Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas Trees and Turnips

It is a few days after Thanksgiving and there are Christmas trees outside the Minute Market. Every time we stop for a gallon of milk or a bottle of corn syrup (because the Minute Market has everything you could possibly need and I was in the middle of making a pecan pie when I realized I was all out), my child tugs on my arm and reminds me, “We have to get our Christmas tree.” Getting the tree is one of the highlights of Christmas. It’s almost as good as getting the presents.

The trees lean seductively against the plate glass window next to the propane tanks and the half dead mums that I feel sorry for because no one bought them. There are two kinds but I don’t know what they are. One has long needles. My father would call it a Scotch pine but I don’t know if that’s what it really is. I found out I can’t trust what my parents call things. I recently learned that, all these years when we thought we were eating mashed turnips on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they weren’t really turnips at all, but rutabagas. Rutabagas? What the heck is a rutabaga anyway? Sounds like something in a beautifully illustrated children’s book about bunnies written by a tea-sipping, scone-nibbling English woman. Rutabagas?

I found out about the rutabagas when Pearl invited me to come and pick some turnip greens from her garden. I said, “Those don’t look like turnips.”

“Yes Ma’am, them are turnips alright,” she said.

“Humph.” I scratched my head. I wasn’t about to argue with Pearl since she really knows her stuff about gardens so I did a little research in Wal-Mart. Meaning I looked at the signs and what was below them. And Pearl was right. I confronted my mother.

“We just call them turnips,” she said, uninterested. “They’re really rutabagas.”

Nice letting me in on it. I can only wonder what Pearl thought when I gave her my mashed turnips recipe. I don’t know if she tried it on the real turnips. And if she did, I don’t know how they came out. My whole reputation could have been ruined here if I’d given out that recipe to all the PTO ladies who were making a book of recipes to sell for a fundraiser. Jeez! Mashed rutabagas are delicious. I don’t know about turnips. At least now I know what I am eating.

So I don’t know if that long-needled tree is really a Scotch pine or what. The other trees have short, tight needles. The short-needled trees look old-fashioned so that’s what we’ll probably pick. But first we’ll go down the road to the nursery because they have a sign out saying they have trees. I like to patronize the local farmer if I can help it. I have nothing against the Minute Market. In fact, with its stock of important things you run out of but don’t feel like driving to Wal-Mart to buy, I practically live down at that store. I wouldn’t even mind working there if I was so inclined to get a real job. It’d be fun to talk to everyone who comes in and out.

“Looks like you’re baking a cake,” I’d say to Effie, holding up the vanilla.

“I always wanted to can my own vegetables,” I’d say to the lady who put the box of rubber rings on the counter.

And, “Lot’s of good news in there today. Check out page three,” I’d advise the man who was buying the paper.

I’m friendly. I like to talk to people. While waiting on line in there last week, I stood behind a hunter. He had on camouflage sweatpants, a camouflage sweatshirt and a blaze orange baseball cap. It was schizophrenic. So I asked him, “Tell me, do you want to be seen or you don’t want to be seen?” He raised an eyebrow. I pointed with my chin, “The cap. It’s orange. And your clothes are camouflage.”

“That’s the law. We gotta wear something orange.”

“Ah huh. So you don’t shoot each other,” I laughed. “Well, doesn’t that make it hard to catch a deer? Doesn’t he see it too? Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the camouflage then, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t rightly know,” the hunter replied and stepped up to the counter. “But you Yankees sure are dumb.”

No, he didn’t say that last part; I just imagined he was thinking it. Either that or he thought I was cute and charming. I’ll go with the cute and charming.

At any rate, he ordered one of the trees outside. He said, “I’ll take one of them white pines out there Brandy.”

“Ain’t they so pretty Calvin?” Brandy asked.

“They sure are,” Calvin nodded. “That’s the kind my daddy loved.”

Aw. Here was this big gnarly killer with a wad of chewing tobacco bulging out his cheek like he had a ping pong ball in there and a week’s worth of gun-metal-colored stubble on his face waxing nostalgic about his father. It appears many things are contradictory about hunters; not just their get-ups.

I found out the other trees were Fraser firs. I followed Calvin outside to see which one was which. He plucked one of the long-needled trees out of the line and tossed it into the back of his truck like he was tossing a wet towel into the tub.

I took another look at the white pines. Maybe I’d get one of them after all. If Calvin got his father’s favorite kind of tree… My father loves them too. Scotch pines and turnips. White pines and rutabagas. Whatever they are called, it’s one of the highlights of Christmas.