Mrs. Venable held a large kettle while her...

Mrs. Venable held a large kettle while her milkman poured from his big gallon measuring cup. The milk was still warm from the cow that gave it. It was Columbia, and the year was 1922.

“Mr. Meyers,” the woman said, “would your little girl go to the woods and cut a cedar tree to sell me?” Dad nodded and asked how tall it should be. “Oh, about shoulder height on me,” Mrs. Venable said. My dad was that milkman and our dairy farm was about four miles east of downtown Columbia, the present location of El Chaparral subdivision.

“I’ll give her a quarter, the same as I’d pay at Jackson’s grocery store,” Mrs. Venable said. Later she told Mrs. Lawhorn and Mrs. Gordon and others about the lovely fresh-cut cedar tree. I was soon launched into the business of selling cedar trees from our woods.

Boone County’s cedar trees grow wild. They are great Christmas trees -- the only kind we knew when I was a kid. A cedar tree, shoulder height on Mrs. Venable, sold for a quarter, and big ones were 30 cents.

I was just old enough to manage an ax, and I cut the trees from a grove south of today’s El Chaparral community park. When it snowed I hauled the trees on my homemade sled, when there was no snow I carried them over my shoulder.

Dad arranged his milk route so he could drop my brother and me off at the University Elementary School, which was a square brown frame building facing Sixth Street with its south side near Conley. He then delivered my trees as he delivered his milk.

Why did people prefer native cedar trees? They had full, bushy boughs and a Christmasy fragrance that filled the home as did the smell of popcorn, yeast rolls and turkey.

“A big tree crowds the room,” Mom said, “and ornaments are expensive.” “Boughten” ornaments were of very thin glass, and we had five or six of them. It was a major catastrophe when one dropped.

My brother, Jim Meyers, and I made chains of colored paper, popcorn and cranberry ropes, and we’d almost always choose a cedar with an abandoned bird’s nest in its bushy boughs. Instead of candles we hung little peppermint candy canes, the penny ones, for ornaments. We ate the canes, dust and all, on New Year’s Eve when we took the tree down.

When Christmas tree sales began, I’d get home from school, and then with ax in hand, hurry to the woods. Many times it was dark when I’d get back home with my load. There were lots of wild cedars. It was a self-perpetuating enterprise lasting into my high school years. By then a 25-cent tree brought about a dollar.

Some of my old customers moved away, others died, but I sold a few cedars even after entering the University of Missouri in 1932.

I was embarrassed when my new boyfriend learned where I got my spending money during the depression. But I was favorably impressed when he helped me cut and carry trees.

This new boyfriend was my last boyfriend. We married in December 1937. Several years later we planted pines and operated the Columbia area’s first “cut-your-own” Christmas tree farm in partnership with the late R. J. Martin.

We sold trees “as high as Mrs. Venable’s shoulder” for 18 times as much as she paid for that first wonderful, fragrant, bushy cedar.

Is it any wonder that we go to the woods each December and cut a cedar?

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