The thin layer of fresh snow crunched under the tires of the old, rusted van than pulled into the parking spot between a gleaming new SUV and a small, sporty BMW. A lone man got out of the dilapidated van with a creak of the door and a cloud of cigarette smoke. He had dirty, long hair and wore a sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves and some ragged, grease-smeared jeans.
He definitely didn’t fit the mold of the typical well-to-do customers that visit our Christmas tree farm for a fun, family experience. Despite his unkempt appearance, though, there was a delighted sparkle in his eyes and he wore a crooked, happy smile on his face as I walked with him into the snow-covered rows of Christmas trees.
He started telling me about his love of a real Christmas tree for the holiday and how he had one every year of his life but last year. The previous year, his was facing the recent loss of his long-time over interest to her drug habit.
“She kept trying to quit and I thought she was better, but she kept going back to the drugs,” he said as we walked though the icy pines. “So I had to kick her to the curb. That was tough and it was not a very good Christmas. I didn’t even get a tree. I was in a bad place then.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I didn’t say anything. He continued talking.
“But I just love Christmas, and Christmas trees. It really is a special time of year,” he said.
With this, I could agree. At this point he said he just wanted to look around for a while and I went to help some other Christmas tree customers who had found a tree. Then, for the next 45 minutes or so, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of him walking through the snowy fields with his sleeveless sweatshirt on. He still had the twinkle in his eye and the crooked smile.
The sun was starting to set and the temperatures were dropping. Most of the customers had cleared out of the fields. The man hollered out, “Hey, I think I found one.”
He was covered in snow from leaning into the trees he liked to place a clump of dried grass in the top so he could quickly find it and compare it with his other favorites. His bare arms were red and dripping with melted snow. He had settled on a massive, fat, tall Scotch pine.
The tree was cut and loaded into the old van. We all waved and wished him a merry Christmas as he pulled out of the drive. As he drove off down the road I was talking with the rest of my family about how that guy must really love Christmas trees. It didn’t look like he had enough money to even buy one. My wife, who runs the cash register, overheard us talking about the unusual man. To our surprise, she said that, when she rang up his tree, he told her to double the price and make sure we donated a tree to someone who could not afford one this Christmas.
We followed his request that year, and in the six or seven years since then. We have delivered Christmas trees on his behalf to a struggling cancer patient and her family, local churches, military families missing their loved ones and disabled elderly folks unable to make it out the fields. The experience has not only enriched the lives of the recipients of these trees, but also ours.
Every year that same guy shows up in the same tattered clothes, with the same rusted van and the same Christmas spirit. He definitely does not fit the mold of most of the other customers, but maybe most of us ought to try and be a bit more like him.