So we were off to find the perfect tree for the Bowen Family Christmas. As we were driving down a country road less than 10 miles from our house, my dad saw a sign:"Christmas Trees For Sale" it said. We decided to check it out. After winding down a gravel road, going up and down hills and seeing no sign of a tree farm anywhere, we were about to give up when we saw it--a sign identical to the one out on the main road. Dad turned up the driveway, and we could immediately tell that this wasn't a Christmas tree farm but rather someone selling scrub pines off of their land. We kids knew that this would be no good, but Dad was thinking differently.
He was looking at the dingy yellow house and taking in the junk-scattered yard. Most everything in sight was rusty and dilapidated, sagging and/or falling down. With the clarity of hindsight and the perspective of an adult, I now know that in that moment my dad decided to help those people knowing full well that my mom would be upset. He made a decision of importance, and he made it a teachable moment. As we were all piling out of the van, the owner walked up. He was obviously excited that we were there, and he was really talking up his trees. We all started out, trudging through snow among pines that were easily over fifteen feet tall. My sister and I were incredulous that Dad was even looking around. My brothers were blissfully oblivious of the weight of the situation and were running in and out of trees, throwing snowballs and playing hide-and-go-seek. After we had walked through the man's entire property, my dad chose a tree back by the garage. It was sparse in boughs and had uneven branches. It was easily sixteen feet tall, if not more.
The man went and got his chainsaw and started cutting down the tree at about head-height. He and Dad dragged it back to the van, dropping sorry-looking needles the entire way. When we got it loaded into the van, it stuck straight out the back by at least nine feet! On the way home one of us said, "Mom is going to hate this tree." Dad just calmly and simply said, "Probably, but I thought it was keeping with the message of Christmas to help out a fellow man who really needed it. They didn't have a lot of money, and they were trying to make it any way they could." All the way home I thought about that man in his oil-stained and torn Carharts, probably the only winter wear that he owned. I GOT it, I heard what my dad was saying, and my young heart swelled with pride at my dad's tender heart. I was sitting in the seat of that van feeling proud that we could have contributed to someone's Christmas.
We were unloading the tree at home, when my Mom came out to look at it. "What is that?!" she exclaimed. Dad then told her the whole story. I could tell how upset she was, but she didn't say a whole lot at that point. When dad stood the tree up outside of the family room doors, it reached the second story of the house. He spent another hour outside in the cold, cutting down the trunk, trimming up branches. He finally got it in the tree stand and up in the living room. My mom was incredulous...then she went into their bedroom and cried. My dad had spent their Christmas tree budget, had given all of it to that man, so there wouldn't be a different tree. That tree was there for the season.
It was by far the ugliest tree we ever had: it had huge barren spots and scrubby needles. The trunk was crooked, and it even seemed to have a sub-par pine scent. And we kids loved it! We had fun decorating it like any other year. Mom tried to fix it up by adding ribbons and bows (a look that I loved and actually continue on my own tree to this day), but it was definitely a poser in Christmas tree clothing. Mom didn't want people to come and see it, and we still joke about that tree to this day. But when I think back on Christmases past, I always remember that one; that bedraggled tree is still my favorite. It reminds me of the lesson taught to the Grinch:
"And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: 'How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!' And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! 'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps...means a little bit more!'"
My dad found the "more" in Christmas, and he opened my eyes to it. That was the greatest gift I got from my dad that year.