It sat alone, across the muddy tractor tracks, next to the stinking porta-potties in a wide and muddy pit.
Enjoying the wagon ride out to the fields, the hacksaw in hand and children all around, my husband and I hardly noticed the wide plastic sign, our sights set firmly on cutting our own Douglas or Frasier fir.
We’re skinny-tree people, the taller and spindlier the better and we were excited to head out across the muddy fields to cut and claim our own piece of Christmas. Two three-year-olds in tow, we climbed down from the wagon and followed vague directions toward a distant hill.
The boys lagged behind by the time we reached the first stand of trees - small, pre-cut firs - and my husband I exchanged worried glances as we subtly scanned the increasingly alarming price tags. We held a quick and quiet conference in the midst of the evergreens then turned as a family and headed back toward another field where the hopefully cheaper Douglas Firs waited.
Things started to fall apart a little then. Little people stumbled over stumps and ditches, hands were cold and ears. There was an argument with an older child about the need to zipper a coat. We crossed the muddy wagon tracks to a field of still shorter trees and slowed, again exchanging looks over the price tags we passed.
Subtlety aside, our older children picked up our tone and started exclaiming over the prices too and then we were that family with too many kids exclaiming in overly loud tones about the cost of the trees.
Picking a tree in winter with young children in tow is a time-sensitive endeavor. We were running out of patience, hesitant to pay for an overpriced tree that would be dwarfed by our nine-foot ceilings, but more hesitant still to spend the gas and time needed to drive to a cheaper tree farm.
That’s when we remembered Rudolph's Bargain Patch, a humble cluster of homely castaways – a veritable island of misfit trees. I ran ahead to scout things out, saving precious little feet unnecessary footsteps, and planned to signal back if the small patch held any promise. I slipped and scurried past a storage shed and several industrial outhouses before stopping by an overly cheerful sign emblazoned with a chipper little red-nosed reindeer.
Wagon-loads of people road by as I dove into the muddy patch, running quickly between the trees and, lo! to my great surprise our salvation lay in that lowly patch. I ran again into the roadway and waved the family over, uncontainable excitement at the prospect of getting a “steal” written across my face.
The trees were enormous and cheap, so cheap, especially in comparison to what we’d just seen. The six of us bobbed and wove among them, stumbling and slipping in the mud, exclaiming over and over, “Look at this one!” and “Oh my gosh, this one is huge.”
In the far back corner sat the mother-load, a great monster of a tree, exceptional both in girth and height – a tree so big and cheap that we couldn’t not get it.
Still, we hesitated, grinning, circling, exclaiming and wondering.
Would it fit in our house? Our tree stand? Could my husband even carry it?
Finally we brought it to a vote and with smiles all around, from the littlest face to the largest, we voted to embrace the glory of that giant, forlorn tree.
Stumbling a little on his feet, my husband hoisted the heavy trunk halfway to his shoulder while I “spotted” from behind. Then the six of us marched, triumphant, from the bargain patch, our faces filled with the glory of largess, the audacity of abundance discovered in unexpected places.
People in the passing wagons smiled at us and I imagined the picture we made – a family short on cash with a gaggle of kids carrying this great misfit of a tree out of the mud and muck like we’d just won the lottery.
I was tempted to be embarrassed, but mostly I was joyful, exuberant.
Reading the Magnificat this week it occurred to me that maybe this is something akin to what Mary felt when she sang her famous song about the upheaval that was taking place within her. Maybe the joy we felt lugging home that pearl of great price wasn’t so far removed from what the shepherds felt, slipping and sliding their way to the manger; not so different from the awe and welcome the wise men experienced entering the child's simple home after their costly exposure to Herod’s court.
When the tree was home and in the stand, my husband cut the wrapping off and there was a pregnant pause before whomp! it sprang out of its confines filling the room and our hearts with joy.
Every time I descend the stairs and spy it’s swollen circumference in the corner of the living room, Mary's question chimes within me, “How can this be?” This is the story of Christmas, this story of searching and finding what you didn’t know you needed in a place you never would’ve thought to look.
Credit for this sweet photo HERE.
(This post is dedicated to all of the families we've secretly and openly ridiculed for their ridiculously fat Christmas trees, specifically the Hicklins and the Ladases and in memory of my Grandfather Hausknecht whose Christmas trees got a little shorter and wider every year.)