A white lightning Christmas

With the return of my oldest from college, our family finally began the task of decorating for Christmas. The first order of business was to assemble our Christmas tree, an artificial tree. Having lived in Florida for nearly 15 years, I can’t remember the last time we had a real tree.

As a kid there were no artificial trees in my house. We always had fresh-cut trees. When I say fresh, I mean we went out and cut our own. The smell of pine reminds me more of Christmas than the aroma of baked ham, or sugar cookies or mulled cider.

My dad and a friend, Richard, owned a tree farm, a Christmas tree farm. We grew blue spruce, Fraser firs, white pines, Douglas firs, Norway spruce, and Scots pines. My favorites were the blue spruces because they really are blue ~ a beautiful pale teal blue.

When I was in my early teens I would spend summer and spring weekends on the farm planting seedlings. I could lay a straight line of pines, sowing 150 trees an hour. In the winter my brother and I would join my dad, his business partner, and the seasonal local workers to cut trees. Wrapping them in bailing twine and piling them by type on long, flat-bed trailers to take into town to sell.

This would be a weekend job for me, working from early morning until late afternoon… or however long the jugs lasted.

The farm was located in the middle of nowhere, in the armpit of one of the most economically depressed regions of East Tennessee. Once we pulled off the main highway, we drove for another 20 minutes on dirt roads, sometimes so rutted and torn up that it would be impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive truck.

It wasn’t like it was just undeveloped timber land, we passed houses on the way back to the farm. And by houses, I mean tar paper shacks, some that looked more like abandoned, dilapidated barns, than where families lived.

Early in the morning Richard would go pick up some of the local boys to help with the harvest. He would pull up at the farm cabin and a half a dozen or so young men would pile out of truck bed, each carrying a full, plastic milk jug. In my naive brain, I thought they had brought their own water for the day.

The only thing the contents of the jugs had in common with water was that they both were clear. It was working on the tree farm that I had my first encounter with…. moonshine.

These men each had their own gallon of shine. They’d work, and work hard, until each had emptied his jug. They would then pile back into Richard’s truck and he would take them home – shit-faced drunk. Only to start over again the next morning.

My dad, ever the progressive when it came to imbibing, let me have my own little taste of moonshine. I have a suspicion that lighter fluid would be smoother. It was the nastiest, harshest, foulest thing I have ever tasted, and these men, some only a few years older than I was, would drink it like water… literally like water.

One minuscule sip and I thought my throat was on fire. I know I coughed for at least five minutes, more like hacked up my esophagus.

Our tree is now up at home, decorated to overflowing with memories throughout all our lives. Even if it’s not filling the living room with that holiday scent of pine, still more than 30 years later, whenever I set out my Christmas tree, artificial or real, I think of those men… and moonshine.

10 thoughts on “A white lightning Christmas

  1. Can’t say that I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of tasting moonshine, but I do have a real tree in front of me, begging for lights and ornaments. I enjoy helping our local tree farmer, but I hate putting the lights on. Mr.4444 will let me have a fake tree (when he’s in the grave.)haha Enjoyed reading your little walk down Memory Lane 🙂

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  2. Tara, I love this story. I lived in East TN for a brief time so I am well aware of the environment. I LOVE that you grew up on a Christmas tree farm. I have always thought that it would be awesome to live on one!

    Oh, and white lightnin’? I’m from Kentucky, know it well.

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  3. LOVED THIS. It’s been so long since I’ve read a great story like this one (not from you specifically, but in general amongst the blogs I read). You’re such a great writer, Tara, seriously. This new space seems to have cultivated a great flow already.

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  4. Awesome. Gotta love those memories. And I’m happy to know I’m not the only one taking close up photos of my ornaments on the tree. Or putting up my tree late 😉

    Yay new blog!

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  5. What a great story Tara. I’m sure that moonshine wouldn’t have agreed with me either…my palatte is way over on the other end of the spectrum in the ‘sweet’ area. We never had an artificial tree when I was growing up either…and oh, how I loved the smell of pine permiating the house. When I got married we had real trees for a while…basically until I had little ones crawling around. I just didn’t trust those sharp needles around them. I do miss the pine scent though. I’m all decked-out with Xmas memories all around…just the way I like it. I hope you’ll be making many more memories this holiday season with your sweet family. Happy Holidays to you all…. Hugs, Joy

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