Backroads

Killeen citizens in the late 1930s erected a Christmas tree in the center intersection of Avenue D and Gray Street (then called Sixth Street). The Christmas tree was a holiday tradition during the economic depression. When times were hard, Christmas trees helped brighten spirits.

No wonder people are opting for realness this month while those spiny bottlebrush fake Christmas trees languish in storage.

After the trying months of 2020, including a pandemic and economic woes, a little evergreen authenticity may be the cure for what has been an unreal bummer of a year.

The message: Evergreen. Ever hopeful.

Thank the Covid-19 crisis and millennials for the plethora of firs, spruces, balsams and pines.

“We’re expecting the COVID impact to be a positive one for real Christmas trees,” said Doug Hundley, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association. “We think people will be at home more than on vacations. They’ll be at home, so they may be more likely to want a tree, but they’re also strongly motivated to get outdoors.”

Millennials in particular are a vital demographic to Christmas tree farmers, Hundley added. As millennials have aged into their purchasing power and started families, they have helped real Christmas trees gain back ground against artificial ones, he said.

The folks who run Robinson’s Family Farm can attest to that. Purveyors of a tree farm and pumpkin patch in east Temple, the Robinsons sold out early and are closed for the season.

“Convenience has dominated consumer motivations for several decades, but millennials, and probably the younger generation, are more interested in new things and turning their backs on plastics,” Hundley said.

Even marketing surveys in the early fall indicated that homebound consumers of all age demographics were expected to up their decorations this year from previous yuletides with 41 percent indicating they intended to buy new decorations this year.

After all, there is historical precedent for upping the greenery, glitz and baubles when hard times hit.

Take 1913, for instance.

The year 1913 had been a difficult weather year. On Easter Sunday 1913, a swarm of tornadoes shredded the Midwest, killing dozens. Historians called it “The Great Flood of 1913.” By late November, farmers in Bell and Milam counties prepared for more floods.

Sure enough, a second flooding whammy hit Texas in early December. Unrelenting rains caused the Guadalupe and Trinity rivers to swell; the Brazos and Colorado river joined to inundate more than 3,000 square miles of Central Texas.

Bell County coped with three solid days of rains. As Nolan Creek rose, Belton citizens began to worry. Suddenly on Dec. 2, a wall of water careened down the creek, sweeping away houses, including the home where Yettie Polk and her children cowered in fear.

Three bridges spanning Nolan Creek crumbled, cutting off travel. Enterprising citizens strung a cable across the stream to ship food and medicine to opposite banks. Drowned were Yettie and her children along with a family of five camping on the creek banks and a man standing on the Main Street Bridge when it collapsed.

Nearly 180 people died in the statewide flooding. Bell County suffered about $5 million in damages, most of it in Belton. About 50 Belton families lost their homes with Christmas just three weeks away.

Although Temple did not receive the brunt of the floods, residents mourned the immense losses throughout the county. By late December, before Christmas, Temple’s churches sponsored special program and fund drives to provide funds for stricken families, especially children.

Symbolizing the hopes for a brighter, drier new year were Christmas trees erected throughout the city in churches and homes.

“In many instances, (donation requests) were on a more elaborate scale than ever before and (charity drives) without exception proved brilliant successes,” reported the Temple Daily Telegram.

The city’s churches united for the effort — First Methodist, First Baptist, First and Grace Presbyterian, Memorial Baptist, Seventh Street Methodist (precursor to Oak Park United Methodist), Christ Episcopal and St. Mary’s Catholic. Each church erected Christmas trees, either inside their buildings or outside. They invited everyone to come view them and leave donations.

“The Christmas trees were richly decorated and liberally loaded with trinkets for the little tots,” the Telegram added. “Other churches had a tree for each department of its Sunday school.”

Three decades later, the wild cedars in West Bell County helped add holiday sparkle for wounded warriors during World War II. Bell County’s military appreciation took on new intensity with the creation of Camp Hood in west Bell County.

Scouring the prairies was a necessity because Christmas trees were in short supply during the war. Federal commerce department officials said the dearth of real trees was due in part to labor and transportation shortages as well as an unprecedented demand for trees. The shortages grew so severe that many retailers were restricted to just 25 percent of their usual inventory, resulting in lots closing several days earlier than in previous seasons.

That didn’t stop Bell County residents from a little creative hatchet work.

In December 1943, hundreds of cedars and evergreens covering the sage-coated rills of western Bell and Coryell counties were cut down to decorate Camp Hood buildings. Mistletoe and other greenery abounding on the reservation festooned every nook and cranny on post.

The nation played Santa Claus to the wounded soldiers at McCloskey General Army Hospital. Casualties from Texas’ 36th Division and Oklahoma’s 45th Division were among the 3,000 recovering soldiers.

Casualties from Texas’ 36th Division and Oklahoma’s 45th Division were among the 3,000 recovering soldiers. Girl Scouts in Duluth, Minn., sent 3,000 miniature tray favors made of tiny birch logs and red candles tied with red bows.

The Texas town of Caldwell also was a large contributor, despite its small population of about 2.100. Caldwell’s National Guard in the 36th Division suffered heavy casualties in Italy. Burleson County citizens shipped a truckload of holly and yaupon to decorate the wards as injured soldiers were shuttled in from the battlefields.

Again, in hard times, Texans united evergreen, ever thankful and ever hopeful for peace.