My brother, Philip, passed away on June 4, 2005, from lung cancer. While growing up in the hills of West Virginia during the 1940s and '50s, our experiences together were many. Some memories from that era need to be forgotten, yet others are worthy of being kept alive, even after we're gone.
On December 1, 1952, I turned nine, but as tradition would have it, we waited till the eighteenth to put up our beloved Christmas tree. Everyone had real trees back then. So, on the seventeenth, my twelve-year-old brother, Philip, our cousin, Gary, and I went searching for the perfect pine to fill our home with that unforgettable aroma of Christmas. Of course, Philip could have cared less about a tree. His only interest lay in being outside, exposed to the harsh elements. And, for some unknown reason, he always liked for others to view him as some kind of tough character, one who could withstand more than the average human being his age and beyond.
There was a deep, lingering snow, and it was bitterly cold. Perhaps Jack London described it best in his short story, “To Build a Fire.” We were equipped with a saw to down our pick from the forest and a sled to drag it home. The trek was long and crossed over rugged terrain. Halfway there, my feet grew numb, and each swallow was like a knife piercing my throat. Tonsillitis had begun settling in to stay for a while, but if I wanted a tree, then I would be the one to saw it down. Each bough was heavily laden, and as I pushed and pulled at the stubborn saw, the snow dumped mightily in my face and inside my coat. But my cries for help fell on deaf ears, for I was on my own to accomplish the task as best I knew how.
Once we got back home, Daddy attached a stand and bore holes at an angle, all the way up the trunk, to fill in the spaces where branches were sparse. He somehow made the tree look as if it had been cultivated on some far-off tree farm and made to wait for the perfect moment to harvest.
That Christmas, the combination of having a decorated tree that sparkled from our living room window and Mother scolding Philip, in my very presence, for nearly letting me freeze to death, was almost worth the most severe case of tonsillitis I had suffered, that is, prior to their removal the following summer.
I miss you, Philip. Thanks for the memories. Rest well.