Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine
“Whispering Pines”

The Best Christmas Tree Ever
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration piece

When Jimmy O’Hara decided on his Christmas tree at the outdoor lot at Home Depot, they gave him a purple ribbon and told him to give it to the outdoor cashier. Someone would help him get the tree over to his car.

Jimmy handed in the ribbon. It was $49.34. He also paid for four wreaths and six boxes of lights. Jimmy was feeling pretty good. Usually, he worried that he had picked a wrong tree, but this time, maybe for the first time ever, he felt good about his tree. It was just the right height and it was powerfully bushy.

When he had selected the lights, a Home Depot employee, an attractive black girl in her mid-twenties, had helped him out big time. Jimmy was fumbling around with the light displays and she came up and asked if he needed help. He allowed as how he did. He was stuck.

How could he tell which lights to get? They ranged from $2 to $19. She gave a little laugh and said, “Isn’t it something?” She asked him if he was going to use the lights after the holidays. He said he wasn’t.

In that case, she suggested he buy the $2 lights. He was surprised. “I know,” she said. “But the cheap ones are almost the same. They’ll see you through the holidays just fine.”

She helped him gather up the $2 boxes. The name on her nametag was “Amanda.”

He thanked her sincerely. She had really helped him. He asked her, “Do you know what Amanda means?”

She said she didn’t.

“It is from old Roman times,” he told her. “It means worthy of love.”

“Worthy of love,” she repeated. “That’s nice. I never knew.”

“Well, don’t forget. You really deserve that name. Thanks again.”

It was a nice way to start the holiday season.

He paid his bill and took his receipt back to the tree lot. He handed the receipt to a very big, tough-looking black guy who walked over to the fenced in holding area. There was Jimmy’s tree! It really was a beauty.

The black guy snatched the tree up and shouldered it like it was nothing. Jimmy looked at him again. Late thirties. Big shoulders sloped like an athlete.

He was big but he had gone soft in spots. He wasn’t wearing gloves. Jimmy was wearing gloves. It was cold—the wind was up too—like it always was around sundown. It was the coldest day yet.

“Man,” Jimmy said, ‘This has got to be the coldest day yet. The wolf is out there.”

“You got that right. That wind makes it bite.”

He pushed Jimmy’s tree onto a band saw and cut a few inches off. He made a couple of more passes until it was even. Then he guided the trunk into a contraption that enfolded it in a mesh of twine.

“You got a real nice tree,” he said.

“Thanks,” Jimmy said. He felt really good about the tree.

“You know when it gets cold like this? In April, I’m still umpiring baseball, and let me tell you, in April, when that wind comes gusting off the Sound, it feels like it was generated on an iceberg.”

They walked over to the lot. Jimmy’s Mercedes was parked in a Handicap spot.

“Yeah,” the guy said, “but you play anyway even in the cold and rain. You gotta love it.”

“You got that right,” Jimmy said. “You gotta love it. Were you an athlete?”

“I was a football player. I loved it. I played for years. I could have gone on with the game…but life intervened, if you know what I mean.”

The guy had paused for a fraction before he said life had intervened. Jimmy could tell he was new at telling his story out like this.

“Do I ever,” Jimmy said. “I sure do know what you mean.”

He opened the trunk with his key. There was plenty of room for the tree.

“Plenty of room, no need to lash it to the roof,” Jimmy said. “Just slide it in.”

There was plenty of room. The guy slid the tree in easy. Jimmy gave him a five-dollar bill.

“Thanks,” Jimmy said. He was tempted to say more. “Easy does it.” “One day at a time.” But he resisted.

The guy thanked him and walked away. Jimmy was feeling double good. He drove on home with the best Christmas tree ever.



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