This year Diane and I are sharing our 40th Christmas together and it has always been our custom to have a fresh tree. We have lived through the aluminum trees with color pin wheels, the white trees, the evolution of artificial Christmas trees and even trees you sprayed with scent so they would smell like trees. Through it all we remained steadfast in our determination to have a live tree. We have visited lots when it was below zero. One year I brought a tree home with the top four feet sticking through the sunroof of our Datsun and the branches sticking out both back windows, with our daughter sitting somewhere in the middle of the whole display! I went to the forest and cut down a tree once. It looked so much better in the forest! Yea, we’ve had some adventures but there is just something about a real tree that makes Christmas come to life in our home and this year, well this year let’s say we love our trees more than ever because of who we got them from.
Last Christmas we stumbled across a lot on a corner in Parker that sold the beautiful old fashioned trees we love. We purchased a beauty and when we took it down in January it was as fresh as the day we bought it, so we were determined to get our trees there again. This year the owner of the tree lot moved the whole thing to his property, Franktown Landscape and we headed down there to look. It didn’t take long for us to find what we wanted and with our selection made we got to making small talk with Hubert Aguirre, owner of the place. Hubert is a character and I find as I get older I’m really drawn to them. I love their passion for life and their ability to tell a story. Hubert told us how he used to sing like Dean Martin for the girls in school and then broke into song. And Hubert talked quietly of his brother Raymond, who on March 27, 1970. Was killed in action in South Vietnam. He talked about how his mother and father were never the same and he talked about how much he missed his brother still. Diane asked him if he had heard of the Colorado Freedom Memorial and Hubert said no so Diane pulled the website up on the computer and there, in the database, showed him his brother’s name, Raymond Aguirre, Panel 18, Row 3, Name 23. Hubert is too tough to cry in front of you, but you could see the tears forming.
We told Hubert that we had been thinking about placing a live Colorado Blue Spruce at the Colorado Freedom Memorial site and selling Dog Tag Ornaments that people could purchase for $10 and we’d write the name of any veteran they’d like on the tag and hang it on the tree. Hubert said you buy one, I’ll give you one and I’ll deliver them for free. It seemed to be a way Hubert could give his brother Christmas, if only by having a tree near his name. We shook hands and as we were getting ready to leave, Hubert said thanks, and started singing, “everybody loves somebody, sometime.” A great character! Yesterday the trees were delivered to the Colorado Freedom Memorial and one of the two men in the truck walked up to the Memorial and asked where Raymond Aguirre’s name was. I walked him to it and after a few minutes of silence he turned to me and said, “I’m Raymond Aguirre also. My Dad named me after his brother.”
This year I see Christmas Trees differently. When I was younger they were the place where the presents appeared after Santa’s visit. As I aged they became the keeper of family heirlooms, ornaments that hung on my Moms tree and her Moms, and those we added that say Baby’s First Christmas and other wonderful symbols of our own growing family. Now these trees remind me that every generation has gathered here, in front of their own trees, during Christmases past and shared joyful celebrations with family. There was laughter, and excitement and surprise and love. They wondered what the journey of the coming year would be liked and prayed they would all gather together again at the tree to share the season. For some, like Raymond Aguirre and the other 5800+ on the Colorado Freedom Memorial, Christmas became a painful memory as they fought for their country far from home, far from the Christmas trees of their youth.
This year, under the soft light of our tree, the one Hubert loaded in the car, I give thanks for the greatest gift I will ever receive, the Freedom that lets me celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas morning and to be gathered around those beautiful trees with my own family. It’s a gift I received from heroes I have never met and I will never sit by the tree again without thinking of them all.