[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t nineteen, I answered a help-wanted ad in the newspaper, to cut and load Balsam firs at Joey’s Cut-Your-Own Christmas Farm. I earned thirty-five bucks per day, plus tips.
Most of Joey’s customers were families with kids. Children with pent-up classroom energy leaking out their trouser legs. “How about that one Mommy!” one might shout.
Mommy would then look at me and ask, “You gonna wrap our tree with that netting stuff?”
“Can you wrap my kid up, too?”
For a good tip, I’ll rotate your tires, lady.
Mister Joey was a magnet for children. They flocked to him. And before families drove away, he’d give the kids chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil. And he’d say, “I don’t normally give these things out, but you’re special, boss.”
We had entire boxes of those coins.
One day, Mister Joey sent me into town for lunch. Before I left, he flipped open his wallet. I noticed the photograph of a woman in it. “Mister Joey,” I said. “Who’s that?”
He removed the picture. “That was my wife, I lost her in a car wreck, along with our first son. Years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Joey went on, “Those were the worst decades of my life. I tried to crawl into a hole and forget them. To forget I was ever a father at all.”
Just then, a little girl shouted, “Hey, Mister Joey! I found a tree!”
Joey’s face perked up. The child took him by the hand and whisked him away. And Joey paid close attention to every word she had to say. As if she were the Queen of England herself.
Fathers are like that.