It was mid-December and a warm, humid 83 degrees. The tropical sun shown down through a brilliant blue sky and warmed the pavement under Edy’s bare feet. She looked up at 3-year-old Jill, who was bouncing on my shoulders as I walked along and asked, “Jilly are you excited about picking out a live tree for Christmas?”
Jill squeals, “Yeah!” and gives my hair a tug.
We are making the half-mile walk from our little studio to the St. Thomas Nursery, so named because it sits high up on the north side of St. Thomas Island in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Our goal is get a native pine tree so that we can plant it after its important duties as our Christmas tree are satisfied.
When we arrive at the nursery with its cool fragrant shade and dazzling tropical flowers, we find the area with pine trees, a queer little forest amongst this Caribbean setting. My then fiancee and now wife, Edy, holds Jill’s hand as they look over the little pines and then Jill spots the baby pine. It is only six inches tall, but has a nice Christmas tree shape and besides, Jill thinks it’s sad and needs a home. We buy the baby pine in its little pot of dirt. We get the scoop on care and watering, delivered in a heavy lyrical island accent from the old nurseryman, and then we’re on our way. We head down the road to home, with Jill back up on my shoulders and the baby pine atop my head in Jill’s tight grip.
When we get home with the little tree, we transplant it into a coffee cup and put it in its place of honor on our rattan end table in front of the large levered window with its wonderful view of the Caribbean. We trim the tree with colorful, dime-sized shells we collected the day before. The baby tree is beautiful and festive, and you can’t help but smile when you look at it.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with shopping and Christmas gatherings until at last Christmas day arrived. The baby tree looked smaller than ever above the pile of brightly wrapped gifts, many of which are adorned with shells, starfish and fresh cut flowers for bows. And then Christmas passed and suddenly it was New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 1984.
On that New Year’s Day, we took the baby tree across the road to Berry’s Farm, which stretches down a rolling hill to the Caribbean Sea. Helen Berry, the farm’s owner, met us and led the way to the spot she had picked for the baby tree. Helen had done well in choosing the spot. It had a commanding view and was next to a small spring. With care and ceremony, we planted our baby Christmas pine and then all stepped back and smiled at the little tree.
Many years have passed since that day, and I have often thought about the little pine and how it has weathered the years and storms. We moved off island and back to the mountains of Tahoe and for a few years we corresponded with Helen, back at her island farm, and she told us the baby tree was growing into a large, proud pine.
My New Year’s wish now is always the same; that some future new year I will be able to bring my grown family back to the place with the little spring and the commanding view and we can see the little tree now as a tall, proud pine.
John Carter has lived in Gardnerville for 15 years. He and his wife Edy have two children, Summer, 13, and Jill, 19, a student at UNR. Edy works in a dentist’s office in Gardnerville. At one time John owned a local restaurant before opening his Jamaican Barbecue business. His food booth can be seen at many of the local events.