Abare lot near my neighborhood was recently transformed into a plump, lush evergreen forest of Christmas trees. I saw them when they were first displayed, before customers moved them to view individual trees from critical angles, to judge if they'd fit into living room corners or were symmetrical enough to dominate the center of a room. As yet, no tree had been rejected, pushed aside to lean against the fence or thud to the ground. For the time being, brief as it might be, the trees stood in perfect rows, straight, tall and full. Regal.

The sight of the lot instantly took me back about 60 years to my preteens in Springfield, Mass., when, traditionally, my mother and I were in charge of buying the Christmas tree. While Dad baby-sat for my young sister, Conny, Mother and I set out, bundled to our noses against the bitter cold, blowing snow and slushy streets.

We left our tiny, cramped railroad flat very late -- about 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. I didn't realize that the reason we shopped so late in the evening -- and late in the season -- was that we were a poor family, and tree prices were drastically reduced at the last hour. I never felt poor. I knew only that it was thrilling to be out with my fun-loving mother on an exciting expedition on a special night -- and to be up so long after my usual bedtime. I was naively unaware of the freezing tree salesman, eager to close up shop, who waited impatiently in the cold, stamping his feet and slapping his gloved hands together while Mother and I made up our minds.

Some trees -- the straggliest -- had been reduced to 50 cents. Those were the ones that Mother and I chose from. She made a marvelous production of it. We stood the spindly little trees up and held them out at arm's length to inspect them in the harsh light of bare bulbs that were strung on wires around the lot. Puffing our steamy breath into the cutting night air, we discussed the virtues of the runty leftovers as seriously as if we were purchasing the National Christmas Tree for the White House lawn. If a tree was especially skimpy and flat on one side, Mother told me that that was its virtue, for, as she pointed out, that side was perfectly shaped to stand against the wall.

When we had chosen our tree and Mother had dug 50 cents from the little black coin purse that was safety-pinned to the lining of her pocket, the two of us hefted the tree and toted it home horizontally through the virtually deserted streets.

If it hadn't been for Mother's cheerful voice behind me encouraging me and softly singing German Christmas carols, I might have hated that walk, for by then my toes were frozen, my fingers were agonizingly cold, and my woolen mittens were so sticky with tree sap and encrusted with frozen snow that I could barely flex them. The sharp evergreen needles pricked through the wet wool like tiny knives, and whenever I shifted my grip, trying to find a less prickly spot, I'd unbalance our load, and the dragging branches would bang against my snowsuit-clad legs.

But I didn't ask to rest, for the discomfort was a small price to pay for being allowed to help Mother in the annual ritual of bringing home an evergreen, symbol of the everlasting life of which she now sang in her hymns. Between songs she'd talk about how good it would be to get back home, where Dad was making cocoa for us, and she'd laugh about our wonderful bargain -- how pleased Dad would be with it, how clean and woodsy the sap smelled and, even if it was a bit scrawny, how fine it would look trimmed and decked with lights.

And in Conny's and my eyes, it did look fine. Mother and Dad, but especially Mother, made those trimmings glow richly for us although, in fact, they were shabby, worn and shedding their rusted glitter. The thin string of recycled tinsel that Conny and I carefully draped over the spare branches was so old it was tarnished and bald in spots.

But Mother gave the tree life with stories about nearly every ornament: One was a long-ago gift from her sister, another had come from Germany with our grandmother, others had been made by Conny and me in kindergarten. "And these were fantastic bargains," Mother would proclaim, waving her arm grandly at a dozen glass balls whose paint was patchy and whose flimsy, partitioned box was held together with dry, curling tape. "Reduced by 75 percent at the five-and-ten on Christmas Eve 12 years ago during the Depression when Dad and I were newlyweds," she reminisced. I still have three of those glass ornaments and display them with love every year.

With ornaments of such a rich heritage, how could our tree be anything but magnificent? Yes, Mother knew how to make the night -- and the season -- special.

Today the trees in the lot near our house are high-priced. I suspect many are bound for affluent homes to be decorated a{grv} la Martha Stewart. But I also suspect that lots of those trees will be like ours -- adorned with beloved "family" ornaments, ornaments that may be chipped, flaking or rusted, but glow as brightly with rich memories as ours did long ago.

Barbara Bradlyn Morris is the author of "Crazy for Cats" (Gollehon Books).