Christmas Tree Hunts – II

Chapter three – The Quilted Woodlot

 A few years after the “Shotgun Christmas,” I was introduced to another Christmas tree hunt style. My first wife’s family was from a small island on the Maine coast. It was their tradition to go to their wood lot and hunt out a tree. They were teetotalers, so I expected no Schnapps, and nobody in that family hunted, so shotguns were out. We walked into the woods equipped with snowshoes and bow saws. This family was quite particular about their tree. Only Balsams deserved consideration, and those had to be perfect. My family’s criteria for trees were out of place here. It seemed that every tree I pointed out had some fatal flaw I couldn’t see. This pattern worked out to be an ongoing theme in the marriage, but I was not yet aware. In any case, the wood lot became quilted by our snowshoe tracks that afternoon. By dusk, it looked rather like one giant spruce covered waffle.

At last, on the very edge of the lot, we spotted the perfect tree. Then came the final test: would Mommy like it? I was cold and wishing for some of George’s schnapps by this time; hell, I’d of been happy to have a shotgun. I listened to them, discussing whether Mommy would like the perfect balsam. After about forty minutes of this, they decided to hike through the lot to the other side to view several other candidates. I decided to stay and watch the sun go down. As they traipsed away, I thought about my frozen feet, hands, and nose. I looked at the saw; I looked at the tree. I went to the perfect tree and started cutting. Sometime later, they traipsed back through the lot and said: “We decided to take this one” as the tree fell. After that, I avoided spending Christmas with my in-laws.


To write something that happened as long ago as the Sixties requires some digging through old memories. This morning I woke up to my cat sitting on my chest, softly batting at my nose. It brought to mind another cat and events on Grove Street in Boston. I decided to share.

Everyone had a “handle” – a nickname, at the Folkie Palace. Our fearless leader was the Teahead of the August Moon; then Monk, Mike the Vike, the Canary, and my friend Bill known as Red. Even the cat had a handle. She was called Neurotic, and she was.
Her off-kilter behavior allowed her to fit in with aberrant norms at the Palace. Neurotic was not an unwilling prisoner. She had equal rights to all the other residents, except she alone was allowed to sit on the kitchen table. If there were one rule you could not break at the Palace, it was don’t hurt the cat. People who tried found themselves unwelcome.
A visitor from New York found this out on Sunday. We just finished watching Treasure Island on television when he was caught dangling the cat from the front window.
He had earned the handle Sadist on his first evening at the Palace. It was not good to receive a handle right away. A handle got awarded on the considered evaluation of behavior. Rapid branding was a hint to leave. But the Sadist did not listen. So when he was caught dangling the cat out the window pretending to toss her, we decided he had to go.

The plank was a long wide balk of wood we stored on the roof. It was barely long enough to span the distance between our building and the adjacent one. Everyone walked the plank at one time or the other. The distance between the two buildings could not have been eight feet, but it felt like eighteen on the plank. That evening we sat on the roof and drank Narragansett beer from Giant Imperial Quarts. Playfully we all began to take turns walking the plank. We told the Sadist that walking the plank was a right of passage into the Palace’s Inner Circle. The Sadist refused to walk. We began to insist.
At last, he agreed. He shimmied across on his rump. We jeered, and the cat silently watched from atop a firewall. Once on the other side, we instructed him to open the note we gave him before the crossing. In it was five dollars, and a piece of paper with a large black spot. We withdrew the plank. He sneered at us, turned, and walked to the stairwell door. It was locked. We had marooned the Sadist.
He began screaming, pounding on the door, and throwing pebbles at us. Noticing Neurotic, he started tossing stones at her. She moved further back on the roof and began cleaning herself, not bothered. The Sadist grabbed fallen clothespins, old beer bottles, and all the detritus he found on the roof and began tossing them wherever. Neurotic retreated down the stairwell, and we followed.

Soon, the sounds of a squad car was heard coming along Grove Street. The good folks next door had called Boston’s finest to take care of the problem on their roof. At the open window, Neurotic sat, lashing her tail. We joined her just in time to see officer Cappuchi escort the Sadist into the car and off Beacon Hill. Cappucci glanced up at us as we waved and shouted goodbye to the Sadist. His look seemed to say, ” You’re next, you filthy Folkies.”

Not likely, officer Cappucci.

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the patron saint of children, sailors, thieves, Bankers ( wait, that seems to be real close to thieves), pawnbrokers, scholars, travelers, perfumers, and a multitude of others.
My father was an “Easter and Christmas Christian,” and my mother was about the same. Dad did note that there was a tradition of naming boys in the family Nicholas after the Saint. And, when I started researching the Carreras family history, Nicholas’ were everywhere. Our Carreras’ originate in Girona, Catalonia. So many Nicholas Carreras’ were baptized in the same churches that it becomes challenging to differentiate potential ancestors.
I have a personal attachment to Saint Nicholas, and although woodcarvers got neglected in the calendar of saints, I would nominate Nicholas patron saint of sailors and woodcarvers.

The photo accompanying this post is of our family Santa. This Saint Nick dates to the early 1940s, and I don’t recall a Christmas in our house without it. Note that it is not a jolly richly attired Clement Clarke Moore Santa, nor a Coke swizzling, cooking slurping overweight Saint Nick. It’s a tired older man with a walking stick and a basket full of presents. It is a type of Saint Nick that could found in German, or in my Grandmother’s case, German- Hungarian homes. And that is where the preference for this Santa comes. My father bought it in a German delicatessen in New York one Christmas, and no Christmas in the Carreras home would have been complete without it. My Grandmother, who could get most of whatever she wanted from my Dad, tried without luck to get it for her apartment. There would have been an instant mutiny if it had changed households. If Grandma wanted to appreciate it, she had to come to our house to do so.
After my father died, Santa migrated to Virginia. It was at my sister’s house for many years. But, a few years ago, Santa came north to New England and now graces our display at Christmas.
Santa is not richly attired in plush or velvet, does not have a vast flowing beard – and has no magic sled pulled by flying deer. He’s the sort of Santa that complains loudly about his aching feet after a trudge through the snow getting kids their presents. He has no Santa Hot Line, and NORAD does not track him. He represents simple goodwill and love. We do not need more during his feast day or at Christmas.

Happy feast of Saint Nicholas.

Shotgun Christmas

This weekend my wife and I’ll go hunting for our Christmas tree. While doing this, I’ll be recalling other adventures in the woods. This is the first of three linked stories:

Chapter One – New York City

Growing up in Manhattan, my idea of the forest was the little woods in the parks I played in. The lore of Christmas tree hunting was restricted. My father, sister, and I visited a vacant lot where a gentleman from Maine set up shop every year. This was in the days before massive trailer truckloads of trees made their way to the city after being cut in September or October. His product was uneven, and from his own acreage somewhere in the mysterious “North Woods.” The tree stand had been an empty waste place of weeds and broken brick the night before but became a transformed place through scent, texture, and color. 

Our selection procedure was direct. You tried to get there as early as you could due to the failing light of December. Evaluating a tree in the near dark was. You strolled the aisles of trees looking for likely candidates. Running your hands along spruce branches, you tried to determine if a tree seemed to have good color, was the right size and that the needles didn’t fall away with a light touch. If it made that cut, you took a more complete look. Out of the rack and onto the snow, already covered with a carpet of needles, came the tree. My father would give it a sharp bang on the ground while my sister and I watched how many needles the tree shed. If it dropped too many back into the rack it went. If it passed, we spun it in place and evaluated the thin spots, bushy areas, and overall shape. If it passed this test, it went onto the car and back to the apartment—end of the hunt.

Chapter Two – Somewhere Outside of Portland

Sometime towards the end of the 1960’s I was introduced to another form of tree hunt. I had accepted a job in an operating room at a small hospital in Maine. Just a day before Christmas Eve, the schedule of the operating room was slow. Only emergencies and a few scheduled procedures were in the offing. The operating room Director looked over at George and I ( the only two males on the staff) and detailed us to take the afternoon and hunt out a tree for the department party. I expected that George and I’d be gone no more than an hour. George had other ideas. Climbing into his pickup truck, he quickly pulled out a nearly frozen six-pack of beer. He looked at me and said: “let’s head over to my place, get some shotguns, and see if we come across anything interesting. ” OK”, I said  agreeably; after all, I was on a hunt, not working, and there was free beer. 

George had a large family. Everyone of age to hunt, if they liked to or not, got a deer ticket every season. Those with no particular love or aptitude for deer hunting passed them along to George. George ensured that his large family always had venison in the freezer. George knew his way about the woods and hunting.

By the time we arrived at George’s house, the near-frozen beer had chilled us terribly. A few shots of peppermint schnapps were needed to defrost. By the time we hit the woods, we felt nice and warm. But, anything in the woods easily eluded us. Around 3 PM, we realized that we wouldn’t find anything to shoot at, our “buzz” was severely faded, and we had no Christmas tree. We began seriously hunting for spruces. The woods around us were mostly pine, and we had to walk a considerable piece to find spruces. Our diligence was rewarded, and we stumbled on a small copse of balsams. Any of them would be appropriate. George looked at me and indicated a nice seven-footer. We nodded to each other but then simultaneously realized that our plan was flawed. We were about a mile from the truck. We had no saw. And had to be back at the hospital in about an hour.

Well, we got our tree and got back to the hospital in time. We both had hangovers from running through snow-covered woods with seven-foot spruce on our shoulders while coming down from a lousy peppermint schnapps high. Bea, the operating room supervisor, said nothing as she eyed the tree and took in the shredded stump. The long look she gave it told everything. “How did you boys cut this poor thing down? with your teeth?” George looked at her, grinned, and said, “No. Buckshot”.

Stay tuned for my next Christmas Tree adventure in Maine.


There was a Magic Eightball under the Christmas tree one year for my sister. I spent weeks ( it seemed at the time) waiting until I was allowed to use it; under supervision. She is four years older than me, and frequent eye-rolling ensued because she considered the things I’d ask childish. Since she was a teen, there was much drama about her requests that I couldn’t understand. So I determined to wait till night, swipe the Eightball, and use it without her.
That night under the canopy of blankets and lit by a flashlight, I began exploring the world of the Eightball. Having spent the evening watching horror movies, some of my questions ranged to the macabre. The Magic Eightball’s answers did not help me get to sleep that night.
After that when my sister wanted to play with it, I played elsewhere. One weekend the Magic Eightball got left at a cousin’s house, and we never bought another.
I didn’t give the toy another thought until I was in the Navy. Fixing logs and reports is a Naval tradition dating at least to the late 18th century unless the Phoenicians invented it. It’s called “Gun Decking.” There are many maintenance reports, logs, and summaries to fill out. Minimal changes occur in the reporting periods. Sometimes the entire report is make work. There is lots of make-work at sea. Eventually, clever bosuns came up with innovative ways to make the process easier. Sitting around the shop shaking the Eightball while having your tenth cup of Navy coffee worked fine. At one point, I worked for a master of the technique. Mahan never got caught, and his shop was acclaimed as an object of efficiency. He claimed the Magic Eightball was responsible.
Recently I’ve learned that many bloggers use the Magic Eightball as assistance in plotting their stories.
Should I end this post now? “It is certain,” says the Eightball. Bye.


What’s your favorite holiday, tipple? Wassail, red wine or white, Eggnog with a kick of brandy? Perhaps you are a hot spiced cider fan? It hardly matters. It’s all in the company we keep, or currently – can’t keep. Zoom, Facetime, or Skype calls are fine, but the holidays were not about wine or tipple; they were about the company of friends at concerts, tree lightings, and dinner parties. The Christmas dinner and game nights when old rivalries are revived, and siblings recall holiday shenanigans past.

I make most of my living as a videographer. So last night, I began editing together snippets of old holiday video. I’ll share it with family and friends. In the video, my children are fifteen years younger. The dog and cat are “supervising” the tree decoration. The cat jumps at the train running under the tree. And all that is old seems new again.

As bad as the current situation seems, it will pass. A favorite professor was a former Royal Navy officer who introduced me to the old toast: To Absent Friends. So as you drink your favorite drink this holiday toast to absent friends and family, may we all be reunited soon.


I thought I’d worked through all the issues. But the leftover residue from my days as a folksinger had other ideas. In this case, an awful internet meme on Facebook. Some smarmy, smart-ass comment with an absurd photo. In this case, a heavily bearded male nude with a guitar concealing his groin.
We lived a wild existence at the Folkie Palace, and this image brought one of the worst theatre of the absurd incidents to mind.

We were bored. Being bored on a Friday night was a dangerous thing. We were sitting around drinking Narragansett from Giant Imperial Quarts while our alcohol enhanced minds turned over the possibilities for the weekend. Jack, one of the Folkie Palace wannabe’s, suggested that we head up to Maine. He knew of a church-sponsored coffeehouse. I could grab a gig, Bill could spook the locals, and all would have a good time. Why not? So we laid plans to drive up Saturday afternoon.
The next day we needed to secure transportation. Borrowing the Teahead of the August Moon’s car was as easy as teasing the keys from his pocket as he slept on the couch. Within two hours, we were careening through backroads in rural Maine to a midsized town dominated by old mills and a roaring river. Near the center of town stood a white-steepled church. A small sign near the side entrance read Fellowship Coffeehouse – All Welcome. Truthfully we were not sure that we’d be welcome if they knew too much about us, but the sign did indicate that all were welcome.
Like other church coffeehouses, Fellowship Coffeehouse was in the church hall. Tables and chairs clustered around a small stage with a bare-bones amp, mic, and single spotlight. In Greenwich Village, I’d worked with much worse. There was no live act scheduled that night, and I got greeted as a conquering hero.
In those days, song lyrics were nowhere as suggestive as today. My blues riffs today are seen as dated or misogynistic. In the ’60s, at a place like Fellowship Coffeehouse, they were almost obscene. Wanting to shock, I lead into my first set with Mr. Jelly Roll Baker.

Mr. Jelly Roll Baker, let me be your slave.
When Gabriel blows his trumpet, then I’ll rise from my grave.
For some of your sweet jelly roll, crazy ’bout that sweet jelly roll
Yes, it’s good for the sick, good for the young and old.

I was sentenced for murder in the first degree.
Judge’s wife calls up and says, “Let my man go free!
He’s the Jelly Roll Baker. He’s got the best jelly roll in town.
Only man can bake jelly roll, with his damper down.”

Can I put in my order for two weeks ahead?
I’d rather have your jelly roll than my home-cooked bread.
I’m crazy about jelly, crazy about that sweet jelly roll.
That evening I played, and Bill took out his sketch pad and drew caricatures of people in the audience. We also made the acquaintance of Sally, Allison, and Carol. Late the next day, we returned to Boston.

For several weeks we thought no more about our northern expedition. Then one Friday evening came a knocking at the door of the Folkie Palace. Outside the door stood three lovely young women: Sally, Allison, and Carol. They came in like they owned the place, and it seemed that Sally thought she owned Bill and Allison had grappling hooks in me. Carol just seemed amused by it all and sat down to take it all in.
There was a fair bit to take in too. Bill was the resident artist, and had painted the murals on the walls. The murals ranged from the profane to very sexually suggestive. A full-tilt boogie Folkie Palace party was in a full career that night, and we wondered what we’d do with our sweet but morally upright guests. “You said we should come on down some time, so we did,” exclaimed Carol. Carol made herself at home with the group attempting to get an ouija board to make pronouncements. I was fooling around on the guitar and had been trying to engage Judy, who, as usual, wanted to treat me as her younger sibling. Sally was doing an excellent job making Bill uncomfortable as she ran her fingers through his red beard. The attention did not sit well with Audrie, who thought of herself as his regular girlfriend.
Things proceeded in this vein for several hours. The regulars wondering why there were the “normals” hanging around, and the young ladies getting more and more embarrassed but refusing to budge. Allison seemed to think that I should drop everything and gaze only into her lovely, jade green eyes. My discomfort amused Judy.
At last, Bill got up and asked me to lend him my guitar. I was reluctant because it was shielding me from the totality of Allison’s attention. It’s always uncomfortable when the hunter becomes the hunted. Grabbing the guitar away from me, Bill announced to all tonight he was going to make his debut as a folk musician. But first, he needed to prepare.
Bill went into the Teahead of the August Moon’s bedroom. Moments later, he emerged in his hirsute nude glory. Have I described Bill before? No? He was stockily built, about five foot ten with a full shock of long red hair and a full red beard. The rest of him was just as red and very hairy. The guitar was strategically poised over his groin. He then announced to the excited gathering that “my first song will be Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He then lifted the guitar and exposed the rhinestone-encrusted g-string that failed to conceal his package. Before the first notes got sung, the party-goers began laughing, hooting, hissing, clapping, and tossing peanuts at him—all except Sally and Allison. They began to back towards the door and were outside as fast as they could shove past the raucous participants. Carol was throwing popcorn and having a great time with the rest.

Carol stayed for several days before heading home. The Teahead pronounced her an honorary member of the Palace, welcome to return whenever. But we never saw her again. We also never saw Sally and Allison.
I hadn’t thought of that caper since then until the idiot meme.

Battle Ready

Clancy, the Gray Menace, started early. He was the runt of the litter. But he had been kicked out of the family first for fighting. We heard this from the neighbors familiar with the family of feral cats living in the neighborhood. So tiny, but pugnacious. We had no clue about that when he first came to live with us.
As a playtoy, I set up a swinging attack dummy. I should have noticed how rapidly Clancy took to throwing himself at it and refused to let go. We failed; we thought his natural aptitude for the attack was cute. After all, he was a tiny kitten. It was amazing what not having to fight for every scrap did for that little kitten. As a bodybuilder does, he began to bulk up and exercise.
Then there were the visits to the neighbor’s Siamese, Hunter. This massive brute took our little thug into his training school and taught him some of the finer points of thuggery.

Around the end of November, I left Ottawa for Boston. Little Clancy already made his rep weeks before winning spite fights with larger siblings. He was ready to take on the “States” next.

Mall Frenzy

It is Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving here in the “States.” But there is no reasonable way I’d ever include the sort of sappy cyber version in the definition of Black Friday. No, it has to be the full tilt buggy expression of sheer madness, sharpened elbows, flailing feet, and desperate anticipation of combat for the last Voodoo Doll available. No frenzy, no Black Friday.

If one were to ascertain – discover with certainty – why recently there have been decreased mortality and fewer emergency calls at the malls, it would be due to “doorbusters” going cyber. Of course, the current pandemic has also taken the shine off this particular apple.

It is with great pleasure that my friend Bill and I plan to create a virtual Black Friday game for Oculus and other Virtual Reality platforms. DoorBusters will bring back the real insanity of a Black Friday on ‘roids. Starting at the mall entrance, you fight your way through to the big score. Along the way, you knock out crazy cart lady in stiletto heels, annihilate Biker Dude with chains, walk over Grannie with a sword cane, and terminate Todd King of foot crushers. Available soon for Christmas purchase and delivery!


In our house, I cook the Holiday meals. My wife works nights, and it would be brutal to expect her to prep a feast right afterward. So I cook. But there can be some significant planning obstacles.

The obstacles are our cat Xenia and dog, Sam. They don’t consider themselves obstacles. They see it as supervising the main event of fall, Turkeylurkey Day – a term they know well. They ensure that everything from a cheese and crackers board served at noon to the turkey and dessert get sampled for Quality Control.

The Bird:

Prepping requires all the grace of a professional dancer. You weave and twist among the cat and dog. They are footloose between your feet until the bird is in the oven. They may leave the kitchen at that point, but they don’t travel far. After cooking the bird, they assume worshipful positions by the cutting board. The small scraps belong to them as their due.

The Meal:

Only human family members are allowed in the dining room. That does not stop Xenia and Sam from “passing through” from the kitchen to the living room. A few calculating looks get tossed at the area under the table…just in case something needs a fast and efficient cleanup.

The Cleanup:

A full crew of humans and the two supervisors fill the kitchen. As the bird gets stripped for leftovers, the supervisory staff gets competitive as scraps get tossed or fall from the cutting board. Careful strategy is needed to maximize your haul at this point. Sibling rivalry is on full display.


How could I forget the year Louis, my youngest, made an incredible pumpkin pie? As it cooled, we watched a movie. The chief of quality control, Xenia, sampled the pie. Luckily she was uninterested in the apple pan dowdy I had made. The dog’s only interest was in the rum-soaked fruitcake. All the crumbs that fall belong to him.

After the feast, everyone reflects on what they have to be thankful for. Xenia and Sam, sleeping it off under the table, are dreaming of Christmas – next on their schedule.

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