Endless basement cleaning has unearthed a folder of short essays written by my mother in the early 1950s. They must have been written when she was finding it particularly tedious being a middle class housewife and mother of three young children. The folder also contained seven stock rejection slips from Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and, daringly, the Atlantic and Harper’s.
Here’s one of her efforts, which I enjoyed enough to think you might too. It’s certainly a trip down one American midcentury lane. My mother’s name, by the way, as she wanted it seen in print, was Jean Bakke, although sometimes she retreated to Mrs. John Bakke.
How to Chop Down a Tree if You’re a Woman
I never thought I’d have to chop down a tree until I was asked to take charge of the lollipop tree at a PTA Carnival. You probably know what a lollipop tree is. It’s an ordinary tree that you hang two-cent lollipops on to sell to the children for a dime. They usually have them at school carnivals because they make so much money.
Well, when I was asked to take charge of the lollipop tree that means I had to get the tree and the lollipops and everything and the problem was where to get the tree. Later I thought maybe other women might need a tree for a carnival sometime and my experience would help you if you ever did.
Now of course if it’s around Christmas you won’t have any trouble. You can just buy one because evergreens are best. It was October when I needed mine, though, and I had to think of some other way of getting it.
Well, fortunately I have a friend who lives in the country and she has sort of a woods behind her house so I called her up and she said I could have a tree out of her woods if I came and got it. I said I would.
The first thing I did was invite my neighbor along to help me cut it down. Actually it turned out we didn’t have to cut it down but that part comes later. We did cut down one tree though, and two women are really necessary. Also it’s more fun when there are two of you. And I think you ought to leave your children at home. It makes for a more pleasant outing when you don’t have to worry about little fingers getting cut off by axes and saws and things.
Now as long as you have the children taken care of at home, you might as well pack a lunch and make a day of it. I prefer a simple lunch but you can take whatever you like. I took a sandwich made of meat, cheese, and lettuce (and bread, of course), a can of tomato juice, and an apple. My neighbor had practically the same only she took a thermos of coffee instead of the tomato juice. But, as I said, you can take whatever you like.
The clothes you wear should be the sort of thing you would garden in. I wore saddle shoes, ankle socks, blue jeans, and a tee shirt. And, of course, a jacket although it was really a lovely day for October. So often it’s raining. Actually this part doesn’t make a lot of difference except I don’t think you’d be comfortable cutting down a tree in a dress because you might get the skirt hooked on things.
Now as for what you take to do the cutting with. I thought a hatchet would be best and it was. My husband thought we should take an ax but I didn’t want to use it because I tried to cut up a soup bone with an ax in the basement once and I think they’re dangerous. I think the reason they’re dangerous is because they have such a long handle and you have to stand so far away from what you’re aiming at that you can hardly ever hit right where you want to. Of course, that’s if you don’t have any experience with axes. It’s probably not that way with everybody. But we took one just in case.
My neighbor’s husband gave us a two-man saw which is a saw with handles on both ends so two people can push it back and forth. It probably would have been very useful if we’d wanted a bigger tree. I took a regular saw that you saw boards with but we didn’t use it. I think sawing takes a lot more skill that chopping does.
Actually we got two trees but we only brought one home. The first one we chopped down with the hatchet. One of us held the tree steady so it wouldn’t jiggle so much and the other chopped at it. We took turns holding and chopping because it’s tiring to bend down and chop for a long time. When we finally got it down it wasn’t as pretty as we had thought so we looked for another. Sometimes it’s hard to tell about a tree that’s standing with a lot of other trees close to it. I suggest you don’t chop down a tree until you’ve walked all the way around it and looked at it carefully.
We got the second tree by pulling it up. We really didn’t think we could but just tried anyway and we were awfully surprised when it came up without any trouble at all. Small evergreens don’t have many roots and they sort of spread out and don’t go down deep in the ground. At least that’s the way it was with this one.
However if you need a tree I don’t think you should count on being able to pull it up. Trees probably are different in different parts of the country and I think a hatchet is best. Anyway it worked for us and I hope it will for you.