Christmas Tree Bargains

This weekend when we got our Christmas tree, I became a poor imitation of my father.  It happens every year.  I don’t bargain the way Dad did.  I don’t cajole.  I don’t convince.

Nope.  I pay through the nose.

Still, I always feel him standing with me, laughing, telling his favorite Christmas story one more time.

You see, unlike me, Dad never paid too much, or even very much, for our Christmas tree.  Never.

Dad had a wife and five children, not to mention the other relatives who were still around for Christmas.  Dad also worked three jobs when I was really little, while studying to get his insurance license so he could start his own business (he did).

There wasn’t a lot of spare cash to go around.  But a wife and five kids needed a Christmas tree to celebrate properly.  And Dad, well, Dad was actually a total sucker for Christmas.  He tried to hide it, but Christmas was always special to him.

We lived in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, when I was very young.  It seemed like each corner sported a guy selling cut Christmas trees that had been brought in from more rural areas.  Mostly, the guy selling them was the same guy who cut them and who owned the land they grew on.  Dad had been seeing these same men every year for a decade.

As kids, we all knew that when they started appearing in the neighborhood, it meant that Christmas really was coming.

But whenever these guys would see Dad, they would purse their lips, remembering last year.  And the year before.  They didn’t remember Dad in a fond way.  Still, Dad would greet each one of them with his incredible smile.  His eyes would dance.

“Hey, Charlie,” Dad would say, “How’ve you been?” He’d say, shaking his hand.

“Fine Fred,” Charlie (or Joe, or Mac) would respond, as Dad would visit each of them.  They’d chat for a minute and then Charlie would go into his sales pitch:   “Got some nice trees here, this year.  Wouldn’t that pretty daughter of yours like this big one?  It would be hard to find an angel to put on top prettier than you are,” Charlie would say.

The pretty daughter Charlie (or Joe, or Mac) was talking about was Beth, my eldest sister. Beth was beautiful.  Black Irish — dark wavy hair and startling gray/blue eyes.

Beth’d cringe inside and give Charlie or Joe or Mac what looked like a shy half-smile but that was, in fact, a grimace.  She would rather have been anywhere else.  She knew the routine though, and she played her part every year.  Beth was the pretty daughter with the big blue eyes who never spoke; all the Christmas tree salesmen remembered her.

“I wanted to die,” Beth would laugh, recalling her childhood trauma.  “Vanish.  Dig that hole to the other side of the planet and crawl down to China.  Every year he’d take me with him.  I always tried to get out of it.”  In fact, it became a series of fond memories for Beth.  One of the times it was Beth and Dad against the world, or at least against Charlie and Joe and Mac.

They’d walk past the tree sellers for a couple of weeks, looking at the trees, with Beth picking out a beauty and looking hopefully towards Dad.

“No, Sweetie,” Dad would say.  “Not yet.”

Beth would accept disappointment gracefully, and they would continue on their way.

On Christmas Eve in the middle of the afternoon, Dad would place his wallet on the table next to the door, take Beth by the hand and say,

“We’re going to get our tree now.”

“It’s about time,” Mom laugh.  “Don’t let your Dad spend too much on it,” she’d say to Beth with a knowing wink.  They all knew what was going to happen.  Dad would just laugh as he and Beth would head to the nearest Christmas tree stand.  Charlie’s.

“Merry Christmas, Charlie,” Dad would say with a smile, reaching out to shake Charlie’s hand.  “Christmas just snuck up on me.  How did it get to be Christmas Eve so fast?”

Charlie would frown and shake his head.  He knew what was coming.

“I think that Beth and I would like to buy a Christmas tree,” Dad would say as if the thought had just occurred to him.  “Which one should we get?”

Beth would look over the trees and pick out the biggest, nicest one.

“Sure thing,” Charlie would say without enthusiasm.  “That’ll be $10.” (It was a long time ago!)

I’ve only got two dollars,” Dad would say.

“That tree costs $10.”

Dad would look at his watch.  “It’s 3:30 on Christmas Eve.  I’ve got $2.”  Then he’d look south down the street towards Joe’s Christmas tree stand.

Beth stood quietly, looking pitiful.  Wanting to disappear.

“I’ll give it to you for $5.”

I’ve got two,” Dad would say, looking north towards Mac’s Christmas tree stand.

Charlie would look at Dad, trying to stare him down.  Dad would look right back, with a mischievous look in his eye.  He’d hold up two single dollar bills.  He’d rub the two together next to his ear.  He’d rub them next to Beth’s ear.

After that, it was a staring contest.  Beth remained silent, in her role as pitiful prop.  Beth was dying of embarrassment and at the same time fascinated by the sport.

Charlie always took the two bucks, knowing that in a few more hours, that tree would be worth nothing.

“Merry Christmas, Charlie!” Dad would say as he and Beth walked away with the best tree.  “See ya next year.”

“Merry Christmas, Fred.” Charlie would say, shaking his head and chuckling.  “Next year, you’d better bring a fiver!”

I've got TWO bucks!

I’ve got TWO bucks!

56 Comments

Filed under Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Holidays, Humor

56 responses to “Christmas Tree Bargains

  1. Pingback: Psst! Need a Christmas Tree? | FiftyFourandAHalf

  2. Great story. Thanks. Sometimes, you can find a bazaar in places you don’t expect. I once bargained at a hardware store for an artificial tree on Christmas Eve. Same story, of course. It was now or never for the floor manager. Sure enough, I carried out a large box (assembly required set of plastic parts) for a small sum, only a fraction of the price tag amount. A middle-school boy with me at the time was half-mortified at the audacity and yet duly impressed by the common sense of it all.

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  3. Funny story, but your poor sister!

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  4. Being Canadian, I hate to barter for anything – we’re just too polite. Hubby LOVES to barter & will always get a good deal.

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    • That’s funny! I always feel like I’m stealing when I bargain! But my husband wouldn’t barter if his life depends on it. We look like we have a target painted on our backs.

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  5. Haha, what a great story. I could see the whole scene. Nice one ! 🙂
    Have a good Yule !

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  6. That’s funny now, but embarrassing back then. I love memories like this.

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  7. I think I love your Dad! You know your sister loves those memories now, but then I could see how it might have been a bit of a trauma.

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  8. Snoring Dog Studio

    Wonderful story and a wonderful memory. Poor Beth – but I bet the tree was gorgeous!

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  9. Beth deserves an Oscar! This was such a great memory and it sure proves that persistence pays off.

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  10. I loved this. It reminds me of my own love for & exasperation over my dad’s bargaining. Of course, I never had to play the role of Beth… that was my little sister, who, like your Beth, has never been that close to my dad.

    I also pay out the nose… I apparently didn’t inherit the “I got 2 dollars” gene. 🙂

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    • It makes me feel so much better that you didn’t inherit that gene, either, Rara. And i wonder if being part of the scheme was what caused the discomfort between Beth and my Dad, or your sister and yours. It would be an interesting psychology experiment!

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  11. We always got our tree on Christmas eve. We grew up with it being the tradition. It wasn’t until I was an adult and buying my own Christmas trees that I noticed the prices going down the closer to Christmas eve. I smile through your story. It would make a sweet Hallmark tale. 🙂

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    • I didn’t know that there was anybody else who waited that long. I felt deprived. But only when I was really young. Then we moved and we started “stealing” our tree. And we could do that any old time.

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  12. What a story… sounds so strangely familiar, actually. Being embarrassed by a haggling king of a father, anyway. I feel for your sister, that must have been so awkward.

    Can’t get a $2 Christmas tree no more, that’s for sure.

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    • Dad and Beth were never very close. I don’t know what role this story played in that.

      But it would seem like a bargain these days to get a tree for $50! Although the one we bought today was cheaper than the one we got last year.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. What a wonderful memory you have shared with us. I can picture your Dad with the twinkle in his eye and your sister blushing. It was a simpler time in many ways.

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  14. Dad’s tree serving as a placeholder for Mom’s gifts. Awesome combo!

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  15. Xmas was my Dad’s favorite as well, but he could never hold out that long to get a tree. Great post.

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    • Thanks, Cooper. My parents were really broke, Dad was working several jobs and was never off until that late. As my Dad would have said: “You gotta do what you gotta do”!

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  16. This is a great story. Your dad drove a hard bargain. Yes, 2 is better than 0. Poor Beth…

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  17. You really tell a good story, Elyse! Loved this one, brought me back to memories of my dad. He would drag us kids to his brother’s backyard so we could hike through the deep snow for hours looking for the perfect tree. Of course, we’d end up with a pathetic Charlie Brown one, but hey, the tree was free!

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  18. I like to bargain, but only to the point where I feel comfortable that I’m not being unfair to the seller – if that makes sense. I can appreciate those hard-bargainers, but I just can’t take it to where you dad could go. 🙂

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    • No, not many could do what Dad did. But he knew that the guy would get nothing from that tree or $2. I would have thought him cruel if he did it earlier in the season (and I would have thought the salesperson a fool if he accepted so little, too!)

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  19. Great story, Elyse. We were dirt poor but always ended up with a live tree. I suspect somebody was coming up a tree short on their acreage each year.

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    • I think that a lot of us with a creative bent had less than rich childhoods in the material sense. We had to use our imaginations.

      We actually “stole” our trees for many years, too. There’s another story in that. But not one for today.

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  20. I love this story. My pop would send us back to the car during negotiations. He never paid full price for anything he could manage a trade on. Not sure what he gave the guy but we always ended up with a Noble Fir, my mom’s favorite.

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    • Dad and Beth just walked a block away — and dragged/carried the tree home, so it wasn’t an option. I think he tried to make them feel like not selling him the tree would mean that the pretty girl would cry! Glad it brought back your own Dad’s negotiations!

      But does anybody negotiate any more on trees? We were told that it cost one price for 6 foot trees, and $10 more for taller ones. Dad would be ashamed of me!

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  21. I wish I could bargain like that. Too bad we didn’t get that skill!

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    • He knew the guy would always sell it to him because he waited until the last possible minute. And two bucks is always better than zero bucks! Plus these guys were the owners — not minimum wage guys who got paid whether they sold the trees or not.

      I’ve had a little bit of luck getting a better price on a couple of antiques by offering less just before the show is over. But that’s as far as I’ve ever been able to take it. And then Dad is definitely with me in spirit.

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  22. I will never be the bargainer or negotiator that my Mom still is. Fun post. 🙂

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  23. Between your mom’s weird gifts and your dad’s bargaining, you must have no shortage of Christmas stories to tell. I imagine that’s more fun than opening presents. Two dollars for a tree? My, how times have changed…

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  24. What a wonderful memory!! There is something so sacred about Christmas memories, so special and permanent…..

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    • That may be because so much of Christmas involves dusting off those old stories! This was one of my Dad’s favorites. He couldn’t look at a Christmas tree with out saying “I’ve got two dollars!”

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