There's Nothing Like The Scent And Shape Of A Good Christmas Balsam

December 02, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

It used to be common, sold on many a Baltimore street corner, but is now difficult to locate: a Nova Scotia-grown balsam Christmas tree. My tree detective called last week to say he'd spotted that kind of tree, the type we both prefer for scent and structure.

Gone are the days when we walked two blocks east from the family home on Guilford Avenue and bought a balsam at the old Butcher family grocery store. We thought nothing of carrying the tree home as the yellow streetcars glided down Greenmount Avenue and passed the oil drums filled with fires made of discarded evergreen branches and scraps of wood. Was it a scene from a Christmas card? Most assuredly.

These days of failing afternoon light are classic tree-buying weather, highly conducive to holiday reveries. I thought of all the years I'd hail a cab and ask the driver if he'd be willing to go on a tree run. This was in the days of the sales at Memorial Stadium, where the old gents held an event that was also out of Norman Rockwell painting.

There on the parking lot was a mowed-down forest of green. The scent of balsam and the atmosphere of urban goodwill were amazing.

The stadium sat on a site that enabled you to look downtown past the Eastern High School building. I'd often go at dusk and hope to catch a dazzling December sunset and maybe spot the first stars.

Memorial Stadium trees brought me good luck. I never had one bump out of the cab's trunk, the way I did when I goofed and bought a Fraser fir near Catonsville and the thing got loose and took an unscheduled tumble, much to the annoyance of holiday drivers who didn't see this green traffic barrier as funny. (We also once had a balsam take flight off the roof of a 1960 Rambler station wagon and hit the roadway on pre-Harborplace Light Street.)

There is a lot to be said for buying a tree in the neighborhood and walking it home. Alas, sales customs have changed.

Last Saturday, my brother-in-law, Chris Whaley, and my two nieces, Mary and Katie, said they'd chauffeur their uncle out of the city and into the suburbs for a tree purchase.

For luck, we drove by the Memorial Stadium site before heading toward Parkville and snagging a tall and fat balsam before other buyers discovered it. Now, how do we ship it?

The hardware store cashier sent out a call for assistance through a loudspeaker in the garden shop. A helpful tree assistant named Stephanie appeared and soon had the trunk sawed and ready for the ride downtown. Within minutes, were we sailing down Perring Parkway with our balsam bound like a plump mummy.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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