forgotten.