Two Trees Are Better Than One
By Chris Brockman
The new accumulation from an overnight snowfall crunched under Shelley’s boots. Bright sunshine, reflected from the sparkling blanket, added to her good spirits. The coil of rope over one arm and the bucksaw in her other hand helped her balance as her feet sank into the snow with each step. She was on a happy mission to cut a tree for her family’s Christmas.
Despite the difficulty walking the snow presented, Shelley was glad for it. The rope she brought, she would tie around the trunk of the tree when she had cut it down. Then, she’d loop it around her waist and the tree would slide easily across the snow, as she pulled it back to the house. The frosty whiteness, of course, also contributed to the Christmasy atmosphere.
The sky was the deep blue that only happens after an air-clearing snow covers the ground and provides a sharp contrast. Ahead were the black skeletons of the tree line that bordered her family’s property. On the other side was her objective, the pines that were scattered across the back forty of the MacGregor farm.
“Farmer MacGregor” Shelley thought, and she giggled at the irony. She felt a little like Peter Rabbit. The old man would never miss one tree, but she still felt a little thrill at the risk of being discovered. Mr. MacGregor had quite a reputation as a curmudgeon. He was what Shelley considered ancient—perhaps seventy—and since his wife had died five years ago, he had stopped farming altogether and had become a little reclusive. He also was known to have yelled at more than one kid who attempted to cut across his land on the old tractor path shortcut between the road in front of his house and the one that fronted hers. This included several of her friends and earned him the epithet in her circle of “Old Farmer Grouch.
Shelley stepped sideways down the side of the shallow ravine created by the natural drain between the two properties. Going back up this side dragging the tree would be her biggest challenge, but she was a farm girl, after all, though her family’s farm was only six acres of hay, a large garden, and a few dozen chickens.
She also had never pirated a Christmas tree before, and was a little unsure of the ethics of it. She had tossed the idea around since she had gotten the inspiration to make this contribution to her family’s Christmas. Money was a bit tight that year, and she wanted to do her part. Her final take on it was that the numerous trees scattered on MacGregor’s farm grew wild, and nobody was using them for anything. There were trees on her own land, but they just weren’t as nicely shaped as MacGregor’s. She had done some scouting, and she knew where the best ones were.
She had discovered that some of the trees on the other side of the ravine were the perfect size and shape, with nicely spaced branches perfect for hanging ornaments. She also discovered that the trees she had in mind were not visible from the MacGregor house. At least she could see only the roof of the farmhouse from there.
Shelley picked the best tree, scraped the snow away from its base, and began to saw it close to the ground. The saw was sharp, and she got about halfway through with no problem. After that, the sawing got more and more difficult. It was hard to get good leverage down low like that, but she wanted to leave as little stump as possible.
Her back was aching from bending over, so she knelt down in the snow, and she was able to lean against the tree, which helped a little. After a few halting pushes, however, the saw would move no more, no matter how much she jerked and thrusted. Maybe, she thought, she could start from the other side. She tried to pull the blade out, but it was stuck fast.
“How am I going to get this saw out,” she wailed. “I can’t leave it here. And what about my beautiful tree?” The physical exertion of fighting the saw, combined with frustration of her situation, overwhelmed her. She sat back, hung her head, and started to cry.
“It looks like you need a little help.”
The voice startled Shelley upright, and there was Old Farmer Grouch himself. He stood over her, leaving her in the most compromising a position she’sdever been in.
As she tried to wipe the tears from her cheeks with he gloved hand, MacGregor continued, “Maybe if I pull the tree from the other side, it will free the blade. I see you have a rope. Let’s loop it around the tree.”
Shelley couldn’t believe her ears. She was caught red handed, and that hand was in the cookie jar. And yet, the grinch was going to help her save Christmas. Omigosh!
“Mr. MacGregor I’m Michelle…” But, he put up a gloved palm and interrupted, ”I know who you are. We can talk about that after.”
With MacGregor pulling the tree, the rest of the cut as soon accomplished, and the tree wooshed to the snowy ground. Shelley waited nervously for what came “after.”
“Tie the rope around the base, and make sure you put it above a branch or two so it won’t slip off.”
Shelley marveled at her luck. “Mr. MacGregor, I want you to know I appreciate this.”
MacGregor, whose expression had been entirely non-committal so far, frowned. “We’ll see about that.
“Now, grab onto the rope, and I’ll help you pull this—back to my house. I haven’t put up a Christmas tree since Edna died. Since you’ve cut such a fine one for me, I think it’s time I started again.”
Shelley was aghast. “You mean we’re going to drag this tree to your house…”
“And put it up,” MacGregor finished
As they came up top the house with the tree in tow, MacGregor said, “Untie the rope and cut off those two big bottom branches. I get some clippers to snip off the small ones.” When the first twelve inches of the trunk were smooth, he pointed to the front of the house. “We can take the tree right in the front door and into the front room, but you need to take off your boots in the entranceway. There’ll be enough snow on the floor from the tree without us tracking in more.”
Shelley felt a little uneasy at the thought of going into the house with a man who was essentially a stranger to her, but she thought of MacGregor’s age and the good feeling she already had about him and replied, “Whatever you say.”
Inside, MacGregor wasted no time. He retrieved a tree stand from the closet under the stairs, and together they wrestled the tree up. Shelley moved it while Macgregor sighted it straight.
”I gave most of the Christmas tree ornaments to my kids,” he told her when he was satisfied with the position of the tree. “But I saved a few special ones.”
He was gone upstairs for a few minutes, and Shelley looked at the family pictures around the living room, picking up one she assumed was a young Edna. She had known MacGregor’s wife only a little before she died, only months after here family moved to their farm.
“That’s my daughter,” said a returning MacGregor. “Unfortunately, she lives across the country, works for some big company, and doesn’t have time to get home much. Here, you can help me put some of these things on the tree.”
As they hung ornaments, Macgregor had a story for each one—where he and his wife had got it or who made it, and what was going on in the family at the time. Clearly, they were special ornaments.
Shelley told him how sorry she was that she had tried to take one of his trees (she didn’t want to use the word “steal’). He listened, but didn’t say anything.
When they had put on all the ornaments, the tree was still pretty bare, but MacGregor stood back and nodded approvingly. “If you want to know the best lesson of Christmas,” he said, “it’s that it’s not what you have or what you give that’s important, but what it means.” Shelley thought she saw a smile starting at the corners of his mouth.
“All right, let’s go get YOUR tree.”
They put on their boots, coats, and gloves and tromped back through the snow to the pine trees. Macrgegor looked around and picked one out. “How about this one?” Shelley agreed that it was very nice, and they cut it down in short order, working as a team.
“I’ll help you get it back over the ravine and up the other side,” Macgregor said, and Shelley was in no position to argue. When they had gotten it up the other side, Shelley once again told Macgregor how sorry she was that she had tried to take one of his trees.
“Well, it wasn’t the right thing to do, and I hate to sound trite, but if you had asked me I would have said “Fine with me—Go ahead and cut one.” But, if you learned a lesson, it’s all for the better. Plus, I got a Christmas tree put up, and you got yours too. I’d say that was a good deal.”
Shelley saw that little smile start again, and they wished each other a warm “Merry Christmas.”
As she drug her own special tree across the field, Shelley thought about MacGregor’s smile and what it stood for. Her own blossomed into a beautiful flower on her lips, and she decided that there was no reason why she shouldn’t go visit Mr. MacGregor once in a while. “First, though,” she thought, “I’m going to call up all my friends and invite them over to make ornaments and string popcorn. I know they’ll come when I tell them my story. And we’ll go over and finish decorating Mr. MacGregor’s very fine Christmas tree.
Chris Brockman is the author of "What about gods?"
the classic of religious scepticism for children.