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The Great Camden Christmas tree hunt.

There is a rare place along 1-20 in Alabama where cedar trees grow prolifically--not in just a cluster or two, but in a cedar forest as far as the eye can see. Amazed at all those potential Christmas trees, I am always caught there by snippets of nostalgia of my Christmas times in rural Camden, Mississippi, in the '40s and '50s.

Christmas trees should be cedar, I tell myself every December as I look for my family's tree propped up in front of a supermarket or leaned against a fenced area of the popular building supply stores. Let's see, what kind of tree did we have last year--spruce, or was it Norwegian pine?

Compared to my childhood days when all Christmas trees were cedar, today's trees hardly make a dent in my memory. They smell fragrant for a day or two but quickly become dried, prickly objects made pretty with ribbons and ornaments. The missing element, it seems, is the lack of family history or connections after the dreaded, shedding thing is hauled off to the mulcher.

For the homes of two Edwards families, cedar trees were lovingly selected on the weekend before Christmas from my family's land in Camden. It was not just the act of my father dragging home that cedar he had had his eye on all year, it was a major event when my Uncle J.B. and Aunt Edna and cousins James Brister and Harry arrived front Jackson to spend the weekend playing "Murder in the Dark" and other games with my siblings and me and eating Mama's huge meals replete with "company foods" like fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, and her famous prune cake.

No notes of invitation were extended or telephone calls made (not many Camden dwellers had phones anyway) prior to the visit, for my aunt and uncle automatically knew they were expected on that Saturday morning each December. Excitement built for weeks at both homes anticipating the visit.

Finally, it was time. Sunday dinner (in Mississippi, I still explain, the noon meal is called "dinner") passed, Daddy found the ax, handed Uncle J.B. the rifle, and all ten of us ambled past the barn into the woods in search of two prized cedars lurking in exile near the density of the oaks, sweet gums, and pines.

With our childish concepts of time, it seemed as if we hunted for a long time until, surprisingly, Daddy always led us in the direction of not one, but two perfectly shaped Christmas cedars.

Towing our trees, we then began the second leg of our journey in search of mistletoe to hang in festive sprigs above our doorways. As clumps of mistletoe were spotted in the top of some barren tree, the challenge of shooting down the greenery became our game. Uncle J.B. or Daddy would hold the rifle steady so the six of us kids could take aim, hoping to bring the beautiful parasite to the ground.

The trek home was always filled with jubilation as we victors marched homeward with Mother Nature's spoils. Soon, one beautiful Camden cedar was on its way to Vernon Drive in the city, and many young hands were fighting for the best branches on the other one on which to hang the hummingbird and other special ornaments.

Even cedars dry into a prickly mess after a while, I know, but the fond memories of our Camden Christmas tree hunts rekindle in the minds of us six middle-aged Edwardses at the most unexpected moments, even while zipping down a busy interstate many miles and years away.

Patricia Edwards Lowrey is an English teacher at Newton High School in Covington, Georgia.
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Title Annotation:On Being Southern
Author:Lowrey, Patricia Edwards
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Previous Article:November & December.
Next Article:From the editor.

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