Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Last Christmas Tree - Part I

Walt pulled a medium sized pocketknife out of his trousers pocket and
opened the small blade. Then he pulled an un-opened bar of Red Man
from the pocket of his mechanic’s overcoat and cut off a plug of
chewing tobacco. He began to talk after he had laid down the bar of
chewing tobacco on his left knee. "Old man Lucas told me this story a
year before he died." Walt spoke with a soft slow cadence in his deep
bass voice.

"This is a true story that happened to Ms. Lilly and old man Lucas. He
told me this story a couple of years ago. Harry, you know Ms. Lilly,
she died last year, and you have drank old man Lucas' moonshine. She
raised three of the finest kids around here." Walt spoke, looking at
Harry who was setting out four seats around the circle that had formed
around the pot-bellied stove located in the rear of the Smoke House.
Harry nodded while he held the small-bowled pipe in his mouth.

"This is my Christmas story. Well, old man Lucas told it to me, when I
bought my Christmas tree from him. Believe it or not the old man was
still sober. Anyway, it was after the war. Harry, you know, Ms. Lilly
lost her husband in the war. She was having a rough time of it with the
three kids and all. Old Pete at the diner had given her a waitress job,
while she went to night school to learn to be a secretary. She was a
lousy waitress. She only made fifty cents an hour plus tips at the
diner. Old Pete would slip her some food on the side to take home to
the kids. She barely had enough money even with the small veterans
check she received every month to keep up the kids and to manage
things." Walt stopped speaking and threw a half-dollar size plug of
what he had cut off into his mouth.

"One cold December night at Lucas' tree lot at the Farmer’s Market, old
man Lucas told me this story.

"Ms. Lilly drove up in her old Falcon four door car a week before
Christmas. The old car was sold to her by my father. My old man was the
best-used car salesman in South Georgia. She made weekly payments that
were always late until she got the job at the bakery. She bought a used
Fairlane station wagon from him after she got that job." Old man Walt
stopped speaking and grabbed the medium sized peach can that was
sitting next to him. After spiting the brown liquid from chewing the
Red Man into the can, Walt started to talk again - the large wad of
chewing tobacco tucked inside the right cheek of his mouth. His right
cheek protruded outwardly at least an inch or more.

"She had Larry, Taylor, and Lynn in the back seat jumping around. The
kids were excited about getting a Christmas tree and hoping Santa Claus
would be coming to see them in the next week. After going around
several times and asking prices, Ms. Lilly stopped at Lucas' lot."

"Mr. Lucas do you have a small tree for around five dollars? Things
haven't been going too well since Ed died. I can barely find the money
to buy clothes for the kids this year. They grow so fast. I promised
them a tree this year, even if we didn't have any presents." Ms. Lilly
spoke from the rough running car with the kids jumping around in the
back seat.

"Well, Ms. Lilly, most of ours run around ten to thirty dollars and
that doesn't count the cost of the stand." Old man Lucas said quickly
placing the small pint bottle with his brew in his back pocket out of
view from her. With his left hand he placed the half-burned cigar back
in his mouth. He had been holding it in his left hand with his thumb
and index finger. Lucas knew that the foul cigar smell could only
partially hide the smell of the moonshine, but at least the smell of
his drinking would not be detected on his breath.

Both individuals paused for several moments looking at each other, and
then Ms. Lilly started to let the old Falcon move forward, a large
amount of white smoke from the tail pipe of the Falcon spewing forth.

"Wait! Ma'am!” Lucas called out. The old Falcon came to an abrupt halt
with the motor still running and a small amount of white smoke still
escaping from the tail pipe. "I tell you what I'll do," he paused again
catching his breath. "I tell you. After I close up I'll bring you a
tree with a stand and lights for five dollars. You can pay me the five
when I deliver the tree. It'll be the best and differentest tree that
you will ever have." Lucas spoke very rapidly, hoping she could not
understand. "I'll even flock it for you, even if it’s a year old."
Lucas cried out at the old Falcon while she drove from the lot, leaving
a trail of white smoke behind. Lucas pulled out the flat clear pint out
of his back pocket and took a long drink, almost draining the bottle

“At first I thought old Lucas was tight, but to sell a widowed woman a
year old tree was the ultimate insult." Walt stopped speaking and spit
into the metal can again. Walt chewed for several minutes, surveying
the men who were sitting around the stove to see if they were listening
to his story. "But I was wrong."

"Old Lucas was a booze hound. He could out drink any man in the county.
He made the best moonshine in a three state area. The stuff could take
the paint off a new car, but it had a kick and the stuff would stay
with you, but old Lucas was a sharp old cuss. The old guy took a Nobel
Fir from the year before and made a beautiful tree for Ms. Lilly. First
he shook the tree with one swift motion. Every single needle that had
been on the tree fell to the ground. The tree was really ready for
kindling instead of becoming a Christmas tree. The old man flocked the
bare tree twice from every angle. After the flock dried, he placed the
tree in a stand that he had painted red and green the night before. He
took this strange looking white tree to Ms. Lilly’s house around
mid-night. The old man wasn't feeling any pain by then.

Anyway, the old man woke up everyone in the household. He dragged the
bare, white-flocked tree into the front living room of the small
five-roomed house. Ms. Lilly’s face was snowy white with embarrassment
from the strange looking tree and from Lucas’ inability to stand up
straight. The three children thought the tree was the greatest tree
that they had ever seen. Everyone was suddenly quiet while they starred
at the six-foot bare white tree. Each individual had come to the
realization that this tree was no ordinary Christmas tree. It was
different. Old man Lucas gave two strands of lights to Taylor, while he
fell down into the sheet-covered armchair next to where he had placed
the needle-less tree.


Written By Franklin P. Smith @ Tales from the Smokehouse

Part 2 Next Week!