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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Tradition and the Somes Family of Wading River

The Christmas season brings with it many traditions that become established by a family over the years. Some of these traditions revolve around the Christmas tree.

One of my pleasant memories as a small child was going with my father to the railroad yard in New Brunswick where car loads of Canadian cut Christmas trees seemed to be lined up forever. Unlike today, when we have a variety of species to choose from (scotch pine, blue spruce, fir, etc.), back in the "good old days" we could select balsam, balsam, or balsam. 

Balsam trees had an advantage and a disadvantage. They smelled great, but their scrawny shape left much to be desired. There was often more open spase than branches. 

An early 1950's photo, taken in our present New Gretna home and left by a previous owner, shows the Christmas tree of an earlier era. You could look through the tree and still have a clear view of the river through the window. Charlie Brown would be proud.

To solve the problem of the sparse branches, my father always purchased extra branches that he would tie up and cart home with the tree. As he set the tree up in the living room, he would drill holes in the tree's truck and meticulously insert the spare branches until the tree was perfectly formed. 

It was an art carefully honed over the years and would seem to be the perfect answer to the sparce branch dilemma; except, as the tree sat in the warm living room, the original branches were able to absorb the water from the tree stand while the inserted branches couldn't. The result was that, after a week, we had a bi-colored tree . . . green with scattered patches of brown with the needles from the "fake" branches falling in clumps. I guess it's true when they say, "You can't fool Mother Nature!".

When Jackie and I settled in New Gretna in the middle 70's, we had to make some important decisions regarding our family Christmas tree. We tried an artificial tree for a few years and found that unsatisfactory. Somehow, it just didn't seem right to take your Christmas tree down from the attic in a cardboard box and unfold it's branches before decorating. Where was the tradition in that?

In the early 80's we found our answer . . . the Wading River Tree Farm! 

The Wading River Tree Farm is on Turtle Creek Road, just a stone's throw from the Wading River Bridge.

The Wading River Tree Farm is owned and operated by the Somes family. It was opened by Horace and Dorothea McAnney Somes in the late 1970's on land that was part of the old McAnney homestead belonging to Dorothea's family for generations. It was an ideal business for the couple who loved the many outdoor activities afforded by the Pine Barren's environment. Horace developed a love for the outdoors as an officer in the local Bass River CCC Camp and as the Chief Ranger at Lebanon State Forest. Dot had loved hunting and the outdoors since she was a small child.

Horace as a young CCC Camp officer and Dot duck hunting along the Wading River in 1945. Both loved outdoor activities. (Photos courtesy of Horace Somes, Jr. via John Pearce.)
Horace and Dot's two sons, Horace, Jr. and Frank became a part of the family business at an early age, helping with the many duties of running a Christmas tree farm. They, too, loved the outdoors. A pine cone does not fall far from the tree!

Horace Somes, Jr. and his sons, Howard and Robert in 1992. (Photo courtesy of Horace Somes, Jr. via John Pearce.)

Frank Somes and his dog, Duke, in 1970. (Photo courtesy of Horace Somes, Jr. via John Pearce.)

Dorothea Somes passed away in 1992, followed by Horace, Sr. in 2003. They had been married for 53 years. During the later years of their life, the family Christmas tree farm became the love and responsibility of Horace, Jr. and Frank. They, with the help of their families, operate the farm today.

Following are some photos that I took when picking up our Christmas tree this year. 

First stop is the office which is warmed by an old cast iron wood stove.
Horace finds the location of our tree in the file. Notice, no computers here. They do it the old fashioned way! I always take a piece of candy from the jar, as Horace looks through the cards. Well, sometimes maybe two, but don't tell Horace.

Horace matches the tags to be sure it's our tree.

The tree is hand cut. No chain saws here.

Horace counts the tree's rings and tells me that our tree is 12 years old.

Our tree is baled so that it can be more easily transported and fit through our front door.

The service is always friendly. Last year, I got the same great service from Frank. Often, on weekends, there is hot coffee, apple cider, and cookies to make the experience even better.

So, I thank the Somes family for their friendship and efforts in helping to make our family Christmas tree tradition an enjoyable one. The tree looks great every year, and I don't have to drill holes and deal with fallen needles. Sorry, Dad, but that's one family tradition I'm glad to relinquish.

Pete S.

PS- If you always struggle with getting the tree straight in the stand, talk to Horace or Frank. They sell a Christmas tree stand that is fool proof. The end doesn't have to be cut square, and the tree is straight every time. No fussin' and cussin'.


  1. Growing up our Christmas tree came from the field behind Walter Cutt's(now Jorman's)house. We always had one of the many cedars that grew wild there. My father and I hunted rabbits there all fall so we would pick out the best tree we could find and then I would cut it the week before Christmas. My sister, Ruth, would go with me and we would also cut a small(2ft.) sassafras tree with a lot of branches. My sister and mother would fasten pieces of string to the Christmas cards that we received and would hang them from this little tree.

  2. Thank you SO MUCH Pete. I got teary eyed...seeing my mother in law's picture. We were very close and I did inherit that 12 cage she's holding. But the first time I fired it I fell on my butt in the mud, and Frank laughed at me...and I still married him anyway! Thank you again. Have a very merry Christmas.

    Mandy Somes

  3. Jim,

    Regarding your family tradition of cutting down a local cedar tree, let me give a word of warning. We tried that some years ago and had a problem. Everything seemed fine at first . . . then a strange, unpleasant odor moved through the house. It seems that some animal must have chosen "our cedar tree" to mark his territory, and his "calling card" only became noticeable when the tree heated up in the warm house. Only an air wick or two on the tree saved the day. So, be careful with Mother Nature.

    Pete S.