When I was in junior high, we lived on a busy highway just a few miles outside of a small town in Iowa. It was, essentially, the perfect location to sell sweet corn in the summer. My brother and sister made some nice spending money that way each summer. But my Dad came up with a good idea one year of selling freshly cut Christmas trees. My uncle in Michigan had several hundred Christmas trees growing on his land. So early in the winter my Dad and I climbed in the pickup late one night, hooked up a trailer and made the long drive to Michigan. We drove through the night and arrived in the early hours of the morning and began loading up tree after tree tightly bound in twine. Over a hundred of them. With a full trailer, we made the journey home and set up shop in our front yard.
My brother, Tom, and I spent countless hours unloading the trailer, unwrapping trees, shaking them loose, and them placing them along the fences Dad had built in our front yard there along Highway 175. Christmas Trees $12. We were somewhat unprepared for the adventure upon which we had just embarked.
It was backbreaking work. The trees were heavy. Each tree needed some level of special attention - trimming the low-hanging branches here and there, clipping out dead branches, shaking the loose needles to the ground. Hundreds of trees in rows and rows from our driveway to the empty cornfield.
And the people came. Each year the weekend after Thanksgiving was a madhouse. As many cars that would fit on our farm driveway were there. People wandering around choosing their tree. And each evening my Dad would set several trees in his large workshop in the barn in case someone came after dark. They often did.
Each year when the trailer full of trees pulled on the yard, my Dad would give us the assignment we had been waiting for: find a tree for our family. We lived in an old farmhouse with 9 foot ceilings. There were few trees that were too big for our house. And each year my Dad, brother and I stalked our lot for our family tree. We had some remarkably beautiful trees those 3 years.
For 3 years we sold Christmas trees.
In 3 years I learned a thing or two about being a salesperson. I know more about Christmas trees than most people. I am the world’s harshest critic and judge of “the perfect Christmas tree.”
I also learned a thing or two about serving others. When someone came to shop for a tree, I followed them quietly and if there was one they wanted to see I would hold it out for them so they could stand back and get a good look at it. I carried their chosen tree to their car or truck. My Dad and I would carefully re-bind trees for people who wanted a Christmas tree to fit in the trunk of their tiny car. We even strapped one to the roof of a shiny black Lexus one night – first wrapping it carefully in several old blankets and then securing it firmly but delicately with twine. Dad and I would often give each other a bemused look when someone would pull on the yard with a small car. Each time, Dad would ask them where they lived and if he could deliver it to their house for them – no extra charge. He’d ask them how tall their ceiling was and offer to size it for them. He’d ask them if they had a tree stand and if they didn’t he had some that he bought on clearance and sold at cost. He made the whole experience of buying a Christmas tree joyful and easy. He modeled Christian love and a servant heart in a way I had never really seen. So over 3 years, I learned to adopt my Dad’s servant heart.
It was hard work, but it was gloriously joyful. I found joy in serving others – a lesson that is hard to teach your children. But each year when I put up my own fake tree (per a husband’s allergic condition), I smile at the memories of my Dad, my brother and I working so hard but having so much fun. And I remember that loving others, even strangers, is what Jesus came to earth to do. My Dad showed Christ to all those people. How could I do any less?