The evening before Christmas eve I realized that time was running out for getting a Christmas tree. Last year we had had a live arborvitae that I then planted in our hedge which proceeded to die slowly but definitely over the summer. It was a disaster inside and out. It didn't smell like Christmas; it didn't look like Christmas; it didn't feel like Christmas. I decided last year I would never try that again, and now the clock was ticking. So I put on my down pants and down parka and bundled the dogs into the car.
But first I had to deliver something to our printer. Then the dogs were definite that they had to go for a walk in the woods despite its being dark and zero degrees. Next we had to go to the post office. And it was there that I realized I didn't have my checkbook. Back home to hunt for it - found under a chair in the living room. This tree-buying was taking a mighty lot of time and effort.
Finally we arrived at the yuppie shop with a Christmas tree lot outside. But instead of a plethora of green and associated smells, there was cold, odorless cement and a few orphan trees. Somewhat daunted, I walked in and looked at them all. Strangely, one of them seemed to be perfect. $20.50 it was, while its cousin, standing next to it had half of its branches missing on one side and was $20.00.
Other cars were pulling up. If they were coming for trees, I'd better get a move on. The sign read, "If you want a Christmas tree, ask the cashier for help." So I went into the shop and stood obviously at the counter next to a cashier. She didn't notice me, so I turned my gaze full on her to see if it was true that people always know when they're being stared it. It isn't. I had to wait until she turned in my direction and looked at me curiously. "I want to buy a Christmas tree.""You have to bring in the tag off the tree and pay for it and then we can get you someone to help." Back out I trudge - it's still zero degrees - and try to get the tag off the tree. It's held on with thin wire twisted into knots. After three minutes of untwisting that didn't untwist, I took a good hold of the tag and ripped it through it's thick cardboard. Victorious I took it back inside and found all the checkout lanes full. I got at the end of the shortest line and watched the cashier pack fancy crackers, wine, gourmet cheese, and expensive chocolates into the bag of the man in front of me. He pulled out a wad of brand new $20 bills and peeled off three of them. I couldn't decide which was harder to imagine: having all those goodies inside my stomach, or having that many 20s in my wallet.
He took his overflowing bag and left. I handed the ticket to the cashier. She rang it up and said, "$21.73." I wrote the check out; she took it without demur (yuppie shops never ask for your driver's license) and then called into her phone, "Help in the outdoor garden, please. Help in the outdoor garden." A woman came over from the office and said the receipt was stapled to the wrong part of the ticket. We switched pieces of paper several times until she was satisfied. She told me she'd meet me outside: she had to get her gloves.
I went back out to the outdoor, cement garden and stood by the chosen tree. The woman came out the other door, wrapped her arms around the tree, and pulled. Nothing happened. She tried a second time, grunting, "I think it's frozen," when suddenly it popped up off the metal stake that had been holding it. She staggered backwards with the tree in her arms, then reversed herself and staggered forward to the bailer. She lifted the trunk and pushed it into the bailer: once, twice with a grunt, then stepped back to get her breath. "You push and I'll pull," I told her. She did, I did, and slowly but surely the tree slid into the bailer.
"Do you want the end cut off?" she asked. I did. She picked up a pruning saw and then asked, "Do you want these lower branches cut off as well." "Yes, please. Are all the boys gone already?" I asked, as there seemed to be no burly young hired men to hoist the trees.
"Of course," she replied. "Typical," I said, and recited the endless Internet joke about what if The Three Wise men had been women." She burst into laughter. Obviously she wasn't on the Internet. "I've got to go find the lopper," she said.
While she hunted for it, I began pruning the lower branches with the saw. By the time she gave up the hunt, I had them all sawed off. "I'll cut the end off," and she took the saw from my hand. Two men, customers, wandered into this cement and nearly treeless garden. "Do you have any cord wood?" they asked. "All there is left is about a quarter of a cord. It's around the building there - past the carts." They vanished and she continued sawing. Glancing down I saw all the tree ends that had been cut before. "They could use these for firewood," I suggested.
"They would be pretty sappy," she replied.
"That's OK. Christmas is supposed to be sappy." She burst into laughter again and before she stopped I said with mock-severity, "And just where is your hat? I'm going to have to tell your mother you were out here without it."
"Well, I gained 40 pounds and I just don't seem to get cold anymore."
"Nonetheless," I replied, only half kidding, "all your heat is going out your head."
"I have a really great hat," she said, finishing the sawing. "It covers up my little ears." I looked to see if her ears were little, but they were covered by her hair. Together we hoisted the tree through the rest of the bailer and it landed, trunk down, on the cement. She lifted the tree while I helped myself to bailing twine. We took the tree to the car.
"Do you have a roof-top carrier?" she asked.
"No." I pointed to my Honda Accord, "but it will fit across the back." We wrestled it up and, sure enough, it did fit. "That's all you need to do, I told her. "I can handle the rest."
"Give me a hug," she asked. "You're so sweet." Suddenly I was hugging her, a big strong bear hug, and off she went, leaving me bemused. Here I was so grouchy and out of sorts having a wonderful conversation with another woman cheerfully managing without the macho hired men. We had touched each others hearts and gone from customer/clerk to huggers. What an amazing world.
Suddenly she re-materialized, holding a brown yuppie-store bag aloft. "Here. We had some white poinsettias left," she said and thrust the bag into my arms. I looked in and saw a beautiful white poinsettia. Tears sprang to my eyes. I would never have had the money for such a beautiful luxury.
"Oh, thank you," I said. And before I could do more she turned back to the store.
"You have a merry Christmas," she told me.
"I will. Thank you." was all I could seem to say. She was gone and it was still zero degrees. I opened the car door, showed the dogs the gift, and started the engine to get the heat going. House plants don't survive long when the temperature is out of degrees. I finished tying the tree to the car.
It's Christmas and once again the magic has happened. Two strangers finding themselves together in a cement garden have stepped out of time and space and brought joy into each other's lives. It's as Garrison Keillor says about why we re-tell the same story each year: because it's a very good story.
Whether you are Christian or not. Whether you are with loved ones or not. Whether you are happy or, as is most likely if you are reading this, not... Whatever your situation, inside yourself and out, I wish you the gift of peace, the gift of love, the gift of inner light.
with greatest caring,
To submit items for the library, send email to GriefNet.
GriefNet grants anyone the right to reprint this information without request for compensation so long as the copy is not used for profit and so long as this paragraph is reprinted in its entirety with any copied portion. For further information contact:GriefNet