It was a December afternoon in 1936. Snow was on the ground in Atlanta, Georgia where I lived with my Dad, Mom, and my older brother, Ron. Christmas was but a few days off, and we did not yet have a Christmas tree.
Although I was but 4 years old at the time, and had little reason to consider it, I’m sure that the term “discretionary income” was an unknown figure of speech within our struggling-just-to-get-by depression era family. There was even some talk of our doing without a Christmas tree this year, the mere mention of which was totally unacceptable to my big brother of 12. Donning a jacket, he whispered to me, “Put your coat on! Let’s go. We’re gonna have a Christmas tree!” He looked wise and determined. I idolized my big bro, so without hesitation, I did as he said, and off we went.
“What’s under your jacket?” I asked as we headed down the alley away from the house. He unbuttoned it a little and revealed Dad’s hatchet tucked inside. “We are equipped!” he said. We made our way purposefully to scrubby woodland located about a quarter of a mile from the street we lived on. My brother had passed that way often when walking to and from his 6th grade classes.
“OK come this way,” Ron said, and I veered with him to the left off the main pathway. Shortly he looked in both directions before spreading the wires on a barbed wire fence to let me crawl through, I had a tinge of apprehension. But hey, this is my big brother, so what’s to fear? It’s gotta be OK, right?
We shuffled along through scrub pines and various bushes until my brother said, “Look, ain’t she a beauty?” And a beautiful fir tree it was—straight, erect, and symmetrically filled out. “It’s real pretty,” I said, but it’s too tall for our living room, isn’t it?” “Naw, it’s just right!” he assured me. Within a few minutes he had felled the tree, and he said, you take the small end and I’ll take the trunk end. He grunted and so did I. We quickly learned that a damp snow-covered Christmas tree weighs much more that we had imagined. “OK, so we’ll drag it,” my brother said. We both grabbed a hold and started dragging. By the time we got it off the property through a place where the fence was down, we were winded 3 times. By the time we got it home, we were totally spent.
“Where did this tree come from,” Dad asked. “Oh, over there someplace,” Ron replied with a vague gesture. I could see Dad seemed rather worried, but we soon proceeded to erect the tree, and after nailing some leveling slats to it, my brother said, “OK, now we’ve only got to cut those three feet off of the top where the ceiling bends it over.” That’s about when we heard a sharp knock on the front door.Dad answered the door. We heard a man speaking loudly in an agitated manner. “I’m here to talk to you about a tree stolen from my property!” he said.
Dad invited him in. The upshot was that indeed the tree had come from private property, and our drag marks in the snow had led the owner right straight to our house. The fact that the property was not currently being used for any useful purpose was quite beside the point. He explained this terms not uncertain. Even my brother was beginning to get the point.
After venting his anger about the matter, however, he began to cool down a bit. Seeing the petrified looks on our scared faces probably helped. He then noticed that the tree was way oversized for the room and that its peak was bent over and pointing due north. He suddenly began to laugh, and finally he wished us all a merry Christmas. But upon departing, he raised an index finger with greatly assumed authority to us boys, saying, “Remember boys, you’d better check who owns the property before you cut any more trees!”
Actually, we boys stood well reminded of an excellent business lesson that Christmas. We also had the biggest tree on the block!
Melvin R. Lyon