We picked out a tree that was about eight feet tall, very full, and needed a bit of pruning at the top. When we got home the tree that we saw when we put it up was also about eight feet tall, but was very slim in silhouette, and not especially burdened by a profusion of branches. (Read: a little on the scrawny side.) GAP and I looked at each other and jointly decided to make our peace with this tree, mostly because loading it back atop ye olde SUV, carting it back to the tree lot, and having to pick out another tree all over again was really more than we could muster. “It will look better when it’s trimmed,” we told ourselves. And for the most part we were right.
This was not our first misadventure with this particular tree lot. And, truth be told, we’ve had some bad tree karma coming our way for a while. Frankly, I’m surprised it took nine years for it to make its way back to us.
In 2003 GAP and I were engaged. He was living with a good friend (we’ll call him Matt) who was also in graduate school. I was living alone a few miles away in an apartment that I would soon share with Matt’s fiance (we’ll call her Carrie). The boys’ apartment was huge (and drafty…) with ten-foot ceilings that practically begged for a large tree. We wanted something that would scrape the ceiling, but in the interest of pinching pennies (I was “underemployed” at the time, and the other three were all living off of student loans) we settled for an eight foot tree.
At the conclusion of our joint trip to the tree lot (run by the local Optimist Club, I should note) Carrie went into the little tent where the cashier’s desk resided. She told the very cheerful and very old man that we had picked an eight foot tree. He gave her the price and she wrote him a check. It wasn’t until we were back at the apartment decorating said tree that we realized we’d ripped the sweet old man off.
“You know, I was really surprised at how cheap our tree was,” Carrie told us.
“Really?” we asked. “How much was it?”
“Eight dollars and 64 cents,” she said.
“Yeah. I was shocked too, but he asked how tall it was and when I told him eight feet he said, ‘eight-sixty-four.’”
At that point we all did the math and realized what the man meant was, “An eight-foot tree is sixty-four dollars.” The Optimists, like most other lots charge by the foot. At eight dollars a foot we had shorted him roughly $56 dollars. We thought about going back and paying the difference. Then we looked at our figuratively turned-out pockets and thought again.
In return for our inadvertent stunt we swore loyalty to the Optimists for all future tree purchases. And we’ve never bought a tree from anyone else. I think about this story every year. (It is better if you know Carrie, who is truly one of the kindest and most honorable people I’ve ever known.) And I thought about it again this year when I told the sweet, old man that we’d selected an eight-foot tree and he said, “Eight-seventy-six.”
I don’t really have a moral to this story. It’s just a story that I like to tell. It makes me feel some connection to an otherwise pretty generic tree lot. And it makes me think of a wonderful time in our lives that we were fortunate to share with some very dear friends who have since moved out of state, and whom we miss very much. When you get right down to it, I think that’s a lot of what Christmas is supposed to be. Not so much the ripping off of charitable organizations headed up by senior citizens. But acknowledgment of all the good in our lives, and fond memories of Christmases past.
Christmas is a happy time for us. And we are very lucky that it is.