Christmas 1998

Valleyford, Washington State

Christmas is a high water-mark time of year for families with young kids, and our family was no exception. With five young kids at home, those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day were ripe with memories. For our family, Christmas always begins the day after Thanksgiving with a trip to a local tree farm to select and fell the perfect tree.

When we moved to the country in 1993, we bought a house with a 23-foot ceiling, which could accommodate a lot of tree, and my husband is of the mindset that bigger is better in the tree department. For the first four years of our life on the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse, we bought respectable, 12-foot trees from local tree farms—or “mere table-top trees,” as Scott called them. His eyes glistened every time we drove past a certain wheat farm a few miles from our house, where 25-foot-tall firs served as a wind break for a farmhouse up the hill.

By the time 1998 rolled around, Scott was done with tabletop trees. The day after Thanksgiving, we borrowed a friend’s pick-up and drove up the winding driveway of our neighbor with the towering firs. And that’s how we met Rex Boozer. Yes. Our neighbor was a Boozer.

Mr. Boozer was a retired wheat farmer, but many years back, he had planted some Christmas trees to sell to nurseries. Most had sold, but he still had a line of trees too big for commercial use.

“Would you be willing to sell us one of your big firs?” Scott asked.

“Well, I do need to thin out my wind break,” he said, scratching his head. “So I reckon I could sell you one. But I’m afraid I’ll have to charge you the same price as I charge everyone else…” Everyone else? I wondered. Who else is crazy enough to buy a tree that size—the White House?

“And how much is that?” Scott asked.

“Twenty-five dollars.”


The kids raced down the hill to the line of firs and began assessing which tree was best. I was more interested in which one didn’t have, say, a family of bald eagles nesting in it. All were well over 25 feet tall.

We chose the fullest tree, though I worried it might be dragged bare if it didn’t fit in the pick-up truck. We had brought a handsaw that might work for felling your average 12-foot tabletop tree, and Scott and our oldest son, Matt (14), had already worked up a good sweat taking turns sawing at this tree’s the 10” trunk. Only Scott’s lower legs were showing from where he lay, muscling the blade into the soft fir wood, when Mr. Boozer appeared.

“This’ll do,” he said, firing up a well-weathered chain saw. Matt helped Scott extricated himself from beneath the lower branches of our non-table top purchase. Bethany (11) and Katie (9) helped me grab Sam (7) and Tember (5) out of harm’s way.

Mr. Boozer’s chainsaw sliced through the trunk like butter, and the tree crashed to the ground. (No eagles flew out, which I took as a good sign.)

Our friend Garry loaned us his pick-up to haul the tree.

Our friend Garry loaned us his pick-up to haul the tree.

Somehow we got the tree loaded onto the pick-up. But the real trick was getting it into the house. Scott cut about 6 feet off the bottom of the tree, so it topped out at a mere 20 feet tall. But even a 20-foot tree is still very wide at the bottom—much wider than our doorway. Scott removed the front door from its hinges, then he and Matt and I pushed and pulled, until at last the lower branches gave way to allow passage—though new moulding and spackle were necessary, post-production.

Then came the herculean task of raising the tree upright. Pulleys, ropes, and guide wires were involved, but at last it stood erect. Next came the lights. It then took three trips to Shopko to secure adequate Christmas lights to cover the dense branches, and even our ample volume of ornaments looked sparse in its mass.

Vaudrey Christmas Photo 1998–a week before the plague

Vaudrey Christmas Photo 1998–a week before the plague

But oh, how we enjoyed that tree! The scent of all those fir boughs delighted our noses every time we came inside. Here’s our annual family Christmas photo that year, with Matt in the enviable top position.

At our annual New Year’s Eve sleepover a month later, the tree was still fresh—no wonder, with that thick trunk filled with fir sap—and many of our friends slept beneath the tree. The next day, as the last family headed for home, I learned something new about Boozer Christmas trees: in addition to being big and beautiful, they’re also pesticide-free.

As I ascended the stairs to our loft, something inside the tree caught my eye. The inner branches had grown thick and black. And they were… moving.

In the warmth of our woodstove-heated home, our towering tree had been fooled into thinking it was spring, and a plague of long-legged, black-winged bugs had awoken and hatched from the bark. Each branch was now enveloped with crawling mounds of bugs. Cupfuls of them—no, gallons of them. I called Scott and the kids to come look. We were grossed out, but a little mesmerized.

Then someone whispered, “What if they start to fly?”

The girls screamed. The boys did a heebie-jeebies sort of dance.

“All hands on deck!” Scott hollered, heading to the garage to grab his chain saw. “Kids! Get all the ornaments off the tree—and the lights!”

The older kids began ripping ornaments and lights from the tree, and I boxed them as fast as I could. Scott then fired up the chain saw and began lopping off empty branches. The older kids had the unsavory task of grabbing those bug-invested branches and hauling them outside. The boys were laughing at how disgusting this was. The girls were indignant, holding each branch by its needles at arms length. But through tears and laughter, they stuck to it.

Soon all that was left of our magnificent tree was the naked trunk—a living totem pole of black bugs. Sensing the clock ticking, we knew we needed to get the trunk outside before the bugs decided to take flight. Scott cut the trunk into sections so it would be easier to carry. I may or may not have slowed my nice, bug-free task of wrapping ornaments to avoid what was coming next: Carrying those bug-infested sections of trunk outside.

With gloved hands, Scott and the kids grabbed pieces of trunk—squishing bugs in the process—and lugged them out the door. They complained through grimacing faces: “Ewwww! Dis-GUS-ting!” “Gross!” “I’m gonna gag!”

When the last chunk of tree was safely outside, we breathed a sigh of relief and then collapsed into fits of laughter.

“And to think our friends slept under all those bugs!” Katie recalled.

“I can still hear the bugs crunching under my gloves!” Bethany added, shivering.

It had taken the better part of two days to get the magnificent Boozer tree into our house and adequately decorated, but in a mere 30 minutes, all that remained was a pile of sawdust, an empty tree stand—and a story we will never forget.

Next year, a tabletop tree.