It's not quite a slice-of-life journal post, but pretty close! Merry Christmas!
The Unforgettable Christmas
Every year since eighteen-year-old Andrea Carter Prescott could remember, the Christmas holidays always began with her three big brothers going up into the Sierras to cut down the family tree. When she was very small, Andi waited all day long with much anticipation to see what kind of tree they would bring home.
In those days, Father went along, and he would come home all smiles and toss Andi up in the air. “Andrea, just see what your brothers and I brought home this year. A very tall tree, and thick enough for you to climb!”
But Father never let Andi climb it. Nor did he or Mother let her have anything to do with the candles, which shone bright and cheery from every other branch. “They are too dangerous,” Mother always warned. “Keep away from them. You don’t want to burn down the house, do you?”
Andi always obeyed that restriction.
Later, after Father died, the boys kept up the tradition. When Andi was nine years old, Justin, Chad, and Mitch let her go along. Melinda was away at school in San Francisco, and besides, her sister was never too eager to go along on any tree-cutting expeditions.
Andi found out why not soon enough.
After an unexpected blizzard sent Andi and her brothers hiding out all night long under the wagon—with the icy wind and snow whipping around them—she decided it might be better to wait until she was much, much older to go with them again. It was more fun—and warmer—to meet the boys at the door and help decorate the white fir or Douglas fir or red fir than to freeze half to death.
Andi was telling Riley all about this Circle C holiday tradition one evening in early December. They sat out on the front porch and watched the sun go down in a blaze of color. Andi wore a light sweater, and Riley a flannel shirt. The hills had not yet seen the onset of rains and mud. Just sunny days and cool, crisp nights.
Perfect weather for working. But not perfect weather for getting into the Christmas spirit.
“I thought it might be fun to start the same kind of tradition in our own family,” Andi ventured.
Riley gave Andi an unenthusiastic look. “Betcha I can find a nice tree at a spot much lower in elevation. Why go clear to the snowline?”
Clearly, Riley did not have a high opinion of snow and cold.
“But Riley! It won’t be the same.” How could Andi explain? She loved being married to Riley—they were best friends—but she was beginning to feel like she would miss out on her favorite of all Circle C holiday traditions.
“Your brothers don’t have the time to tear themselves away to do that kind of thing these days,” Riley went on. “Justin lives in town with two lively little kids. And I doubt Ellie will let Chad go so far up into the mountains on his own, especially with her being in the family way and so close to her time.”
He chuckled. “And Mitch? Ha! He’s in town more often than he’s on the ranch, according to the big boss.”
Andi narrowed her eyes. What had Chad been telling Riley these days? With their own Memory Creek ranch winding down on work for the season, he’d spent the last few weeks working for Chad.
Had Mitch finally found a likely young lady to court? If so, he sure hadn’t told Andi about it.
Even if he had found someone, Andi was certain none of her family wanted to do away with such a special tradition. Why, just a year ago—before Andi married—she and Mitch and Chad had done the honors of bringing home the tree. Riley had volunteered to stay back and boss the ranch all day.
“Maybe you and Chad can go,” she suggested sweetly. “You could get three trees—or maybe four. One for the ranch house, one for our place, and one for Justin and Lucy. I bet Melinda and Peter would appreciate a little fir or spruce for their place in town too.”
Riley mumbled something that sounded like, “I’m not a tree merchant. Let Peter get his own tree.”
“All right then. Peter can look out for Melinda’s tree. But what about this?” She took a deep breath and let the words fly out. “I could come along with you and Chad. We wouldn’t even need a wagon. Three horses. Three trees. Just pull them behind the horses.”
Riley laughed and stood up from the porch swing. “Are you serious?”
Riley craned his head and glanced toward the majestic Sierra Nevada range. “That snowline is awfully high this year,” he said. “I’m not a mountain climber, and neither is Dakota.” He looked at Andi. “Dragging trees behind the horses over dry ground will ruin them. I think you know that.”
Andi stood up and joined him. “All right, then. Not all the way to the snowline. But I won’t have a scraggly pine tree—and neither will anybody else in the family. Could we just go high enough to find a nice fir? We could take the wagon.”
Riley scratched his chin. “Well . . .”
Andi could tell he was weakening. “Please?”
He smiled. “I reckon it’s not the end of the world if I take a day off and cut down a Christmas tree, if it means that much to you.”
“It does!” Andi threw her arms around Riley and kissed his cheek. “I can go along too, right?”
“Of course.” Riley hugged her. “And I have a better idea. Why don’t you and I go by ourselves and surprise the rest of your family?” He whispered, “Family traditions are important. Sorry for being a killjoy at first.”
“What a splendid idea!” Andi knew there was a reason she loved Riley. Strong, smart, and steady as a rock. But he was kind too. He loves me a lot! “When shall we go?”
Riley waved an arm toward the west. “Red sky tonight, sailor’s delight,” he quoted. “Looks like it will be a sunny day tomorrow. Let’s take the day off and just get it done.”
Andi tore Riley’s wide-brimmed hat from his head and threw it up in the air. “Yee-haw!” she yelled.
“You can’t seem to shake that little-girl enthusiasm from your soul, can you?” Riley teased.
“I don’t intend too,” Andi replied saucily. “Not even if I live to be eighty years old and have a dozen kids and grandchildren.”
Riley winked. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Read Part 2
Read Part 2