A Miser, Cheap Trees 
And The Unpredictable

M. Sandra Babcock 

© Copyright 2002 by M. Sandra Babcock 


Life is unpredictable with its frequent and abrupt directional changes. Cruising along at an even clip, you suddenly find yourself careening down strange avenues, averting hazards, backtracking, deciding whether to speed up or slow down in a vain attempt to maintain control of life and keep steady the course before us.

And there are some, myself included, who sail life's highways oblivious to the surroundings, until the road narrows and neon warning signs with pulsating lights flashing "important lesson ahead" appears through the congestion. All movement stops awaiting the unpredictable to begin.

Which brings me to my dad. It's been thirty years since I've seen dad and, oddly, the last time I careened down a highway of life's important lessons was with him.

Dad was one cheap, miserly, tightfisted, penny-pinching man. There still isn't anyone who equals his scrooge-like ways - except my boss, but that's another story. Parallel to his frugalness was his acute radar that peaked at the close of business on Christmas Eve when he zeroed in on unsuspecting tree lot salesman. Cheapo Dad would watch them pace between the remnants of pine, broken branches crunching beneath their agitated steps as they calculated their financial loss . . . then he'd pounce - like a cougar on its prey.

Soon, his slender frame would bust through our front door, cigarette dangled from his lips, snow dripped from his peppered hair and in his hand was the most gawd-awful tree this side of New York. "This one's a beaut!" he'd say. "Only cost me a buck!" Yes, it's a sad truth - our family tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve was born from greed. Years would pass before we wised up.

And wise up, we did. By the winter of 1971, and after an unpredictable move to the Golden State of California years earlier, the tree hunting expedition reared its ugly head yet again and it was my turn to chaperone Dad on this trek.

We set out one evening in cheapo Dad's old GMC. It coughed and sputtered while we cruised the lots with Dad staring out the window at the pine potentials and disgust ringing in his voice. "Nah," cheapo said. "Look it the price of that one - jeez!" cheapo exclaimed. Five tree lots later, with Dad coughing and sputtering as much as his GMC, we prepared to head home when life's unpredictable moments stepped in. A van in front of us slowly drove past a row of holiday pines and before our wondrous eyes there did appear a thief and his one tiny co-conspirator. Together these thieves of holiday frivolity snatched a tree and sped away into the night. We gawked at the pilfering taking place . . . ok, I gawked, but cheapo Dad stared at the thieves like they were geniuses!

Suddenly, a store clerk appeared at our window, "Get that license plate number," he said frantically, "and you can have any tree ya want!"

"Now that's a deal!" cheapo Dad said.

Once again, our direction changed as we bolted from the driveway in hot pursuit. Gears grinded noisily while we careened down the dark highway hitting a frightening warp speed of 40 MPH and just when we thought our chase was in vain, we caught sight of the culprits. We returned to the lot with number in hand and that night the most beautiful, green, pine scented tree this side of California sat majestically in the back of the pick-up. Dad busted through the front door, cigarette dancing between his lips as he talked. "This one's a beaut!" he said. "And it cost me nothin'!" This time he was right on both accounts.

Six months later, I stood beside his casket at the cemetery and traveled that last stretch with him. The warning signs of fatigue, the rude blinking lights of pain went unnoticed as I zipped down life's highway. This road was a lot darker, a lot scarier. I was eighteen.


 Last Christmas Eve I spotted two gawd-awful dad-type trees outside a hardware store. In the dark solitude, the bitter cold biting my fingers, I heard dad's laugh, felt his presence - "This one's a beaut!" echoed in the still night. Just when I thought the lessons of loss and healing were learned, I discovered there was more to the teaching plan.

My children know the stories about their cheapo grandfather and his gawd-awful trees. My brothers and I still laugh about dad's pine-pitch wonders. The tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve lives on. Despite the passage of thirty years, my memories of cheapo Dad are rich with love and humor; his legacy remains.

Life is, indeed, as unpredictable as it is awesome and it teaches, at times painfully, as we move through its highways. No matter how carefully we plan, there is no guarantee. My few years with Dad taught me more than his propensity of finding dirt-cheap trees. Through him I learned to venture off the beaten path; marvel at the scenery along the route; take time to thank those who smooth the road ahead for you for although life is an unpredictable adventure, it's well worth the risk. We are here but a short time and our moments under the heavens are to be enjoyed.

Thanks dad and wherever you may be, may all your trees be cheap.

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