Dylan and I maneuvered our way into the back of my dad’s 1994 Ford Ranger truck, the kind with the little fold-down seats in the back that pop out of the walls.
I remember riding to Corsi Tree Farm way out in Hamersville, Ohio, in those seats and stretching my short, stubby legs. I remember bringing toys in the back with Dylan, to distract me from the winding roads that always made me carsick as a child. I remember the thrill of picking out the perfect tree, the one Santa would be impressed by, for sure. The one our first family dog would destroy with his Border Collie puppy teeth, the one we’d toss in the pond the first year at the farmhouse, an old fishing trick dad had heard about.
Today, the ride to Corsi makes me claustrophobic. I can barely move; Dylan’s bony knees clank with mine. Damn Dad’s long-legged McCartney gene. Toys have been swapped out for smartphones, which keep us preoccupied on the long, coiling drive there.
When I was younger, I always assumed every family, like mine, followed a series of rituals, especially around the holidays, that made for a comforting, if predictable, family blueprint. It made sense in my mind; all of my friends’ families were different, of course, but each was a unit that thrived in a way I’d never fully know or understand, just as mine did. A shared last name meant a collection of secrets that made for a sometimes neurotic, sometimes charming sort of family fairytale I’d carry on, ritual by ritual, to my own children one day. This, I thought, is how life went.
That reality shattered over time, of course.
Families break, traditions fade, distances grow.
Since Dylan and I have become grownups, long moved out and no longer constantly reliant on mom’s hugs and dad’s sage advice, a great deal has shifted in the McCartney family dynamic. Dad isn’t really the texting type (his old flip Nokia is more a boulder than it is a phone) and mom usually only calls me when she’s worried about the number of bar tabs on my bank account.
But still, it’s an assumed, ingrained part of our December schedule: The second weekend of the month, we trek to Corsi. Mom makes breakfast in the morning, Dad puts on a musty old Santa hat, we pile in the same red truck that rumbles a little more than it did the year before. Dad pops in an old cassette tape (the ’ol truck doesn’t have a CD player) and we listen to Frank Sinatra Christmas songs. We walk the farm, looking for the tree all four of us can agree on — mom always says the first one dad picks out is too sparse.
But every year, Dylan becomes disillusioned with the decorating process a little more quickly, I’m a little less eager to drive home the night before, reluctant to sacrifice a weekend night. Mom more loudly advocates for a fake tree instead, so she won’t have to clean up all the needles by herself now that her children aren’t around to help.
It’s become a formulaic sort of affair, one that no longer elicits the childlike wonder from Dylan and I that long gave lifeblood to the parents who would also precariously write Santa letters left-handed and wake up at 4 a.m. Christmas morning when Dylan scampered from room to room, demanding it was time to see what Santa brought.
I wish I could still give them that; I don’t know how to anymore.
This year I used my dad’s old hand saw to cut down the Christmas tree, on my own, for the first time ever in McCartney family history. It’s the one I’ve watched him use for the past nearly 20 years. I asked to try it myself this time, for the sake of the littlest kind of change.
Much to everyone’s bemusement, I slipped in the mud during the process once or twice. Dad let out a few nervous laughs when I fumbled the first time the saw snagged; he always made it look so easy.
Time grates every ritual down; they lose the magic that made them worthy of repeating in the first place. I’ve learned that’s not really the point.
I’m not ready for that truck to break down yet, or for that Santa hat to disappear. I don’t know what’ll happen when it does.
CONTACT HANNAH MCCARTNEY: email@example.com