Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Soul of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill (And it's Unionizing Attempts)

A July 2010 Story on the 60th Anniversary of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill

Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill Official Website

The word 'soul-mate' gets a lot of use.  Many times it gets mis-applied, over-aggrandized and certainly over romanticized.  In a simple way, it's the life changing force resulting from the collusion of two celestial bodies sharing light and life.  Sometimes there's an interplay at work, a synergy as in between a Master and a Student.  No matter the configuration, the light simply never goes out.

Each embodied soul has a certain amount of light granted to it.  That light can irretrievably bring an energy that was heretofore absent.  This increased energy is absorbed within the universe in streaks and bursts, where massive infusions of invisible life, light and love enter the deep vacuums of space and time.  The Gods are pleased when all energy is conserved.  Nothing is ever wasted.  The synergy allows life to magically evolve in places thought to be barren and desolate.  It shines on and on.  And so it goes...
Dana helps granddaughter Aubrey plant her first tree on
Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill

Dana Beisel lived a simple, happy, purpose-driven life.  He loved many things, but he loved his wife Wanda, daughters Melissa and Jessica, his sons-in-law Craig and Jerry, and of course his twin granddaughters Abigail and Aubrey most of all.

My wife and I married at the early age of nineteen.  We were without health insurance to deliver our first born son.  As the hospital social worker for many years, it was Dana Beisel who got us through what could have been a very difficult time.  There is not enough space here nor do you want to read all the stories of Dana's countless friends.  But perhaps a few...

The testimonies at his funeral service were numerous and lengthy.  Many were humorous.  (The 1964 steak dinner he promised to classmate Jane for doing a flipping dive off the three-meter board at the community pool for one).  There were so many heart-felt stories given by his friends.  All were a testimony to his generosity, his congenial spirit and his healthy yet endless drive for perfection in everything he did, from golf to pruning trees to his new found passion of biking, to finding new ways to enjoy his free time with his family and his friends.

There is no mistaking the value of manual labor.  There is no substitute for it.  During my fourteen growth cycles, fourteen pruning cycles and fourteen Christmases on Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill, I found an undeniable, welcomed solace in the fresh air of the pines and in the hypnotic repetition of working beside Dana.  We labored though it all: under days of sweltering summer sun, in low vernal light, and in the dim days toward the solstice.

The ups and downs and hard work of the various seasons were all more than balanced by the joy and the homecoming of sorts of working the Christmas season. We all worked together, with more or less the same crew year after year.  Each year it was always a reunion for both workers and customers, wondering if the same ones will once again return, to renew the same spirit of Christmases past.

The same customers returned each year from far and wide: from New York City and other points north and west, from the south as far as from Delaware, and from all the points in between, and of course a large majority coming from throughout the Lehigh Valley and Carbon County as well. All told, this loose collection of people sharing a brief Holiday transaction together has woven itself into some of the most cherished threads of my life.  Each of these loyal customers has their own story to tell: how they've come to this hill now for one, two, three generations.  How in this season, their own children and their children's children now make their own tradition here.  And so it goes, cycle to cycle...

It started in the 1890s when Adam and Mary Beisel moved to 231 Coal Street in Lehighton from Gratz in Dauphin County.  (They later lived at 237 Coal St, so either 231 is a mistake on the record or they later moved into 237.  Attorney T. A. Snyder of Lehighton relinquished his third term as Superintendent in 1893.)  Adam Beisel was the County Superintendent of Public Schools.  He was an authoritarian leader, according to my now sketchy memory of the stories Dana told me.  Somewhere in my fog I remember a stern disciplinarian, heavy in build, storming into the schools unannounced, in a gown that beckoned obedience.

It appears Adam's own father passed away at a young age, his mother bounded him and his sister out to live with Emmanuel Wetzel on a farm in Schuylkill County in 1870.  Sophia, sixteen, was keeping house there and Adam, seventeen, at that time was a stone mason.
Looking up through the Concolors and
Queen Anne's Lace on
a clear summer day on Beisel's
Christmas Tree Hill.

By the age of twenty-six Adam Beisel married Mary L. Romberger of Gratz or Gratztown but today known as Berryburg in Dauphin County.  She was only sixteen at the time.  They had a total of six children, only three lived to adulthood.  One four-month old born in Lehighton died of "cholera infantum" in August of 1894.  They went to great lengths to inter the baby back in Mary's home town seventy miles away.

Mary had a brother D. A. Romberger who was a school teacher by profession but had recently lived in Lehighton in early 1900 who died of "consumption" (tuberculosis) at the age of thirty-five in March.  He had recently been ordained to preach in the United Evangelical Conference just before he died.  He was buried in the same family plot as Adam and Mary's baby daughter.

In December of 1909, Adam's remarried and widowed again mother, Mrs. Magdalena Shade, died at the age of seventy-nine.  She is buried in I-38 in Lehighton Cemetery.   She was living with her daughter Hattie Snyder, married to William B. in Parryville.  Her obituary stated she had several surviving sons and daughters.  "A. S. Beisel" served as Superintentdent of Carbon's schools until 1902.  He then pursued a career in banking, working as the cashier at Dine Bank in Lehighton (most recently the PNC Bank at 150 South First Street.)  Prior to their moving to Parryville, Adam's sister and husband, a butcher, lived in Ashland, Schuylkill County.

Adam and Mary Beisel's three adult children were: Minnie (born July 1880), James (born March 1882) and Marie (born August 1895).  James M. Beisel Sr. was baptized at a Berryburg church on June 11, 1882.  He married a Lehighton woman Carrie M. Anthony on Halloween, October 31, 1906 at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Lehighton.  They were both twenty-four.  He at the time was a "copyist" at an insurance company but would later become a bookkeeper at Dine Bank with his father Adam.

By 1911 they had three children: James Jr. (born 1908), Mildred (born April 29th, 1910; living to her 99th year in May of 2009) and Ralph.  Ralph was born on November 26th, 1911 and a short two weeks later, mother Carrie died, due to "puerperal septicemia" otherwise known as sepsis as a result of child birth. She is buried in section I-38 of the Lehighton Cemetery.  It is a pity to think how this death may have impacted Ralph.

On the day of his daughter-in-law's funeral, according to family lore repeated to me by Dana, Adam quickly sprung into action and dictated to his son James as to where the now motherless children will live.  Mildred was bounded out to Carrie's mother, the widow Mrs. Amanda Anthony of Second Street.  The boys were to remain with their father at the Beisel homestead on Coal St.

By July of 1917, Adam passed away and is buried in the Lehighton Cemetery, leaving his widow Mary and son James and two grandsons to live on.  Sadly, Mary died and was buried on Christmas day in 1932.  By October of 1935, James Beisel Sr. had also passed away, he hadn't been working since prior to 1930.  He was only fifty-three years old.

Mildred never married.  Instead she made nursing her profession and became a professor of nursing at Cornell and New York Hospital.  James Beisel Jr. married Kathryn E.(Beltz) and they had a son Darryle V. born on September 28th, 1927.  James was a truck driver for a wholesale grocery, most likely Freeby Whoesale of Lehighton.  His son Darryle enlisted in the Marines at the end of World War II just after he turned eighteen.  He was killed on April 5, 1951 while working as a logger in Maine.  He is buried with his parents.  James Jr died January 11, 1967 and Kathryn on January 3, 1976.  They are all buried in plot A/B-5 in Lehighton.

But in 1935, Ralph, the grandson of Adam, the son of James Sr., was living in Orono, Maine, attending the University of Maine, a special place for two subsequent generations of Beisels.  By 1940 Ralph and Sarah S. (Smith) were married with their infant son William and living in Berkshire County Massachusetts.  Ralph was a foreman for the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Later son Dana L. Beisel would be born in Presque Isle Maine and his daughter Jessica would get married on Maine's cool shore.

Douglas Fir (l) and Concolor looking west over Lehighton at the top of Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill
with the Lehigh Gap in the horizon.
Dana served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, attended Kutztown State College and was their starting tailback for two seasons, he married Wanda Solt In June of 1972.  He worked as a social worker, patient relations specialist at Palmerton Hospital for many years, but the constant part of his life that was virtually unchanged was the work on his family tree farm, the one his father Ralph started when he was just a small boy of four, the reason the family moved back to Carbon County from Maine.  (Ralph and Sarah are buried in P-43 of Lehighton Cemetery.)

The many touching stories shared at his funeral attested to the fine qualities in this friend of many.  I agreed and was touched by them, especially the words of his weekly golfing friend Dick, who ended by saying how it has been said, you can tell a lot about a person on the golf course.  I think most anyone who has golfed can attest to that.  It was Dana who renewed my enjoyment of golf, and he in turn helped bring in my two sons, playing foursomes in the Mahoning Valley, ever patient with our games, ever encouraging, and always a steady partner.

And as he helped me with golf, you could say I helped encourage his passion in the biking he truly enjoyed in the last few months of his life.  There are many things of which I am grateful for toward my friend.  And though at the beginning many of the same things I now find rather endearing, at first I thought were somewhat bothersome.  His endless pursuit of creating the perfect tree, his obsession for catching blights and improper soil before they became a problem, his constant battle with "slimming down" his trees.
Dana's worktruck with all our pruning implements along side
a section of Frazer fir.

I can still hear him say, "fat no more!" as he mercilessly pruned past this year's growth, going hard into last year's as well.  And how sometimes, after sage-ing an entire section of 200 trees, he would come to me, lamenting how he might have taken it too far.  How we'd walk for what seemed to be exceedingly long walks through those trees, the Master seeking the Student's perspective, me all the while thinking, "I only know what I have learned from you."

But it was all part of the process of working under Dana on his farm.  You had to build up an appreciation of hearing him out, to become his sounding board as he reassured himself "yes it would all be ok...yes these trees still can be sold this year...just wait, and you'll see how firm and sell-able they'll be, especially once the weather turns colder."

I remember, me the young student of this Zen process, how I was assisting my wife's elderly truck-patch-sized tree-farming-uncle plant and care for the 200 Frazer fir saplings that Dana sold him one spring.  I relayed to Dana how I showed Uncle Keen the center-bud pruning technique we used on Beisel's hill and how I was gently reproached by Dana for sharing trade-secrets off the farm.  One of many times I was reminded of another mantra, "What's said in the fields stays in the fields."

There were countless, ongoing conversations among all of us as we worked the long summer hours of the pruning season from late June and into September, on weekends leading to the sales season, and yes, sometimes "winter pruning" of the seedling and sapling fields.  Most were the mindless, random thoughts that enter one's brain when it has been cleansed of accumulated life clutter by mindless repetitive pruning.

Dana always had a way of both stirring and cleaning up after the boiled-over pots of the simmering topics of discord we'd talk about on the farm.  The topics ranged from issues with immigration, the political gridlock, whether the murder truly was self-defense, or the merits and problems of universal healthcare.  Dana always somehow had a way of crafting everyone back to what was truly important and self-evident: how we are nothing without the love of our families.

Through all those seasons, my own sons, Nate and Jon, became invaluable laborers too.  They too appreciated the work and peace of the farm, the three of us growing in our love for each other there, though we also had our trials and some tribulation there too, as all fathers and sons will do.  Undoubtedly similar I'm sure to some hard times of stress between Dana and his daughters Melissa and Jessica when they too pruned for him.

Over the years, both summer and winter workers would come and go.  And from season to season, cycle to cycle, it would do my heart good to see my old tree-farming comrades again.  Some would move on to other jobs, but we'd always had a steady core of men who you knew you'd see the next time around.

Among our running jokes, the one who'd be selected by Dana to ride in the truck to pick up a load of trees for the lot, to which the rest of us would say, "Oh, you're number one, you were selected," as we'd rub a certain digit of our hands against our nose to indicate our dis-satisfaction with the one leaving the crew, with only a slightly feigned jealously toward the one riding beside Dana, and how he was "brown-nosing" the boss to be selected.

While visiting Wanda over these days of mourning, I was touched and saddened at the sight of Dana office space.  Over the years, I grew to enjoy the process of getting paid by Dana, though at first it was a somewhat insufferable and painstaking process.  He had a deliberate somewhat quirky way of doing it, it wasn't something he did quickly, it had purpose, it was a scheduled event meant to last.

Back in the days when he paid in cash, he had this habit of looking me in the eye with a regimented procedure of counting each bill into my hand, upon completion of which I would be required to re-count the stack back to him in his presence (a habit perhaps handed down from Great Grandfather Adam from his cashier days).

I find myself already looking back on this with fondness, to those long, meandering conversations that would ensue, sometimes as long as an hour or more.  It was my time alone with the Master at his desk, me the Student along the wall, on the deacon's bench.  Fond times now gone, knowing another season of this time is forever gone, but forever a part of me.

Another running joke was how, one day, for some apparent "grievance" or change in our working conditions, we'd get even with Dana by unionizing.  These among many innocuous conversations and gags were at best only slightly funny.  But in Dana's death, I now can see the irony, as it seems it is Dana with the last laugh as I see how more than ever he has brought us closer together.

He was always looking ahead and planning how each cycle would come to a close.  Leading up to and at the end of each pruning season, he'd want numerous assurances from me and my sons that we would be available once again to prune for next season and beyond.  He'd reveal to me his vision of how he intended to curtail the amount of trees to care for to correspond to fit the aging of his tree-farming body.

I found comfort in these cycles and seasons.  I too looked ahead, seeing myself as part of this plan, of my own winding down of my role in it, breaking it all down, into smaller and smaller more manageable pieces.

No one envisioned it would end like this.

All those years of being the Student have taught me that I can live contently without him because I have a part of him forever with me, a part of his light embedded within my own.  I cannot see much of the future, but I am content to know that love and light will always and forever be moving onward, forward.
Forever looking over the trees, in a determined
but healthy pursuit of perfection

On the day of the funeral, I for some reason was paralyzed, unable to pull myself together enough to share any of my memories at his services, a very rare day indeed for me, not known to shrink from an opportunity to make a public address.  And yet I have few regrets.

Here at this grave lay the bodies of these two tree-farming men, son next to father.  They lay beneath the only set of Blue Spruce trees in the entire Lehighton Cemetery.  They are not the healthiest of trees, possibly suffering from cytospora canker fungus (or perhaps is it more like needle cast?).  I smiled as I realized I'd never hear Dana's explanation of them ever again, but in my mind's eye, as clear as day, I did see his ever-present sardonic grin.  And then the thought crossed my mind: Now that these two Beisel men were together again, they would somehow have it all worked out soon.

As we walked away from the grave, there was nothing left to question or say.  The Master's lessons on accepting these alternatively painful and joyous cycles of life were well taught: There is nothing toward which we should cling.

Creation is soul-searching...nothing is ever finished ~Carl Ruggles

Beisel's Christmas Tree Hill - October 2013

Beisel Genealogy Footnotes:

Given the age of Adam Beisel's mother Magdaleen, his father was most likely born around 1830 and died prior to 1870, making him about 40 years old or younger when he died.  It appears this line of Beisel men had a recurrence of death at early ages:

  • Adam Beisel's father - Circa 1830 to circa 1870 - 40 years old
  • Adam S. Beisel - October 1853 to July 1917 - 63 years old
  • James M. Beisel Sr. - March 1882 to October 1935 - 53 years old

             (Ralph's brother James M. Beisel Jr. - 1908 to January 1967 - 59 years old)

  • Ralph Beisel - November 26, 1911 to April 28, 1994 - 82 years old
  • Dana Lewis Beisel - June 6, 1946 to October 25, 2013 - 67 years young.

From Adam's mother Magdalena's tombstone, her maiden name was Shankweiler.  I have found a Magdalena Shankweiler born in about 1831 to the farm family of Solomon and Rebecca Shankweiler of Upper Mahanoy Township in Northumberland County, just west of Schuylkill County.  Solomon's mother was Catharine.

I have found several Beisels (sometimes spelled Beissel) living in western Schuylkill County in the middle 1800s.  Several were Civil War veterans and died at early ages.  I cannot find any that I can verify to be Adam's father, but given the circumstances, it is highly possible that Adam's father served in the Civil War and perhaps died young of natural causes or as a result of the wear and tear of the war.

Charles and Marie continued to live at 227 Coal St.  He served in the army
during WWI with Company E 11th Battalion at the Replacement Center
at Camp Lee Virginia.  In the 1940s he was a truck driver for a textile
transfer business.  They had a son Dale born around 1920 who also worked
with the same trucking business and a daughter either Jamie or Janice born
around 1924.  Charles was born in Grier City PA (Schuylkill County) and
was living in Weatherly in 1917, working as a lampman for the L.V. R. R.

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