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

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25 Responses to “A Christmas tree that would make Charlie Brown proud”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    SO WHAT’S YOUR IDEA of a “perfect” tree?

    One you cut down yourself… Christmas is about ritual and none is better than bundling up the kids and/or grand-kids for an afternoon at the tree farm. There awaits, rides in haywagons, hot chocolate, hot cider and passionate arguments over which tree is best. We always let the kids select the tree. Who had the honor of cutting it down was determined by the Democracy of Dad.

    However, this year we found our tree at the Dairy Queen in Austin. It was a fund-raiser for The Boy Scouts.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    At a friend’s home for supper last night……….just such a tree….maybe 5-1/2′ tall…..PERFECT! And, yes, a “Charlie Brown” tree and with it the true “heart” of Christmas! I love that tree lot and I’m thrilled that there are so many others who choose to go that direction. A memory filled post once again! You are so great at that!!! Hugs…….

  3. I love this story! We buy a fresh tree from someone in our community each year. In years past, we’ve gone to the Roseville Lions lot, because we know they give back to the community. The last couple of years, we’ve gone to the lot run by the forestry students at the University of Minnesota (my husband is on the faculty at the U). I love buying real trees for the wonderful scent and the way we must tend to it daily – a little exercise in slowing down and appreciating this bit of nature as we water the tree each morning, a moment to admire the decorations that make us happy. And our tree is far from perfect. The sparsest side turned toward the wall, no theme, three people who put on the ornaments all at once until the tree looks full. Then we stand back and say, that’s this year’s tree. Isn’t it wonderful?

  4. So beautiful I can almost smell them.

  5. My asthma cannot handle a live pine tree in the house, so right out the living room window is a pine tree that we put rope lighting into. With the lights on the tree and the fire going it screams festive and Happy Holidays to me – even better if my husband has the gas, charcoal or ugly drum smoker going out the other living room window to create a feast worthy of a King and Queen 🙂 Happy Weekend – have to share a picture with the tree decorated, pretty please!

  6. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m guessing a ‘flocked’ tree is what we would call a ‘fake’ tree. I can’t believe the prices. You can add a zero to what you paid and that will give you an idea of what I had to pay for my tree. If I could have settled for a smaller tree I could have halved that to $75 however, as my home as 12-foot ceilings, anything without some height would have looked out of proportion. I know I have a big tree because I had to carry it from the car and up the front yard, then up a flight of stairs and into the house all by myself. Then I went to the osteopath to get my spine put back into place! xx

    • I bet your tree is lovely. And you’re right about scale. Twelve-foot ceilings call for a dramatically tall tree. My ceilings are only seven feet and my house relatively cozy, thus a small tree is perfect.

      The $12 price is not typical for a tree sold here. Most at Farmer Seed were priced around $60, which is way more than I would pay. Typically we spend about $25 and that’s usually buying it days before Christmas at a percentage discount. This year I wanted the tree up when my son arrived home, which was last night.

  7. Don Singsaas Says:

    I agree with the comment on cutting your own tree however be sure to use a saw. Years ago my wife and I went tree cutting but only had an axe with us, hummm it was minus 62 degrees and had been that way for a couple of weeks and when the axe made contact with the tree trunk the vibration caused the majority of the branches to fall off the tree. We then began purchasing trees from a tree lot and enjoyed having the kids pick the tree. These days we have resorted to a man made tree as in the dry climate here it lasts through the Holidays. Since we have folks from the bush dropping in throughout November, December and January we have our tree up for an extended period of time and the man made tree holds up well!

  8. Well, sign me up for next year!!! I will be headed your way to get one of those trees!!!
    My 30th fresh tree, which is the tallest tree we have ever had is quite pretty this year. I had to get a ladder in the house to decorate it! I love a sparse Charlie Brown tree.
    When we moved here, we planted hundreds of small Balsam seedlings, anticipating future Christmas trees…sadly nearly all died! The ones that did live from that first planting–I can’t bear to cut!
    So we venture to various tree lots. I scout trees also…need to check out prices and options.
    Have a wonderful Christmas with your family Audrey!

    I bet the tree smells wonderful!

  9. Jackie Says:

    I love your “perfect” tree, reminds me as well of the trees we had as a kid. I remember loving the pine scent. When our kids were growing up we always had a “real tree”…always! Never thought I’d cave to an artificial tree until about 3 years ago when we remodeled our upstairs which included new carpet. We decided at that time with the kids all grown that now would be and ok time to give in to artificial, it was not easy for me to give up that long tradition, but now that we are 3 years into it I’m ok. We have a beautiful 6 foot tree with lights it’s easy to put up and easy to store. we bought it for 70% off at Target, so it was a steal. Our kids buy the real thing…glad they stuck to the tradition they grew up with.

  10. Thread crazy Says:

    As a child I always remember having a live tree; we’d always walk around and look at each tree on the lot before deciding. When I moved out on my own, my first tree was a flocked tree…it kind of reminds me of what you said your tree looked like. I was so proud of it. Then later in life allergies took over and thus the end of live trees! I too would love to see a picture of your decorated tree.


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