Oh, Christmas tree!

November 25, 2000

Oh, Christmas tree!

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - The Allen Ditto family of Hagerstown was heading east on Md. 34 to the Red Byrd Restaurant Saturday morning with a Christmas tree safely strapped to the roof of their Toyota station wagon.

The family - Allen, wife Judy, and 17-year-old twins Andrew and Meghan - were carrying out a long-time family tradition of cutting their own Christmas tree at the South Mountain Plantation Christmas tree farm then having lunch at the Red Byrd.

Trees being carried atop cars and in pick-up trucks will be a familiar site in the Tri-State area in the next few weeks as families pick out a favorite tree - one they cut themselves at a choose-and-cut farm or selected at one of the dozens of tree lots that spring up this time of year.

"We always get a Douglas fir," Allen Ditto said. "We usually get our tree on a Sunday, but we're going to the Ravens-Cleveland Browns football game in Baltimore tomorrow."


"We'll decorate the tree when we get back tomorrow night," Judy Ditto said. "It will take two to three hours."

Last year the Dittos bought a newfangled tree stand that simplifies the often frustrating task of setting a Christmas tree up and getting it straight.

"It cost about $70. She was mad when I bought it, but it probably saved my marriage," Allen Ditto said. "It takes the swearing out of the job."

"Now we can put the tree up in about two minutes," his wife said.

Gary Cline and his family own the Christmas tree farm on Clevelandtown Road off Alternate Route 40 east of Boonsboro where the Dittos cut their tree every year. There are about 30,000 trees growing, from seedlings to market size, on the farm's 23 acres.

"This is a place for families," Cline said. "It's something the family does together, not so much for the tree, but for the tradition.

"Some people bring saws that were handed down from their grandfathers. Some people wear red and white Christmas hats and bring boom boxes to play Christmas music while they pick out their tree," he said.

Tyler Clark of Boonsboro and his obviously pregnant wife, Beverly, were making their second trip to the tree farm this year. They picked out a white pine.

If things go right, baby Lindsay Michelle will be around to see the tree decorated in the Clark household by Christmas. She is due to be born Dec. 3, Beverly Clark said.

"It will be any day now," she said. "Maybe I'll saw down the tree myself to try to get the labor started.

"Next year we'll bring Lindsay with us."

Trees at the Cline farm cost from $20 to $30, depending on species.

South Mountain also sells wreaths, hand-made on the premises by Marshall and Barbara Tyler, friends of the Cline family. The Tylers figure they make about 100 wreaths each season.

They sell from $10 to $30 depending on size and decoration.

Further west on Alternate 40, halfway between Boonsboro and Funkstown, is Michael A. Gagarine's Good Spirits Tree Farm, a family operation much like the Clines'. It was started in 1969 by Gargarine's parents.

He took it over in 1991. The farm covers about 40 acres, just about all of it in Christmas trees.

And, like the Clines' farm, Good Spirits sells only choose-and-cut trees on the premises, from 2,000 to 2,500 each year.

Many are bought by repeat loyal customers like the Michaelson family of Annandale, Va. The family has been driving to the farm for the last 17 years, said Janet Michaelson.

"It's an annual pilgrimage for us," she said. "We come out for the mountains and peacefulness of the area."

The family, which also included daughter Anne, 13, picked out an 11-foot tall Douglas fir that Chris Michaelson was tying on to the top of the family van.

"We usually get an 8-foot tree, but we added on a room with a cathedral ceiling this year," he said.

The Michaelsons adorn their tree with about 100 ornaments. They also have a tradition of adding 50 white paper snowflake ornaments that Chris has made over the years on Christmas Eve.

"That way it looks like it snowed in Virginia on Christmas morning," Janet Michaelson said.

Gagarine said he will sell from 2,000 to 2,500 trees this year.

"I sold the first one on Nov. 1," he said.

Like the South Mountain tree farm, Good Spirits also sells home-made wreaths.

Helen Sainato was sitting at a table Saturday putting them together. She, too, makes about 100 each year. They sell for $20.

Trees at Good Spirits sell from $25 to $45, depending on the variety.

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