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From my childhood and throughout my adult life I have always favored a real Christmas tree, as in one that grew from the dirt.

I don’t say “live” tree because, well, I’m no scientist, but I’m guessing once it’s chopped from its roots, it’s no longer living.

I’ll admit that, since we became empty nesters and there are no strong-bodied sons around to help me carry in the tree, it’s been tempting to go the artificial route. And I know we have paid for one many times over with what we have spent on real trees through the years.

But on some things you can’t put a price. As for me and my house, we get the real thing.

That has presented challenges through the years. As my wife recently reminded me, the first time my children heard me use bad language was while trying to get a Christmas tree to stay in its, um, darn stand. I’m not proud of that, but she is correct.

In our family room we have a vaulted ceiling, so we generally get a nine- or ten- foot tree, which adds to the difficulty of getting it through the door and in a stand.

My life changed and my language got cleaned up a few years ago when I purchased a five-prong tree stand that works so much better than the old three-prong type. Since that time, although it is still a daunting task, Christmas trees in our house have stood much more easily.

My wife and I went to pick out this year’s tree at one of the local hardware stores on the morning of December 7. There was not an abundance from which to choose. Of course by today’s standards, when so many put up their trees Thanksgiving weekend or before, I guess we were late. That could be the reason there was not another person in the garden section where the trees reside – neither a customer nor an employee.

Still, even though the pickings were slim, we found a nice, tall tree after pulling several out from short stacks of them.

My wife told me she would stand by it (although there was little likelihood anyone would try to take it from her) while I went to Customer Service to see if someone could come help us. A very nice guy named John made three calls before he finally found someone to assist. He told me to go back to the tree area and Steve would meet us there.

Steve showed up minutes later with a rather uncertain look on his face. He asked if I would like to load the tree onto a cart.

I told him I would prefer to first have it netted, as has always been the general custom at this establishment when buying a Christmas tree and loading it in one’s vehicle.

“Huh,” he said, with that same uncertain look on his face. If you have not figured it out by now, Steve was not a regular in the Christmas tree area.

“Tell you what,” I said. “I’ll carry it up to the front and you can put it in the net.”

He turned around and I followed him, carrying the tree. I hoisted it onto the platform in front of the netting apparatus, at which time Steve once again said, “huh.”

He then told me I would have to help him get it into the net. I told him I would be happy to do so, but I would like to have some of the bottom limbs cut, and would like about a half inch cut from the trunk so it would be level at the bottom.

As Steve’s eyes began to glaze over, but before he could say “huh” again, I grabbed some nearby clippers and trimmed the aforementioned limbs myself. For safety reasons, if not for the store’s own liability risk, I decided I should not be the one using the chainsaw to lop off the bottom of the trunk. We managed to find a pair of safety glasses for Steve and he performed the job.

He and I pulled the tree through the netting device. I cut the net, tied it at the top of the tree and loaded the tree onto a pushcart as Steve was wishing us a Merry Christmas and getting out of the garden section while the getting was good. And because the garden section was essentially on lockdown, I had to push the cart into the main part of the store to complete the transaction.

Throughall of this I never became exasperated. At my age, I’m more long-suffering than I once might have been. Also, I’ve worked retail and I know how unpleasant it is to deal with unpleasant people. It wasn’t Steve’s fault he was called to pinch-hit in Christmas trees. At this point we had a good tree, so there was no reason to get upset over how much effort it had taken on our part.

I did, however, stop to talk to John in Customer Service as I passed by with our tree. I thanked him for his help and told him we were very pleased with the tree we had selected. I then asked him, very politely, whether, since I had performed so many of the tasks required to
obtain the tree myself, he would have the authority to knock, say, 20 bucks off the price.

“It’s free,” he said.

“Oh come on,” I said. “I wasn’t asking for that.”

He told me again the tree would be on the house, and they should have been better staffed to help us. (I had to agree, but I still was not asking for a free tree. But since he insisted … )

As my wife came up behind me, I introduced her to John, and asked him to confirm not only what he had just told me, but that I had not demanded same from him.

He assured her I had been very nice. He wished us a Merry Christmas as I happily pushed the cart out to the parking lot to load it onto my truck.

The tradition of a real tree continues. For obvious reasons, this year’s might be the best one yet.
Thanks, John.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected]

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