O Stolen Christmas Tree

Psst…go back to that empty lot and grab one of those Christmas trees.” Grandmom nudged us back into the minivan.

“What?” My eyebrows shot up in surprise.

My brother looked at me, then at Grandmom.

“You can’t be serious. We can’t just steal a Christmas tree.”

“Why not?”

Our Grandmom, Edna, was forceful. “Here, leave this in the shack if it eases your conscience.” She stuffed a ten-dollar bill into my brother’s pocket.

“On your way, now, before your folks notice you’ve gone.”

Scandalized, I hopped into the van before she could give me “that look.” My brother pulled out of the driveway, and I saw Grandmom waving from the garage door with an innocent smile.

“This is nuts.”

It was my fault. If only I hadn’t made my family wait for me to get the tree.

Every year, since the dawning of time, my parents, brother, and I trekked to a Pennsylvania Christmas tree farm a week before December 25th to cut down the perfect fir.

During my grade-school years, when Dad was a driver for UPS, we cherished any time spent with him during the busy delivery season. Often, we went tree hunting with family friendsmaking a day of it. We enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies and spent the afternoon walking around the woods in the crisp air. It was a family tradition.

When we moved to Georgia, the tradition shifted just like everything else. First of all, most Southerners put their Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving and take it down two or three days after Christmas. Many put up fake balsamsretrieved from the attic where they had hung, bat-like, from the rafters all year. We clung to our Northern tradition with both fists, unwilling to assimilate completely into the Southern culture surrounding us.

That particular year, my college final exam schedule was grueling and ended with one last test on the afternoon of December 22nd. That evening, I gathered Grandmom from her house on Congress Ave and escorted her to the airport, where we flew to Georgia. I begged my family to wait for us to arrive before getting the tree.

On the 23rd, after a hearty family breakfast, it was time to hit the road, drive into the mountains of north Georgia, and find the perfect Frasier.

Dad, Mom, Grandmom, my brother, and I piled into the minivan, listening to merry carols on the radio and enjoying the scenery as Dad drove us into the hills. The first tree farm had a gate securely locked across the drive. 

Hmmm…okay. Let’s try another one.

Same thing there… and at the next farm too.

An hour into our happy excursion, we realized that the farms were closed for the holidays. No one in Georgia bought a tree on the eve of Christmas Eve! Who in their right mind would wait so long?!

Twilight fell upon us as Dad drove toward homeour vehicle full of sullen silence. We passed house after house, lit up from withinthe glow of candlelight and holiday lights casting a dreamy glimmer into the night.

No Christmas tree?!

We had never celebrated Christmas without one before.

It was my fault, and I sank deeper into my seat, the sound of silence louder than a trumpet blasting in my ear. Dad turned the radio back on. Even the soft crooning of Bing Crosby couldn’t ease my heartache.

At the last intersection, before turning onto our road, my brother noticed a shack in an abandoned lot, strung with blinking colored lights and surrounded by pre-cut, wrapped-up fir trees! Salvation!

Without a word, Dad pulled over, and my brother and I ran to purchase a treeany tree. The shack was empty, and there wasn’t a soul around. The hut was lit, and Dean Martin purred from a radio, but the place was deserted.

Maybe the guy went to the gas station across the road and would return momentarily. We climbed back into the warm car.

“Well?” Mom asked.

We explained.

Dad said we could wait for a few minutes. After what seemed an eternity, no one returned. It was a lost cause.

Dad put the car into gear and drove home. Mom and Dad were disappointed. Edna was not deterredshe would not take no for an answer and sent her grandchildren to steal a tree.

And so there we were, my brother and I, approaching the shed in the dark like criminalslooking around furtively to be sure we weren’t spotted.

We came upon a pile of netted pines and shouldered the closest one, hoping it would be half decent. Checking behind us one last time to be sure we weren’t pursued by the owner, a junkyard dog, or the police, we tied the tree to the top of the van, our fingers clumsy with cold and nervousness. Once secured, my brother ran back to the shack and pinned the ten-dollar bill to the wall, using a thumbtack that held up a poster. His conscience was clear. We high-tailed it outta there.

When we got the evergreen home, Dad was surprised but didn’t question us. He saw his mother wink at us from across the room, and he knew not to question her ways.

We hefted the pine into the stand, and, with bated breath, my brother did the honors.

He clipped the netting away, only to reveal the most full, the most fragrantOh, the most perfect Christmas Tree we had ever seen.

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