Entry Sixty-six: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 3 of 6]

The Methodist Church was only five blocks away but it felt like eight. It always seems to take longer to get some place than it does to get back. Daddy found a parking space right near the front of the tree lot and, before he turned off the van and unlocked the doors, he turned in his seat, sort of, and went over the rules just like he does every year. “Number one: don’t act like little hooligans when we get out of the car. You represent our family and its good name while you’re in public. Number two: Help me with this one… Who makes the final decision about which tree we buy?”

We all shouted, “Daddy!” And with that we were released.

As we approached the entrance the smell of pines buckled my knees caused by my stomach’s memory of that afternoon but I recovered by taking a swig of ginger ale from Cecil’s flask. He was always getting car sick so he had special permission to carry carbonated soda with him every time he rode in the car, no matter how short the trip. Fortunately, since ginger ale lacked caffeine, it didn’t interfere with his Ritalin. Since I had to hesitate in the parking lot to settle my stomach, I got left behind. By the time I caught up, daddy had already grabbed a measuring pole and was marching into the first row of trees. Boy Scout Troup 1412 always ran this particular tree lot and we kept coming back every year because they gave returning customers $5.00 off the purchase of a tree. Coupons are a big deal to the Baum family. I found daddy and the crew halfway down aisle one, being led by one of Troup 1412’s finest, a little dude with buckteeth sporting his Scout shirt, scarf, khaki shorts and what looked like size twelve white sneakers. He looked nervous and I was guessing he was probably new. No one ever waited on daddy twice. As I got closer I could hear daddy getting ready to explain why.

“What was your name again, son?”

“Bart, sir.”

“Okay, Bart, here are my expectations for the evening. If you want to sell me a Christmas tree, you will need to follow these rules. One, I point to a tree I am interested in with the measuring stick. You will then pull it into the aisle and hold it straight. Two, I will measure for height which will determine its price which will determine whether it is in our price range. If it qualifies, we will proceed to three, which will require you to spin the tree one-quarter turns when I say the word ‘spin.’ I will say the word four times and you will spin the tree four times until I have inspected the tree from every angle. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Bart’s response was barely a whisper and his hand was shaking as he mindlessly raised it, holding up three fingers like he was going to start reciting the Boy Scout pledge. Daddy smiled and then made everyone jump by spinning 90 degrees and pointing the measuring stick toward his first evergreen subject, shouting “That one!” Bart recovered and ran over to daddy’s choice, pulled it out of the stack and dragged it to the middle of the aisle. We all watched silently as he struggled to gain enough leverage to pull it upright. He was so little that it took him a long time to get it balanced perpendicular to the ground. By the time he succeeded, he was sweating through his shirt and his hair was starting to stick to the sides of his face.

“Good Lord, man!” daddy shouted. “If you’re that slow with all of these trees we’ll need to order breakfast!” Bart was deflated and right before he started to cry, daddy told us kids to help him with the trees, which was what we were waiting to hear. Humiliating a Boy Scout is part of the Baum family tree buying tradition, at least for daddy.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

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