His name was Murrow. Not sure if it was the first or last name. He didn’t elaborate. Just Murrow. He grows Christmas trees. He knows Christmas trees. He loves Christmas trees.
The unshaven little plaid man tucked into the fat denim coat held out his hand, sticky with evergreen sap and calloused from years of handling raw wood. In his thick palm was a wad of green needles.
“They gotta snap,” he said. “Like a carrot.”
He bent one and it snapped. Like a carrot.
“See?” he said. “That’s a fresh tree. The only kind I got.”
He walked over to a massive tannenbaum sitting in a tub of water and bent down sloshing his hand in the cold liquid.
“This is Ulysses,” he said. “As in Grant. A tree this size drinks a lot.”
Ulysses was decorated with every flavor of MoonPie. I’d never seen anyone do that before.
“Looks good, don’t it,” he said. “My wife came up with that idea.”
As he showed me around his trees it became evident that he had given most of them a name.
“Besides Ulysses I mostly name them after country singers,” he said. “This is Hank Williams. That’s Carrie Underwood. Over there is Reba. The top heavy one is Dolly. You got Garth and Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton. Taylor Swift is the tall skinny one behind Toby Keith.”
“Looks like you’ve got them all,” I said.
“It’s a veritable Grand Ole Opry out here,” he said with a dramatic arm sweep. I.R.S. agent came in yesterday and took Willie. I miss him.”
“How long you been selling trees?” I ask.
“I’ve been growing them about thirty years now,” he said. “Before that I stole them from the side of the road and sold them off the back of my truck. Sold a little shine on the side too. Livens up your eggnog considerably until it curdles the milk. Then you might as well make pancakes with it.”
I pretended to have no idea what he was taking about. A perfect tree had caught my eye.
“I see you looking at Martina McBride there, buddy,” he said. “She’s a looker, ain’t she?”
Martina was indeed a mighty perfect tree and I shelled out more than I should have for the privilege to take her home to mama. As he wrapped her in red netting he told me a story.
“When I was a young man, I was in jail one night,” he said. “This was long before I met Jesus and the twelve other fellers he hung out with. I was prone to drinking and fighting and worse back then. The cell had a slit of a window in the cinderblocks and I could see a house up on a hill across the barbed wire. It was Christmas Eve. A beautiful woman was decorating a tree. She was so pretty and her family was so happy and I was so lost. Well, I made a promise right then and there to stop drinking and fighting and start growing Christmas trees. And that’s what I did. Three years ago that beautiful woman’s husband died. And last year on Christmas Day she agreed to marry a man who grows Christmas trees. Them MoonPies on Ulysses was her idea. She did it for our wedding.”
After hearing his story I was kind of emotional – as I tend to get during Christmas. He was putting the tree in the bed of my F-150 when I heard this shrill yelling from the back room. He cut his eyes over towards me and shook his head.
“I left out the part about her being real loud.”