Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*


Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.


Filed under Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dad, Mom would die of embarrassment, Not stealing, Reluctant thief, Stealing

67 responses to “Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday to my Partner in Crime | FiftyFourandAHalf

  2. I was wondering if Fred was the culprit – I wonder if Mr. R figured it out?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jana, I will admit that Fred had a bit of a reputation… And I think Mr. R was a smart guy. But Fred’s alert did serve to put out the fire. So in the end he did the right thing (but likely for the wrong reasons!)


  3. You always have the very best childhood stories. It is no wonder you turned out to be such a fabulous and brilliant adult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a sweet thing to say. I really was lucky in my childhood — it was somewhat lonely, but my brother was wonderful, and that made up for most of the absence of many other kids.

      Hope you’re doing OK, Val.


  4. Don’t worry, in 1972 Mr. Richardson learned all about your brother starting the fire. Not a whole hell of a lot (or heaven of a lot) he can do about it now.

    You always have the best stories, Elyse. I suspect that many of them may actually be true! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peg, I’m glade i wasn’t drinking anything when I first read your comment. I’ve been blogging for 4-1/2 years — telling these stories. And nobody, nobody has ever questioned the truthfulness of them. Cudos to you!

      In truth, I have to use the description Jenny Lawson send in her memoir — a mostly true memoir.. It’s as if my stories are practically perfect (Errrr, accurate).

      In this story the bulk really is true. The rich neighbor. The fields. The fire. The ballroom. The gift of the trees. I fudge it on the details — I don,t remember if the curtains were green velvet, for example. But the balcony was there, the soaring ceilings The view to Long Island Sound through the window. And I did feel like a princess. And I did dress as a princess for Halloween one year and fell in a puddle.

      The bulk of all my stories are always true. I fudge the little stuff. Mostly true memoirs.

      Actually, I really wish I could make up stories. Then I’d be a novelist!


  5. And that’s why trees should not be cut down, but be as Mother Nature intended: decorated in the gaudiest fashion outside for all passersby (including confused critters) to behold. The bright, orange extension cord, macramed obstacle course is always a favorite Holiday sight, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Do I need to write you into my new novel as a real princess…. one who kicks ass?


  7. Good one …. (and I recall a past post of your dad’s Christmas tree bargain ventures). Back to the story, I had the feeling Fred was guilty! Meanwhile, even in your princess days, you probably didn’t realize Queenhood would be in your future. I saw something today and you came to mind … the saying is perfect … but then the crown emblem served as the perfect touch. Enjoy

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great story! I loved living in a time when being recognized actually meant something.
    Vicks? Like the vapor rub Vicks? … interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good story. My favorite parts were the statute of limitations, and the “Everybody didn’t get a trophy”. LOL. You’ve still got a knack for spinning a yarn in such a way that we can’t help but smile, even as we are shaking our heads at your (or your brother’s) rascally ways. Princess Elyse and the Theft of the Fir Tree. Excellent storytelling. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Really charming and a lovely story of childhood adventure and bravery 🙂


  11. I was kind of expecting you were going to discover a magical wardrobe that transported you to a foreign land. But this story was nice too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow, I never connected your brother with the fire. Still, you guys were nice to put it out. There’s a Christmas lesson in there somewhere…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great story as always. I didn’t see it coming that your brother started it. Wait…allegedly started it.


  14. I love this story. It would make a great holiday movie!


    • One of the things that got me as I wrote it, was that we went to Mr. R’s house unaccompanied. Imagine letting kids just go to some adult’s house nowadays!


  15. Beautiful memoir, Elise. You should submit it to Reader’s Digest – I bet they’d buy it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I believe it. My husband and his friend started a fire in a meadow that spread over several acres. I think they were trying to smoke. Normally that wouldn’t happen but conditions were right for it. Fortunately no one got hurt and no structures were burned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds really scary, Kate! Glad no one was hurt. I often think of those “what ifs” that can really completely change a person’s life based on one little mistake.

      I don’t remember much of this particular fire — so I think it was just smoldering a bit when we got there. I’m guessing if it were anything more dangerous, I would have a clearer memory of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This is such a great story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lynn. My brothers and I mention a couple of the trees we “liberated” after Mr. R’s death every year. Including one that we cut at night in a blizzard and hauled home through the snow — leaving a path right to our door! Now we’d be in jail!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Glazed

    I love this story. Puts me in the Christmas spirit. And also makes me want to start a fire somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I love this story. And I am naive enough to have been surprised at the source of the fire. Like Mr. R., I never suspected.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nancy, I don’t think you are as naive as I was — It was about 45 years before I found out that he’d allegedly/accidentally started it! My brother was (back then) a bit of a wild man, so I don’t know if his innocence was universally considered. My brother has reformed, though. He is now a fine, upstanding citizen, I must add. He is not in jail (or even on probation!).


  20. Great story, Elyse! I’ve always wanted to cut a tree down from a tree farm, but haven’t managed to do that yet! This year’s tree came from Costco for $35 bucks! I know, how pathetic is that? You shame me in the “creating lovely Christmas memories” department! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is a fantastic story!!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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