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— Early in my years as a pastor, we moved to southern Iowa, to a small Ringold County town of about 200 people, known as Tingley. I served as a pastor there from 1966 through 1968. We found the people there to be very receptive to their new Arkansas pastor’s family, and we enjoyed our time there in the north country. The wintertime in Iowa is different from what we were accustomed to in Arkansas. There was never much question about having a white Christmas in Iowa. Most Christmas seasons there were, and are, snowy seasons.

Snow in southern Iowa was a different experience from Arkansas snows. In Arkansas, we were used to snows coming in 20 degree weather, wet and sticky; a snow which would melt off in a few days as the weatherfluctuated. If the temperature in Arkansas reaches 0 or below, it is really, really cold! On the other hand, in Iowa, the snows are usually dry and fluffy, easily blown about by the winds, and very prone to forming deep snow drifts. The temperatures there tend to get cold and to stay cold, not fluctuating so much as Arkansas temperatures. The dryer cold air seems a less bitter cold than our wetter cold, but in Iowa it is more common for the temperatures to get on down to 25 degrees below 0, which is pretty bitterly cold wherever you are.

In those days, we hadmaintained a habit of cutting our Christmas tree from the home farm at Pea Ridge, much as my family had always done when I was growing up. In my boyhood days at home, we never thought about buying a Christmas tree, there were always dozens of good cedar trees growing here and there on the farm, and they were our choice as a Christmas tree.

We always had cut the tree a week or so before Christmas Day, and set it up in the living room near the front window. Back then I didn’t know there was such a thing as a red metal tree stand. Dad always had made our tree stand by crossing two one- by fourinch boards, driving a large nail through the intersection of the boards and into the lower end of the tree trunk to anchor the tree.

We would put small blocks of wood under the ends of the crossed boards to level the tree. Often we would need to fasten wires from the window frame to the tree to brace it better. Then we would decorate with strings of popcorn. Mother would sometimes let us push the needle through the popcorn to string it, even though we punched our fingers a few times. We would also make strands of colored paper by forming colored strips into loops and forming chains. We would put a gold star at the very top of the tree, signifying the star of Bethlehem.

The tree looked very festive, even though in the early 1940s we didn’t have electricity, so there were no lights on the tree.

In 1966 we made our trip from Iowa back to Arkansas for Thanksgiving and a visit with all our relatives in northwest Arkansas. Going to both grandmas’ houses had always been a special thing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas for us. Our children, Jeff and Jennifer were aged 5 and 3 that year. On the way to Arkansas, Jennifer always wanted to know if we were in Arkansas yet. She would start asking, even before we had crossed from Iowa into Missouri. So I resolved to tell her as soon as we crossed into Arkansas.

When that time came, I got her attention to tell her that we were in Arkansas. But she looked around and said, “This is not Arkansas!” It was then I realized that she hadn’t yet fully formed the concept of Arkansas as a large state. To her, Arkansas was Grandma’s house!

And we weren’t there yet!

Eventually we reachedGrandma’s house and enjoyed a Thanksgiving visit.

While we were on the farm, we decided to cut a Christmas tree and take it back to Iowa with us. So we went to the woods, found our tree, and took it with us in the car trunk as we drove home to Tingley. Back in Iowa, we set up and decorated our tree for Christmas, earlier than we had ever done before. By the time Christmas Day rolled around, the tree had dried so thoroughly that we couldn’t touch it at all without breaking off pieces of cedar onto the floor. We were careful and didn’t have a fire, but after that we decided maybe we better get our tree closer to home and put it up closer to Christmas.

Contact Jerry Nichols by e-mail at, or call 621-1621.

Community, Pages 5 on 12/16/2009

Print Headline: Now & Then Putting up an Arkansas cedar for Christmas in Iowa

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