The rumbling engine of the half-ton truck and the hissing squeak of brakes woke Corky from his slumber. It had been a long trip from the tree farm in the mountains. He was bound and wrapped in a tight nylon netting that kept his limbs from tangling with the other trees in the truck with him.
A group of men lifted them from the truck one by one and passed them on to place them in rows inside a cordoned lot on the side of the road. It was brightly lit with a large marquee sign that said, BEST CHRISTMAS TREE DEALS.
Corky was the last to be pulled from the truck. The man who lifted him called to a lot worker on the ground.
“Hey, boss! You want this little one? I missed it on the last stop.”
“Anything wrong with it?”
“It’s a live tree, not like the cut ones we got here. Still has the root ball on it.”
“Bring it down,” he grumbled. “We’ll try and sell it.”
Corky felt himself being twisted and jostled off the truck and finally set down on the hard, winter ground, his burlap-wrapped root ball causing him to fall over. Another man placed him in a black, plastic pot and propped him up.
He saw many more trees in the lot with him. They had healthy green needles and stood tall and straight. They looked beautiful in the crisp air, but in their faces he saw a sad pained look in them. Corky noticed that they had two crossed boards nailed to their trunks to keep them upright, and he wondered if it hurt them.
Placed at the front of the lot, people noticed his blue needles were different from the other trees and walked around him.
“What kind of tree are you, little one?” asked a close Balsam Fir. “I don’t remember you from the farm,” she said.
Corky twisted his head to the pretty tree. “Hello, ma’am. Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m a Corkbark Fir. I came from a different farm, I think. I may have been overlooked at the last stop.”
“Who’s that, Balsa?” a Douglas Fir asked, looking over her boughs. “He’s not the right color, is he?”
“He says he’s from a Corkbark farm,” Balsa explained.
“Oh, hello, sir. My name is Corky. How do you do?” Corky smiled and the Douglas smiled back.
“Welcome, Corky,” a Noble Fir said behind them. “Don’t worry about your color. There’s a tree for every family. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a good tree in the house, you know.”
“Hear, hear,” his fellow Nobles agreed, their limbs whispering in the chill winter wind.
“Christmas trees?” Corky said. “Is that what we’re all doing here?” His eyes grew wide with excitement. Being a Christmas tree was such a high calling and he had never hoped he would get a chance to be one. “Wow,” he whispered.
“Of course, Christmas trees, little one,” Balsa smiled at him. “What did you think would happen when they took you from the farm?”
“Well, I never thought that would happen to me. I mean, trees are trees, right? We just grow. We stand and give shade and give the wind a place to play through, and give a home to birds and squirrels, right?”
“You mean you didn’t know you could choose this?” a Douglas Fir gasped.
“No, but this is an amazing honor. But, am I the right kind of tree for such an important position?”
“It doesn’t matter what kind of tree you are as long as you care for the family,” the Noble said, putting a bough around Corky. “You’re worthy to be among us, even if your needles are blue.”
The entire yard of almost one hundred trees agreed with the Noble Fir. “Hear, hear! If you truly want to be a Christmas tree, then we’re glad you’re here. It’s a great honor,” they said. “We’ve known our whole lives we were to be here. Welcome, welcome.”
“Hey boss,” a lot worker called. “This little blue tree’s not getting picked. I think it’s the wrong color. Do I put it in the back?”
“Yeah, whatever,” the lot owner said.
Corky was roughly pulled away from his new friends, twisted by his branches until he was whirled all the way to the back of the lot. His limbs ached and dozens of needles were ripped from him. He was shocked at the sudden move, and it took him a while to orient to his new surroundings. He craned his head but couldn’t see his friends anymore.
Around him now were dead and dying trees that didn’t survive the long trip. Some were completely dried out husks with bent and broken branches and little to no needles left on them. Others were bleeding sap from the faulty way their stands were attached. They creaked and coughed in the cold air. They gave a bleak stare at a small fire pit a dozen feet from them.
“Were you going to be a Christmas tree, too?” he asked a leafless tree beside him.
The tree said nothing at first. It slowly pointed a thin branch at the fire.
“That’s our new fate, now,” he rasped. “No one will want us but the fire.” He dropped his limb. It swayed limply in the breeze and he remained silent.
Corky gasped and thought of what the workman had said. Was he really the wrong color for a Christmas tree? Would he never be bought by a family this holiday? And if he is never bought here… will the fire be his final fate? He looked to the front of the lot and saw dozens of happy families searching through the trees, buying and loading pine after pine onto their vehicles. Surely there had to be some family that would want him.
He spent that night and another two waiting at the back of the lot for a family to notice him. His courage waned as the days sped by with no hope of joining a family for the holiday. As the lot quickly thinned out of the more healthy green trees, he noticed a young boy standing at the lot front each day. He was always alone and his eyes held a sad hope as he left.
Each morning the trees were regrouped and brought toward the front of the lot. Even so, Corky was always kept at the back end. The fire pit had taken several of the dead trees already and his hopes of being bought dwindled with each cold night that passed. The last days of the tree lot sale arrived with the last four Douglas Firs standing at their tallest and fullest in front of Corky, though their needles were beginning to drop steadily into the snow.
Every day Corky saw the young boy come to the lot. He was a stocky boy about twelve years old and had a large forehead and small eyes. He always left at the end of the day and returned each afternoon to stare at the unsold trees.
Three trees were purchased on the last day. Only Corky and a poor looking Douglas Fir named Soloman stood for sale. He saw the boy cautiously approach the salesman.
“‘Scuse me, mister,” he said, tugging at his coat.
“How much do the trees cost?”
“Like the sign says. Thirty five dollars.”
“Oh.” He turned and trudged off. His eyes looked even more sad than before.
“Hey,” the man called. “What’s your name, son?”
“Andy, why don’t you get your mom and dad to come with you next time. I’ll make them a good deal, okay?”
Andy’s face didn’t change.
“Don’t gotta dad. Mama’s too sick to come with me. She promised to get us a tree this year, but she can’t get out of the house. And she lost her job.”
“Oh,” the man said, his smile falling. “That’s too bad.”
“Bye,” Andy said, turning.
“Will you be back tomorrow?”
“Uh huh,” he said, slowly.
“Okay,” he said, renewing his smile. “If you can do a little job for me tomorrow, I’ll let you have one of these trees. Would that be alright?”
“Okay!” Andy yelled. He turned and ran home through the clumping snow.
“I hope he picks me,” the Douglas Fir coughed. “I’m not sure I can make it another day.”
“I’m not so sure about that…”
“This is my last chance...” Soloman went into a coughing fit and shook so hard that his needles fell with each convulsion. He gave one last shiver and breathed his last breath.
The lot owner’s eyes fell on the last two trees. “Well, that’s that. Sale’s over,” he mumbled. He turned and extinguished the lights, pulling down the tree lot signs. He came back and dragged the dead Fir to the fire.
The night was cold and lonely. Corky finally slept with fitful dreams.
Andy’s winded, “G’morning, mister,” woke Corky with a start.
“Good morning, Andy. Ready to do the job?”
Andy stole glances at Corky as he worked. When he finished, the big man placed some money into his open palm. Andy ran and threw his arms around Corky.
“I love you, tree,” he mumbled, before carrying him home.
Corky whispered back. “I love you, too.”
“Mama! Mama!” Andy called at the door of his trailer. “Guess what happened!” He left Corky outside and climbed the two steps into his home.
“Not so loud,” his mother moaned. “Bad headache.”
“Sorry, Mama,” he whispered. “Guess what happened!” he shouted again.
“Okay. Tell me what happened. But, please say it quietly.”
“Yes, Mama.” Andy’s voice was much softer this time but his smile never left him. His mother watched him through one squinting eye and saw the gleam in her son’s eyes.
“I got a job!” he said, showing her the money he had earned.
Her eyes slowly opened. “Fifty dollars?”
“Yeah, and not only that,” he pulled the tree through the door. Corky took up almost all the space in their tiny trailer. “I got a Christmas tree!”
His mother began to cry.
“Are you mad, Mama?”
“Oh, baby,” his mother cried, opening her arms for a hug. He ran and hugged her hard. “I’m not mad. This is a miracle.” They sat on the bed and Andy recalled how he had gotten the job and how the lot owner gave him the blue tree.
“It’s beautiful,” Corky heard her say.
The bare Christmas tree sat happily as the boy and his mother laughed and sang carols with joy.
“We don’t have decorations,” Andy’s mother said.
Andy looked at his tree and smiled. He assembled a pile of odds and ends, strings and mismatched socks and decorated his tree with them. He cut stars from used aluminum foil and placed them on each branch. Strings and wires replaced tinsel and garland, plastic caps and tops hung as baubles. He put a wrapper with a star logo on the top. He stepped back and smiled. Corky had never been decorated before and thought these the most beautiful things he had ever seen.
Andy’s mother startled them with a sudden bout of deep, rattling coughs. Andy rushed to her and rubbed her back.
She mimed for Andy to bring her some tea.
“Okay, Mama,” he said. He boiled water, made tea, and returned to his mother.
She slowly sipped her drink and lay back in bed. Her cough abated and Andy and Corky were relieved. She fell into a quiet sleep and Andy went to bed for the night.
The next morning, Andy and Corky were surprised to see his mother up and making breakfast. Andy got up and hugged her.
“Glad you’re feeling better, Mama.”
She smiled and ruffled his hair. “I’m feeling much better. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get you a Christmas present,” his mother said.
“You are my present,” he said.