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
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
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.