Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The War On Christmas... Tree... Sellers.

I was going to write a blog post about Christmas Trees and this new 15 cent tax tree sellers are now burdened with. I was going to write about it because I have a bit of firsthand experience in the industry and I thought my insights would prove helpful. Then I started crying at my desk.

Like most people, my best childhood memories are related to Christmas-time and the holidays, but my childhood was a little unique.

Unlike most kids, I was the daughter of nursery owners—the kind with plants, not babies—and our house was actually on the same property with the greenhouses, gardens, and tree beds. My childhood was awesome. I was homeschooled so I spent a lot of time outside, helping clear weeds from flats of pansies or rake a never-ending torrent of leaves that fell from the hickory trees.

Every December, my dad would take a big, white work truck and drive up to Tennessee to buy Christmas trees—live ones. That was my parents' deal: they hated the very idea of cutting down a beautiful tree just to decorate a home for a month. They had to be living trees with burlap-covered bulbs of soil at the base. They were more expensive but, my mom argued, they didn't lose needles, they didn't dry out, and they could be planted in a yard after Christmas was over. My grandmother's property is lined with just such trees.

When I was 11, I drove up to Tennessee with my dad. This meant that my mom put my Precious Moments sleeping bag and a few puffy, pink pillows in the truck and filled the passenger side door storage with notebooks and school work. We woke up while it was still dark and my mom filled two Stanley thermoses with the kind of coffee that, after years of cultivating snobbery, I'd never dream of drinking.

I failed to mention this sooner: we were poor.

I don't know if my mother intended for my brothers and I to be as painfully aware of it as we were, because it helped structure my financial ideology, but we certainly never forgot it. I did schoolwork alongside my mom as she sent out invoices and handled the accounting. When I went to college and got my first phone it took me a week to stop answering it "Hickory Grove Nursery, how can I help you?" as I'd done my whole life. In that office I got to hear it all—what customers hadn't paid, who my dad hadn't billed, how much money was in each account. I learned to hear the fear in my mom's voice when things weren't good. It sounded like a slow moving panic attack—the words sort of caught at the back of her throat as if she was always just about to cry.

During the winter months, when people don't really care about how their gardens look, things were hard. Christmas Tree sales mattered—a lot.

Confession: this is making me cry at my desk just writing it.

Anyway, back to the trip.

I was thrilled. My dad and I listened to the radio and blew the horn at anyone who gave us The Universal Truck Horn Blowing Signal that all children gleefully make on car trips. It took forever. Even back then when gas was somewhere around a dollar, my mom had carefully calculated the cost of gas and marked stations on the map (this is the age before GPS and cell phones). We had packed food for the trip, but my dad bought us honey buns.

Sometime around noon we pulled up to a wholesaler and I waited in the truck while my dad handled the sale. The truck began to shake as young men started loading trees into the bed, so I got out to help (the trees were about a foot taller than me, but I was tough).

"Leave that, Lyndsey, get back in the truck" my dad said as I started to pick up my first tree. "This is all we're getting."

I balked at the almost-empty truck bed. I was a kid and I didn't understand a lot of things, but I knew this was bad.

While my mom wore her financial burdens on her face, my dad never seemed scared or upset in the slightest. Back then I thought it was just his way of keeping calm under pressure, but looking back I see it as arrogance—he knew if things got too tough, his parents would bail the business out of trouble; my mother, on the other hand, would have rather eaten glass.

I ate the rest of my honey bun as we pulled the truck out of the driveway. I thought we were heading home until we pulled into another, bigger wholesaler. I was horrified to see workers filling up the rest of the truck bed with cut trees. Not my parents. Not at our nursery. Cut trees were for those over-priced, roadside stands.

The drive home took even longer—and it didn't just feel that way, my dad had to drive more slowly to keep the wind from bruising the trees. We didn't have any insightful conversations—I didn't ask why he bought cut trees. I knew. Live trees were simply too expensive and cut trees were within their budget.

So now I'm reflecting on this new tax.

I know it's not much.

I've written about the tanning tax and other seemingly innocuous taxes and I haven't gotten emotional. But now I'm thinking about small business owners (read: families) stretching their dollars as far as possible, using cheaper supplies and products just to stay afloat. I am thinking of pre-teen girls reading Nancy Drew, bringing home Christmas trees with their dads.

And I'm angry.