My short story collection, Christmas Jelly, was written in 32 chapters. This allows you (the reader) to enjoy one chapter per day beginning on December 1 and ending on January 1.
Here’s your fourth helping of Christmas Jelly.
Stolen Christmas Trees
“I know I tagged a tree in this area.” My neighbor Mitzi Foreman walks through our Christmas tree farm on a blustery December day.
Saw in hand, I desperately scan the area closest to the highway. “Maybe your tag blew off.”
“No, I tied securely. You don’t think someone took it?”
I cringe. All of the other nearby good-sized trees are taken and I want my neighbors to have the best tree possible. However, we’re prepared for a situation like this—extra trees are tagged in a remote area of our farm. I walk Mitzi over to a beautiful Leyland cypress in the southeast corner of our field, away from the highway. She loves it and I quickly cut it before she can change her mind.
Later that afternoon, Daddy and I look for the missing tree. He points to a jagged stump. “Someone cut that tree with an ax or machete.”
He shrugs. “Someone stole the Foreman tree.”
Who in the world would steal a Christmas tree? I just can’t quite picture a family sitting there on Christmas morning, opening presents, singing “Silent Night” around a stolen tree.
That’s sorry. As my uncle would say, “That’s lower than a snake’s belly in a gulley.”
People will steal just about anything. In the gift shop at Dry Creek Camp, there is an ongoing minor problem with shoplifting. Ironically, the most stolen items are the W.W.J. D. bracelets.
W.W.J.D. stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”
Well, I know this much—Jesus wouldn’t tell you to steal a bracelet—or for that matter, a Christmas tree.
# # #
A few days later, I take my boots off at our front door. Hanging from the Christmas wreath is a scribbled note, “I cut a tree today.” Attached to the note, held by a clothespin, is a twenty-dollar bill.
I kneel and lift our doormat. Under it is another price tag, twenty dollars, and a scribbled note. “Wishing you a very a Merry Christmas.” .
My daddy, the world’s most trusting soul, nails up a handwritten sign each year at our Christmas Tree farm.
“If we aren’t home, you can still get your tree. The saw is on the front porch. You can leave your tag, your name, and money by the front door. Now go do your thing.”
I especially love his benediction. “Now go do your thing.”
Unbelievably, this system has worked well. We’ve found that when you put trust in people, they usually come through in an honest way.
The week after the stolen Foreman tree, we notice another stump. The thieves have evidently returned, or someone else has sunk to their low level. I try to remember how many circles of hell there are. Christmas tree thieves deserve to be down there with Hitler, Nero, and the other dregs of history.
I tell my three teenage sons, “We’re going to catch the thieves when they return.”
The next night about 10:30, my middle son Clint and I see the headlights of two vehicles leaving our driveway. We spring into action, running to my truck and taking off in hot pursuit.
We are dressed for battle—I’m in my pajamas and Clint in his boxers and a T-shirt. We catch the escaping thieves within a mile at the Dry Creek intersection.
It’s our moment of truth. I tell Clint, “We’ve got ‘em red-handed now.”
There the culprits are—my mother in her van. Daddy in his truck. They’d left one of their vehicles at the Christmas tree farm going to a basketball game. The headlights we saw were when they returned for the extra vehicle.
Clint and I both burst out laughing. I feel like Barney Fife on one of his overreactions in Mayberry.
My wife DeDe is waiting at the door when the heroes arrive back home. After we sheepishly tell our story, she asks, “Well, what would you boys have done if you’d caught up with the real thieves?”
I look at my nightclothes and shrug. “I guess I’d have taken off one of my house shoes and beat them with it.”
# # #
In the coming week, I try to balance the frustration of a tree thief against dozens of honest families and friends coming to select a tree.
A neighbor arriving with a jar of coins to pay for their tree.
The excitement of warmly dressed preschoolers running through the trees laughing and singing is enough to put anyone in the Christmas spirit.
The fun of letting a five-year-old boy hold the other end of the saw as he “helps” me cut down a tree. As the tree falls he loudly shouts, “Timmbbbeeer.” He’ll always remember “cutting down that tree” during a Christmas season so many years ago.
A tree is special to a young child as this story illustrates.
A local preschool class came for a classroom tree. They paraded off the bus running to the four winds,
Several parents came to help their child select a tree for home. Four of five trees were cut before the preschoolers loaded back on the bus. I put the trees in the back of my truck and followed the bus to school. About half way down my driveway, the bus stopped abruptly. Teacher Dianne Brown exited the bus. “Curt, one of the little boys is crying and shouting, ‘I want my tree. That man’s taking my tree. I want my tree right now!’ ”
It took careful explanation to convince him we were bringing his tree to school.
He thought I was stealing his tree!
# # #
A stolen Christmas tree could make one cynical, but the joyful faces of children drown out any disappointment. Besides, a thief has to live with himself. That’s pretty apt punishment in my book. He or she saved twenty-five dollars but gave up a little of his soul.
The occasional person who takes advantage of us is greatly outnumbered by the folks who are as honest as the day is long. Our honor system works well because of this: most people are good down in their hearts.
In life, we must choose a worldview: whether people are rascals or basically honest. There are plenty of examples of each end of this spectrum.
I recall other examples of “trustful hearts” in our community: Don Gray’s turnip green patch with a crudely-lettered sign inviting people to pick all of the greens they need and leave their money in the mailbox.
Farmer’s Dairy and their butter dish bank for people to pay for their gallon of fresh thick milk. This honor system has been in use for years and Mr. Matt Farmer told me it has worked well.
It’s true—in life, we find exactly what we’re looking for. Our attitude and outlook determines how we perceive the world around us.
We can see every person as a potential Christmas tree thief, or we can see him or her as the person who’ll honestly cut his or her own tree and leave the money under the doormat.
It’s a choice, and the choice is ours to make.
We can either say “Bah humbug” or “Merry Christmas.”
I like the sound of the latter much better.
# # #
Matt and Dee Farmer live in the Dry Creek house they built together over sixty years ago. They operated their family dairy with sons Ken, Don, and Wesley.