Daddy used bolt cutters to cut the chain on a livestock gate. We rode in the bed of his truck, speeding across a bumpy field.
In the pickup-bed: Daddy’s friends Willie, Stuart, and me.
“This is a bad idea,” said Willie, trying not to choke on his cigarette. “Old man Luke’s liable to shoot us for stealing.”
The truck came to a stop. It was night. We could see our breath. We looked across acres of pine trees which grew in a field of weeds.
Daddy aimed headlights at trees. In a few minutes, chainsaws screamed, men laughed. They shaped balsam firs with trimmers, and cut down nearly forty-five.
They stacked them on a flatbed in a hurry.
The next night, Daddy and I sat in the front seat, wearing Santa caps, heater blaring. Bing Crosby never sounded so good.
He handed me a clipboard. “You’re Santa’s Little Navigator tonight.” he said. “Read me them addresses.”
I read, pointing a flashlight at a roadmap. And we delivered balsam firs to every dilapidated home, ratty apartment, rusty camper, and aluminum single-wide in the county.
We were greeted at front doors by men in work boots, women in waitress uniforms, and their giddy children. Daddy would set trees in dens, and give them free smiles.
Most people thanked him until they wore out their voices. Some cried.
Daddy would say, “Don’t thank me, thank the church.”
But the church had nothing to do with it—not officially.
The following Sunday at church, Daddy was a door-greeter. I stood beside him, shaking hands, passing bulletins.
With each handshake, Daddy said, “Care to donate to needy kids who can’t afford trees?”
People handed over bills. Tens, twenties, even a few hundreds.
After service, Daddy drove a maze of dirt roads while the sun lowered over the world. We stopped at a faded house in an overgrown field. Daddy rapped on the door.
An old man answered.
My father said, “Evening Luke, just wanted to see if you’re interested in donating any trees this year.”
The man scowled. “Already told you THREE TIMES, dammit, I don’t SELL trees anymore.”
“But Luke,” Daddy reasoned. “Your tree farm went to weed years ago, lemme cut down some trees for the needy kids.”
“I said ‘no.’”
“Luke, think of the childr—”
“Nope. I don’t care if every last tree rots.”
He shut the door. But Daddy wedged his boot in the jamb. “Please, Luke. You’d be a hero if—”
“You won’t have to lift a finger, and…”
“Get off my porch.”
“…And oh, how happy those kids would be when…”
“…like James Jacobson, whose brother just died on Highway Ten last week.”
The man sighed.
“…And Carol Simms, whose husband left her with all them kids to feed.”
The man pushed the door harder.
“…And don’t forget the Wilson boys, you know their family ain’t got a pot to…”
My father kept talking until he ran out of air. He was truly something. He could sell ketchup popsicles to a woman in white gloves on the Fourth of July.
Finally, the man said, “Are you done?”
“Promise me you’ll think about it, Luke.”
“ALRIGHT! I’ll THINK about it.”
“Yes, yes, I PROMISE to think about it!”
They shook. Then, Daddy reached into his pocket and handed the man a stack of cash.
“Consider it a thank-you, Luke.”
“For thinking about it.”
I miss my father at Christmas.