WASHINGTON — It took Joe Freeman 15 minutes and two chainsaws to fell the big Fraser fir that grew on his Ashe County, N.C., farm for nearly two decades.
He planted the fir 19 years ago, before he even owned the land on which it grew. Freeman, 45, will admit that wielding his saw Friday felt a bit sentimental.
But then came Monday, when Freeman basked for hours in the glory of having the Fraser welcomed to the White House on Monday morning by first lady Laura Bush.
"We had a big time," Freeman said later in the day.
Back in August, Freeman cut down a white pine on Mistletoe Meadows Christmas Tree Farm in Laurel Springs, N.C., and saw it selected as the Grand Champion Christmas tree by the National Christmas Tree Association.
Two months later, White House staffers came to his farm to choose the official Christmas tree — one of the honors of winning the grand championship back in the summer.
The official welcome Monday was brief. At 10:17 a.m., a pair of horses clip-clopped 50 yards up the White House's northern driveway, tugging a wooden cart with the 20-foot Christmas tree lying on its side. A Marine band played a few bars of "O Christmas Tree."
The first lady strode out into a spattering of rain, smiled at the three dozen members of the press corralled behind a rope and praised the tree bundled behind her.
She thanked Freeman and his wife, Linda Jones, and a representative from the tree association.
Then she and the couple walked back in the White House. There, away from the press glare, they sipped hot cider and ate cookies and talked about the Christmas tree business.
After a lunch and private tour with the first lady, Freeman stuck around to watch his tree raised.
Workers wrestled it off the cart, through two sets of doors and into the White House Blue Room — where it didn't fit.
Workers cut two feet off the bottom, so that the tree's top just brushed the ceiling.
"It's a perfect fit," Freeman said. "I knew it was a big tree, but just like all Christmas trees when you bring 'em inside the house, it looks larger."