“How do you like this one?”
“Too sparse, and too small anyway.”
“Here’s a nice one.”
“Too full, and it would never fit in the space.”
“There’s a beauty!”
“It is, but it’s much too tall.”
This is the conversation my wife, Julie, and I had last week as we stomped around one of our favorite Christmas tree farms.
“What do you think of this one?” I asked hopefully.
Julie eyes the suspect conifer. She reviews it from all sides like a drill sergeant inspecting a raw recruit. “That’s the one. Tag it !”
With that I dutifully tie a stretch of green surveyor’s tape to a branch of our perspective Yuletide tree with our name written on it. It took us only ten minutes to survey the lot and find the perfect tree, a pretty sixteen-foot tall Douglas fir. We plan on returning in a few weeks to cut it down and secure the tree into the bed of my truck. Then, we’ll slip the $40 into the honesty box and return home with our trophy.
Tagging our tree early gets us in the mood for the holiday season and all the fun traditions it brings. When I wrote Tractor Mac Saves Christmas I was able to include many of the traditions we still carry on in my family and in my hometown in the story: The town’s Christmas tree lighting festival, the lighting of luminaries up and down the streets on Christmas Eve, and the joy of having family and friends together.
I’d like to share some of the points in the book you may or may not have noticed. For one thing, Tractor Mac’s bucket loader pictured in the book is not meant for snow removal but for manure and silage moving. I chose to use it in my illustration because to me, it was an interesting contraption designed for that era of tractors and it also didn’t block Tractor Mac’s face quite so much. “Scoop! Push! Dump!”
I love a big snow fall! It changes the whole landscape into a magical place where even familiar things look odd and new. I remember our family’s flock of sheep would all be sporting funny snow hats and coats of stacked fluff in a heavy snow until they decided to shake it off. The blizzard in this story allowed me to shed new light on a few auxiliary characters in the world of Tractor Mac. Sam the ram acts as safety monitor. Goat Walter is a paranoid superstitious panicky goat. Margot the cow is a grandmotherly calming influence. And, we get to see Tractor Mac as the ever-ready hero and steady friend to the rescue. It was fun introducing some new vehicle characters: the town truck, #3 the fire truck, and the school bus. All of them late forties/ early fifties vintage, of course.
One item included in the stories that was intended as a discussion starter between parents and children is the moment that Tractor Mac sees a moon halo the night before and knew that snow was on the way. Moon halos, or ‘moonbows’, are the result of refraction of light through ice particles in high altitude clouds, and is usually a token of bad weather moving in.
Here are a few other hidden things in the art!
If you look at the ornaments on the Christmas tree on the title page, you’ll find the town snowplow and Farmer Bill on the sled with the tree. Throughout the book there’s a bunny hiding on every page. (Look in the school bus window if you have trouble finding him on one page.) Also, on that same page you’ll find my sister, her husband, and their kids holding the box that says HHI (they live on Hilton Head Island). The church in the background of the tree lighting is where we were married and all of our children were baptized.
With Christmas and the holiday season fast approaching, I always love to reflect on the special traditions and the true meaning of this time of year. To me, it’s about spending time with family and those you love. It’s about showing gratitude, sharing, and making people happy. It’s the same in the world of Tractor Mac.