Before I met Shane and Tonia, “Lake and Ashtabula Counties” were just names of places that got a lot of snow days. The furthest I ever ventured in that direction was Mentor, and that was only on really rare occasions. Painesville was the end of the earth, Madison was foreign, and Jefferson…well…back to the snow day thing again. When he moved home from his time in Georgia, one of the first things we did was drive around these mysterious locations to travel down Shane’s memory lane. One of the places he took me was Manners Tree Farm. Because we visited the property in February, it was all but shut down and didn’t look very appealing. In fact, it looked run down and kind of sad. What gave light to the post-Christmas farm was Shane’s recollections of his family tradition of trekking to Manners for their annual hunt. Lots of stories of hours in the fields, looking for the perfect tree, cold fingers and toes, and hot chocolate by the fire were coupled with promises of a continuation of the tradition for our future family; I could see it, despite the mud, gloom, and overall lack of Christmas cheer.
Flash forward about ten months and we were making plans with our siblings to start the tradition again. Little did I know that I had much more to be excited about… That morning, Shane was being weird(er than normal), not talking much, and not at all excited for our trip. We had a fun day planned – I couldn’t figure out why he who re-started the tradition wouldn’t be excited. Our Bob Evans breakfast was a little awkward as a result…and frankly, so was the trip to the farm and the walk out to the blue spruces. We settled on our tree pretty quickly (when it’s right, it’s right!) so when Tonia started to walk toward another row of trees, away from my grouchy boyfriend, I jumped at the chance to follow my friend for her scouting! Unfortunately, he called me back from under the tree for some help. He was examining the trunk, telling me that he didn’t think it would fit. “Won’t fit?!” I asked. “Fit in what? The truck?” (No answer to my questions started to change my tone from inquisitive to exasperated, so you’ll have to imagine that part.) “The house? The tree stand?” Still no answer. Just a swivel around, on one knee, with a ring in his hand. “Will you marry me?” he asked so earnestly, next to our first Christmas tree, with our siblings just a few feet away.
Around that time, the grouchiness made sense, it went away, and, as a result, Manners has become even more special to us. When I’m cleaning up the aftermath of a real Christmas tree, I wish we’d gotten engaged somewhere tropical…or at least somewhere that doesn’t include its own mess. Sometimes we even dare to have the conversation – real or fake? But…when the holidays come back around each year, there is only one option: real…cut down…at Manners. How could we not?
This year was our fifth year going to Manners together. What’s wonderful about it is that it’s just as good as the first time (ok…maybe not quite that good) every time. We’re able to reminisce and build new memories with each other and, in the back of our minds, think about how this will all be that much more special when the babies start coming and we are able to pass on this very special tradition to the next generation.
The holidays can be so stressful, trying to accommodate so many people, so many schedules, that they can lose their luster. This is one day, however, in a long line of festive days, that always sparkles.