Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Christmas tree that would make Charlie Brown proud December 19, 2014

IT’S NOT QUITE a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But close, my husband assessed.

Christmas tree vendor Ken Mueller helps my husband, Randy, load our old-fashioned Christmas tree into our van.

Christmas tree vendor Ken Mueller helps my husband, Randy, load our old-fashioned Christmas tree into our van.

He’s correct and I’m beyond delighted with our purchase this year of an old-fashioned untrimmed Christmas tree grown on a dairy farm near Duluth.

Our short-needled tree resembles the two on the left. It's perfect.

Our short-needled tree resembles the two on the left. It’s perfect.

The short, scrubby tree with the unbalanced shape and sparse branches reminds me of the Christmas trees which topped one end of our grey Formica kitchen table in the cramped farmhouse where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota during the 1950s and 1960s.

That’s the type of tree I’ve always wanted in my adulthood, but never found until this year. Short and beautiful, bedecked in tinsel and decorated with ornaments like a wax lamb, never hung too close to a holiday light, and the glittery shimmer of a silver church with red windows. That’s my tree memory.

Even the sign is down-home appealing.

Even the sign is down-home appealing.

All these decades living in Faribault, I could have had this type of imperfect tree, if only I’d paused to look.

Ken leases land from the Kuntze family for his seasonal tree lot.

Ken leases land from the Kuntze family for his seasonal tree lot.

Since 1988, Ken Mueller has been selling old-fashioned trees on a leased lot on the north edge of Faribault, just down the road from the Rice County Historical Society and across the street from a liquor store and gas station. He remembers his wife selling trees, baby strapped to back. His daughter is 26 now.

You'll find trees in varying  sizes at Ken's lot.

You’ll find trees in varying sizes at Ken’s lot. That’s the one we chose on the right.

Countless years I’ve passed the Kuntze Christmas Tree Lot, noticing the scraggly trees leaning against wood frames and, in the evening, spotlighted by glaring light bulbs. And I just passed right by.

I didn't ask when these trees were cut. But ours is not all dry with needles shedding.

I didn’t ask when these trees were cut. But ours is not all dry with needles shedding.

Mueller’s trees are hauled down from Duluth to peddle to customers like me desiring a nature-shaped tree that is anything but Christmas card perfect. He sells nearly 300.

Our tree cost $12, well, $15 if you include the $3 tip my husband gave Ken. Not only perfect, but Charlie Brown affordable.

SO WHAT’S YOUR IDEA of a “perfect” tree? Does it match mine, or does it look something like these, photographed at Farmer Seed and Nursery, where we began our quest and usually buy our Christmas tree (but didn’t this year because of the cost):

There are plenty of trees to choose from inside and outside the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery.

There are plenty of trees to choose from inside and outside the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery.

Tools of the tree selling trade.

Tools of the tree selling trade.

Farmer Seed offers a wide assortment of flocked trees in the most unusual hues.

Farmer Seed offers a wide assortment of flocked trees.

I love exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery as much as viewing the tree offerings. The flocked trees are up a ramp in a maze of rooms with

I love exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery as much as viewing the tree offerings. The flocked trees are up a ramp in a maze of rooms with wood floors and beautiful, sturdy beams. There’s a certain rustic charm in this complex building.

Flocked trees come in an assortment of hues, even orange.

Flocked trees come in an assortment of hues, even orange.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements