A Tree and a Problem

By Linda Porter Carlyle

Joseph Anderson Donetti reached for the big cardboard box on the top shelf in the garage.

“Be careful!” G.M. cautioned, steadying the ladder. “Hand me the box. Don’t try to climb down while you’re holding it.”

Joseph stirred up dust when he moved the box. It made him sneeze. He handed the box carefully to G.M. and scooted back down the ladder. He wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. “Are we going to go get our Christmas tree now?” he asked.

G.M. nodded. “Let’s put these decorations in the house, and then we’ll go.”

“Can Mac come with us?” Joseph asked.

“Sure. Go invite her,” G.M. answered.

Joseph dashed across the grass and up the steps to Mac’s back door. Mac opened the door before he could knock.

“Do you want to go with G.M. and me to get our Christmas tree?” he asked.

“Yes!” Mac said eagerly. “I’ll ask my mom.”

Joseph looked around at the neighborhood as he waited on the porch. It was truly winter now. The leaves were gone from the trees, and the thin, bare branches looked like pencil drawings against the gray sky. He grinned to himself. He was starting to think like an artist—just like G.M.

“I can go!” Mac exclaimed, stuffing her arms into her jacket. “I’ll race you to the truck!” She leaped off the porch.

“No fair!” Joseph hollered. “You never give me a fair start!”

Mac touched the fender of the old truck first. “I won!”

“I can beat you in a fair race!” Joseph grumbled.

“Maybe. Maybe not!” Mac teased. She slid into the seat beside G.M.

“How come you don’t go up in the mountains to cut your Christmas tree?” Mac asked. “That’s what I like to do! Sometimes we drive way, way up in the mountains on steep roads until we’re about on top of the world. And it’s all snowy up there. My dad doesn’t like trying to find a tree when they’re all covered with snow. He says he can’t tell what their true shape is, and so he doesn’t know which one to cut. But I like playing in the snow, making snow angels and everything, and my mom always takes a big thermos of hot chocolate to warm us up.” Mac stopped for breath.

“How come we don’t do that?” Joseph asked G.M. He had never played in snow and drunk hot chocolate on top of the world before. It sounded like fun.

G.M. wrinkled her nose. “I can’t drive my old truck up in the mountains,” she said. “We’re both too old for that. So the Christmas tree farm is the best I can do.”

G.M. stopped the truck in the gravel parking space beside a farmhouse.

Joseph looked out the window. Rows and rows of evergreen trees stretched away to the left. There were gaps in the rows where some trees had already been cut and taken away to people’s houses.

Joseph, Mac, and G.M. piled out of the truck. A man carrying a long pole with a pink flag on one end walked toward them. “Merry Christmas!” he said with a cheery smile. “Look around at the trees. Take all the time you need. And when you decide which one you want, hold up this flag. We’ll see you and come cut the tree down. All the trees are the same price,” he added.

Joseph took the pole.

“That flag is a good idea!” Mac said, impressed. “If you had to run around searching for the man with the chain saw, you’d probably forget which tree you picked out before you ever got back to it. Can we go and look around?” she asked G.M.

“OK,” G.M. said. “But stick together. I don’t want to lose either of you!”

Mac and Joseph wandered between the trees. “Look at that one!” Mac pointed. “That’s a perfect tree! Don’t you think that’s a perfect tree?”

Joseph squinted at the tree. “I don’t like it. It’s not straight,” he said.

Mac shrugged. They continued walking. A chain saw roared in the distance. It meant that somebody had found the perfect tree.

“There! That one!” Joseph exclaimed.

“No,” Mac said critically. “It’s a little scraggly. But we’d better hurry up and find the right one,” she said anxiously. “What if somebody else picks our tree before we even find it?”

Joseph laughed. “If somebody else picks our tree, it won’t be our tree! It will be their tree!”

Mac laughed too. “I guess so,” she said. “Look! There’s G.M. She’s waving at us.”

Mac and Joseph jogged through the trees to G.M.

“How do you like this one?” G.M. asked.

“It’s so short!” Joseph exclaimed.

G.M. chuckled. “I figured that’s what you’d say. But it has a nice shape, and it looks like a friendly tree.”

“The man said all the trees here are the same price,” Joseph protested. “I think we should get a really tall one!”

“So you believe that bigger is better,” G.M. commented.

“Isn’t it?” Joseph asked with a puzzled look.

G.M. grinned at him. “Only sometimes,” she said.

Finally they found it. The perfect tree. Not too small. Not too tall. Joseph held up the pole with the pink flag, and Mac jumped from one foot to the other until the chain saw man finally arrived.

The saw cut quickly through the trunk of the tree. Mac and Joseph supported it so it wouldn’t fall over. Then the chain saw man picked up the base of the tree, and Joseph and Mac carried the top part. G.M. led the way, and they walked slowly through the rows of still-waiting-to-be-cut Christmas trees, all the way back to the truck.

“Can you come over to my house after supper tonight?” Joseph whispered to Mac when he was sure G.M. couldn’t hear. “I have a problem. I need you to help me figure out what to do.”

“What kind of problem?” Mac whispered back.

“A really big Christmas problem!” Joseph said softly. Continued next week

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