Way up in the forest, and miles from nearly anything else, stood The Christmas Tree Restaurant on a long slow curve of Highway 27. When we were up at Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon's cabin, our parents would take all us kids to The Christmas Tree for dinner as a treat. I loved the food, the crackling fire and picturesque views, the rustic atmosphere and the wild animals outside.
Gloria Michael owned The Christmas Tree, and she lived with her family in a house set back from the restaurant. She was a wonderful hostess, great cook and friend to small children and exotic cats. Gloria had an African lion and a jaguar in enclosures next to the restaurant. The lion could be seen from the window of the restaurant, pacing in his cage while waiting for his dinner.
In those days, the grown-ups would dress up for dinner, moms in dresses and dads in sport coats and ties. I remember one evening when Uncle Jim and Aunt Patsy were there. After dinner, Jim went outside to have a closer look at the lion, or perhaps to have a smoke. We could see Jim from our table, while he and the lion looked at each other.
Jim was facing away from the window and suddenly jumped back and danced all around like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees. But there were no bees, nor anything else but Jim and the lion looking back at him.
Big cats rule, and they also spray to mark their territory, and that lion decided to mark Jim. So, dinner ended a bit abruptly, with no time for desert. Our car ride back up the mountain to the cabin was cold, with all the windows down, but filled with laughter, including Jim's.