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(via Quaint little cottage | Houghton, Cambridgeshire by Victoria Warren | Flickr)

#1: The Christmas Tree Farm Is Closed This Year

Length: Long

Mr. Partridge has been dead for at least a decade. I don’t remember him much; I mostly remember him as a large, burly man with broad shoulders and a gruff manner. He planted a Christmas tree farm, and he ran it with the aid of his wife and four sons. The Christmas tree farm took up a few acres of land behind the Partridge homestead. Hills of festive green trees rose up behind the house, making it look like a quaint little cottage in the middle of an enchanted forest.

Mrs. Partridge is the sweetest little old lady you could ever hope to meet. She loved the Christmas tree farm as much as her husband, and she poured every ounce of herself into it right up until the end. She baked gingerbread cookies by the hundreds and kept a vat of piping hot cider on the front porch. The cookie and cider stand was manned by her grandchildren and the money it made went to the local high school.

We’ve always gotten our Christmas trees from the Partridge farm, and when I entered my freshman year of high school, Mrs. Partridge said I could make a little extra Christmas cash working with her sons and grandkids. Most of the local kids either worked or volunteered at her Christmas tree farm, and I had a lot of fun until this past Friday, when the farm was shut down.

The Christmas tree farm officially opens on Black Friday. The mall may be crowded with early-bird shoppers, but once they’ve got the hot new toy of the season, they need a Christmas tree to put it under. From sunup to sunset, Mrs. Partridge and her granddaughters churn out gingerbread men while her sons, grandsons, and everyone else helps shoppers find the perfect Christmas tree.

I know I’ve painted the Christmas tree farm as this cozy little haven, but working there has made me a little jaded. Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. Partridge is an amazing woman, and there are times when I loved my job. But, as with every job, not every day is going to be sunshine and gingerbread men. The bigger, taller boys – myself included – we’re the ones lugging the tree to the car, hoisting it onto the roof, and tying it down. It’s not unusual to head home at the end of the day with aching arms and a sore back.

I still had fun, though. After all, most of my friends worked for Mrs. Partridge, and it did give me an excuse to hang out with her granddaughter, Samantha. Samantha was in my Spanish class, and while I floundered and got verb tenses mixed up, she took to it easily and made it sound like the most beautiful language I’d ever heard. I would fantasize about having her tutor me, but never got up the nerve to ask her for help.

At least at the Christmas tree farm, I had an excuse to talk to her. She was usually helping her grandmother with the endless batch of gingerbread cookies, but she’d occasionally come out of the house, smelling like cinnamon, to help put together wreaths and garlands.

Anyway, the farm was mobbed with Black Friday shoppers looking for the perfect Christmas tree. The crowd was thick and energetic; parents carried babies bundled into snowsuits and older kids ran amok, playing hide and seek in the false forest. I caught brief glimpses of Samantha as she handed out gingerbread men and styrofoam cups of steaming cider. She was wearing a sparkly red sweater and jeans that might’ve once been dark blue; they were spattered with flour. Her black hair was tied back with a festive green ribbon, and she was beaming as she leaned down, offering fresh cookies to small children.

The Christmas tree farm closes at sunset, and the crowd had begun to wind down by threeish, seeing as the sun was due to go down at 4:15pm. I was attempting to tie a six-foot tree to a VW Beetle when I noticed the kid for the first time. I didn’t really pay any attention to him, but given what happened later, he stands out in my memory.

Cutting down the Christmas tree is always a family affair, but sometimes you can tell that the older kids don’t want to be there. This kid was maybe twelve or thirteen. He was wearing a dark gray hoodie and was thoroughly engrossed in something on his cell phone. His mother looked harried, as if she might burst into frustrated tears at any given moment. A wailing baby was strapped to her chest, and she was pushing a red-faced toddler in a cheap plastic stroller. I’m no expert on baby carriages, but I knew that this thing would be a bitch and a half to navigate through the grass and mud. The woman fumbled with the stroller, trying to shush the crying toddler. A small, yappy dog pranced energetically around her heels barking its head off.

“Dammit, Aiden, help me with the dog!” the woman’s voice was thin and hoarse. She must’ve wrangled these kids and the dog through a crowded mall before she even arrived at the Christmas tree farm. Part of me wanted to take her by the arm, lead her back to her car, and tell her to go home and get some sleep. There were more than enough trees to go around; she could come back tomorrow without the kids.

The older kid – Aiden – grabbed the dog’s leash and jerked it away from his mother without bothering to look up from his phone. The dog promptly turned to Aiden and began to bark again. Aiden trailed after his mom as she brought the wailing baby and the sobbing toddler out among the trees.

This wasn’t a really unusual sight. I’d seen disinterested kids and crying babies at the Christmas tree farm before. Sometimes, I think parents underestimate the amount of energy their kids have. Tromping around a chilly Christmas tree farm for hours might be OK for Mom and Dad, but I’ve noticed that the littler kids tend to get tuckered out quickly and get bored even faster. At some point, all the Christmas trees start to look the same, and the kid doesn’t care about whether or not it’s “shelfy” enough or how much needs to be cut off the top so it’ll fit in the living room.

The guys and I managed to finish tying the Christmas tree to the top of the VW Beetle, and I forgot all about Aiden and his beleaguered mother. We were quickly distracted by the sound of shouting.

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