Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet? - Mickman Brothers Wreath Fundraiser

When we were kids back in the 1950's & 60's, our parents had a part-time Christmas Wreath Business.  Our dad worked as an aeronautical engineer at Honeywell and our mom was a stay-at-home mother with four wild boys and one nice daughter.  Mom kept the books, contacted customers and answered the phone.  She still works in the wreath business calling on interested fundraising chairpersons!  This year at age 86, she will call over 2000 people!

Some of my earliest memories are of the big truck that would arrive at our house to deliver the bundles of Balsam Boughs (wreath greenery).  It was a Big Truck - especially for young boys.  The driver was a little old, leather-faced man named 'Harry the Horseman'.  We never saw him without a cigarette dangling from his lips and his voice sounded like a goose fart on a muggy morning.

When we were old enough, my dad would schedule Harry to deliver the boughs when my brothers and I arrived home from school.  I was probably about 9 or 10 when this part started.  Climbing up this big old flat-front Mack Truck and throwing bundles of boughs from way up high was something we really looked forward to.  Sometimes the neighborhood kids would come to help with the unloading.  "Are we having fun yet?" was the infamous phrase toward the end of each 5-8 ton load of boughs.  We were always dog-tired, but we made a game out of it and loved jumping around on the big piles of boughs.

The next step was to load my dad's smaller trailer with boughs for distribution to the 'Wreath Makers'; this was called going on 'The Route'.  These Wreath Makers were all stay-at-home moms that made wreaths in their homes to earn extra Christmas money.  There were about 20 Makers that we would make weekend and evening 'Routes' to - dropping off boughs and pick up undecorated wreaths.  There were small groupings of Makers in a few different neighborhoods.  Between Makers, my brother Mark and I would get to ride in the back of the open top trailer lying on the boughs and telling stories.  Yes, we were having fun!

Upon arrival at each Maker's house, our dad would count the wreaths which were in stacks of 4 high, stored on the shady side of the house or garage.  A big Maker could make over 100 wreaths in a week.  After 'the count' dad would go inside to talk to the Maker and sign a 'pick-up slip'.  This wouldn't take long, and while he was busy talking with the lady, my brother and I would unload the specified number of boughs from the trailer and pick up the wreaths.

Picking up the wreaths involved reaching into the center hole with your wrist, grabbing the bottom wreath, picking up the stack of 4 wreaths and putting them on a 2-by-2 (which we called a 'stick').  A full 'stick of wreaths' was 18.  When we were small, my brother and I could only handle one stick at a time; when we were older we could carry 2 sticks between us.

These jobs were always fun until the snow came.  After a snow storm, the boughs would be all ice caked and heavy, and the twine would break if we pulled on it too hard.  Then we had a mess.  And when we picked up the wreaths with a fresh coating of snow on them, our wrists would become ice packed just above our wet, woolen mittens.  We dreaded that part, but what were we supposed to do?  We sure couldn't tell dad we didn't like it, for he would surely tell us that this would toughen us up and give us more character.  My brother and I always agreed that we could do with a little less character and a little warmer accommodations!

Many, many times after a really long, hard Route, dad would stop at the local 'Embers' cafe and buy us each a blueberry sundae.  They used real blueberry syrup and put a lot at the bottom, then ice cream, them blueberries on top with whipped cream.  A bright red cherry topped off this treat and it was always exciting to see the smiling waitress bring our sundaes over to our booth.  My brother and I always looked forward to this treat during which we'd talk over the events of the day on the Route with dad, and laugh and giggle about all the funny things that inevitably occurred.  Dad had a big, easy laugh and he sincerely loved spending this time with us.  I'm sure we were a wet, cold mess among all the 'proper' evening customers that were there for a night out, but I don't remember being bothered by that even one little bit.  I'm sure my dad wasn't bothered either.

'Are we having fun yet?'  I am, I hope you are too!

John S Mickman
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