Traditions in the Tree Lot (A Tale of How They Met)

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I hate artificial Christmas trees. I hate them with a fury that I wouldn’t even muster for my worst enemy. That might be exaggeration. Whatever. They suck.

        I love Christmas more than pretty much anything in the world. Something which, as a man, I get some grief for, but I don’t care. Christmas is miraculous. Haters are going to hate.

        As a rule, I only ever went to one tree lot – Sal and Joyce’s Quality Trees. The name left something to be desired, but they did have the best selection for miles, and were two of the kindest people I’d ever met. One of my absolute favorite things about Christmas, and the holidays in general, were the traditions. The things that I’d been doing for years not only worked well, but brought me tremendous joy – Why would I ever wish to change that?

        For a week and a half after Thanksgiving, I waited for them to set up shop on the empty lot next to the ice cream parlor, but they never showed. I called the owner of the parlor, an old friend of my father’s, and learned that Sal and Joyce were in California to attend to their hippie daughter birthing their hippie grandchild. There would be no tree lot this year.

“Well, excellent. Where am I supposed to get my tree?” I demanded. “Actually, Leonard,” Jim started. I heard the shuffling of papers in the background. “They did ask me to get the word out about another place they support one hundred percent. Something called ‘House of Grace’. Just about ten miles north.” I sighed loudly. “Fine. I’ll check it out.” “Sorry buddy. Hopefully their kids can plan their pregnancies more accordingly next year.” “Yeah, no kidding.” I hung up and ran my hands through my hair.

        If Sal and Joyce recommended such a place, I couldn't imagine it would be too enormously disappointing. I showered and left as quickly as I was able to. It wasn’t too long of a drive, but I was particularly anxious just to get a tree and bring it home. I was already so far off schedule.

        House of Grace wasn’t an actual house, or even a building from what I could see, but instead a large field strewn with a great variety of trees. I walked around, noticing at once colored ribbons tied to the top of each tree indicating what type of tree they were. If only I could find a legend to tell me which colors applied to what tree type.. The sun was setting, and towering light posts switched on on cue. I made my way toward the presumed center of the lot where a large, red flag was posted, and several people with volunteer stickers stuck to their coats.

        The first person to notice my arrival was a girl. Her name tag read “Charlotte”. She wore a thick coat and colorfully knitted gloves, a hat, and a scarf. She seemed very happy, though her cheeks were red from the bitter cold. “Hi!” She said, grabbing a cup from the table. “Would you care for some cocoa? Compliments of House of Grace volunteers?” I glanced at the “volunteers” to which she was referring. None of them looked like someone who should be handling food – even something as simple as hot chocolate. “Erm, no. I’m fine. I just need a tree.” “Are you sure? I made this batch myself!” She smiled, pleading at me with big doe-like brown eyes. I felt my determination to say no slowly slip away. “Alright,” I conceded. “I’d like a Douglas-fir. Sal and Joyce recommended this place to me, and they’re the best there is around here, so I hope you have some good trees.” “You know Sal and Joyce? We actually have the trees they were going to use this year scattered throughout the lot. Lovely people.” “Really? Then show them to me. I want my money to go to them; they deserve it.” She blinked a few times and then tightened her scarf. “Actually, all proceeds will go to charity – to feed and shelter the less fortunate this winter, and provide them with the merriest Christmas possible.” “… What? No. That’s unacceptable. These are their trees. It’s not their fault their daughter got knocked up. I’ve been buying trees from them for four years. I need to get their trees. No one else’s.” She scoffed and looked directly at me, angrily. “Actually, they donate over half of their profits to us every year.” I shoved my hands in my pockets. “Just show me the trees.” She patted down her hat and led me up the path to my right, not saying a word as we trudged through the snow. The sweet, sappy scent of the trees perfumed the air around us. I couldn’t help but comment on it. “God, I love the smell of Christmas trees. Can’t wait to have this up in my house.” “You live by yourself?” Charlotte asked. “Yeah.” She mumbled something into her scarf I couldn’t quite make out. “Sorry, what?” I asked, quickening my pace to get nearer to her. “And you like Christmas a lot, do you?” “Yeah. More than anything.”

            She stopped suddenly in front of me. I almost ran into her. “These aren’t Douglas-fir,” I said. “These are Balsam Fir.” She looked at me, very seriously, for a moment before speaking. “You know, for someone who likes Christmas so much, you sure have a God awful attitude about everything.” I stood motionless in shock. “What?” “You’re one of the rudest people I’ve ever met. Your day seems to have been ruined because you can’t get a Christmas tree where you usually do because the owners are witnessing the birth of their first grandchild?! Are you so steeped in traditions that you’ll be mean to people who are trying to help simply because your habits have been screwed up? Guess what! A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, even if it’s a god damn stick. Even if it’s fake and white. What matters is what you put into it. The memories you share. Christmas is about happiness and love that floods your heart so much you think you might die from the beauty of it. Traditions are pointless without that kind of heart.” She continued to stare at me, arms crossed.

I didn’t know what to say, or how to react. I wasn’t angry. She just virtually slapped me directly in the face, and I only felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I started the traditions after I’d left college, after my parents had been dead for three years already. At first, it was a kind of healing; I remembered feeling intoxicated by the stability and comfort these traditions brought. I never stopped to realize how meaningless they really were when I was spending them by myself. I loved Christmas, but I’d never learned what Christmas actually felt like.

She threw her arms up and shook her head. “I’ll find someone else to help you find your tree.” She began to walk away, her anger rolling off of her in almost visible waves. “Charlotte, wait!” I called after her, though not really knowing what to do next. She turned sharply. “What?” “So you guys really donate everything to charity?” “Everything.” “I’ll take two trees. The most expensive ones you have. One for me, and one for you, if you’d like it. I’ll help you set it up and everything. Or at least I’ll carry it for you.” She crossed her arms again, though with less hostility. She didn’t say anything. “You can tell me more about House of Grace. I’d like to know.” It was a long moment before a smile made the corners of her mouth turn up slightly. It was small, but it was there. “The Douglas-firs are right behind you. Let’s go take a look.”



ahh, rich text editor, why do you hate me?

Another story of How They Met, the second from my Christmas 2010 presents. <3

Created: Jan 11, 2011


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