Karla’s dad for several years owned and operated a Christmas Tree farm. Arling (that was his name, not the noise a Salvation Army Bell ringer makes) would take the customers to get the trees on a wagon hooked up to his tractor. Once a family found the “perfect” tree he would either let them cut it down or he would do the timbering himself. Then he’d cart the happy and festive tree hunters and their Tannenbaum back to their car. He had a shaker that would shake the dead needles out of the tree and a bailer that would tie the tree up for easy handling. Mary (my mother-in-law) would make wreathes from the misshaped or broken trees. There was usually hot chocolate and treats while the customer waited for their tree. It was a sweet operation.
They didn’t make much money on the Christmas tree farm. After paying for the land, taxes, spraying for diseases and all of his equipment, there wasn’t much cash leftover. If he ever added up the hours spent mowing, trimming and getting the area ready, he probably made about fourteen cents an hour. Besides my father-in-law was a softy. If someone told him a sad story of not being able to afford a Christmas tree or if he learned of someone who didn’t have a Christmas tree, usually they got a freebie. It’s not a great way to run a business, but it was a great way to run a life.
This is our first Christmas without Arling (he was promoted to heaven on January 4, 2018) and the tree farm has been sold. Arling’s life and farm provided me with good memories and important life lessons. Such as:
- Like a Christmas tree farm, we should be mindful of Christmas all year long. There was always work to do on the farm, not just at Christmas time. Likewise, we should not think of the Christmas message, “Emmanuel, God with us” as only a Christmas truth. It is Good News of Great Joy for all seasons.
- There is no such thing as a “perfect” tree (hence the quotation marks) and there is also no such thing as a “perfect” person (unless your name is Jesus of Nazareth).
- Like the wreathes made from the broken and misshaped trees, everyone (no matter how broken) can be made into something beautiful if given the right opportunity.
- Like Arling’s bottom line, money isn’t the most important thing. Be generous. Not everyone has been blessed with a good job, health or life skills. It’s always important to remember, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
- A little hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day makes most things better. This world has its share of bitterness and sweetness. Enjoy the sweet things, but leave the bitterness behind.