We always had a large Christmas tree . My father loved to decorate it , and I think all of us kids helped too . There were colorful bulbs and glass birds with feathered tails , and tinsel . On the top went , as I remember , an ornate glass orb-and-star decoration . I made a tin-foil reindeer when I was in , maybe , third grade , and that went onto the tree , too . I still have that thing and Ada and I put it up on our trees .
We had a colorful neighbor when I was a kid , Lance Kaufman . To us kids he was Mr. Kaufman . Lance did construction work now and again and always had his eyes and ears open to what was happening in the neighborhood . During at least one Christmas season he picked up a few extra bucks working at a local Christmas tree lot .
Lance liked my dad , and so he brought him a Christmas tree one night after the Christmas tree lot had shut down for the night . It was a good tree , as I remember . My dad tried to ask how much the tree cost as Lance lowered the tailgate and pulled the beautiful tree out of the bed of his beat-up old red pickup truck . My dad insisted on paying whatever the tree cost , but Lance refused to take any payment .
Well , maybe you had to know Lance , and maybe you had to know my dad . Let’s just say that my dad was intensely and unquestionably and scrupulously honest . I remember my mother saying that if Dad found a pencil on the ground he’d be sure to ask around if anyone had lost it . He didn’t like the thought of claiming something that wasn’t his . Lance , on the other hand , was more of a pragmatist , I guess you could say .
It was fairly clear that Lance had simply absconded with one of the trees at the end of his shift at the tree lot . No one will ever know for sure . It was clear that Dad thought that at the time .
So , what to do ?
Lance just smiled. ” It’ll be my Christmas present ,” he might have said . My dad must have struggled with the moral quandary . Here was a good neighbor offering a present of a tree , albeit most likely a hot tree .
I’ve decided not to tell you the end of this story . Let me simply say that nobody is perfect .
After my dad had his heart attack a few years later , and died suddenly , Lance walked over to our front lawn when he saw me walking from my car toward the house . He was crying uncontrollably . ” It should have been me , ” he said through his tears .
Lance had a growing cancer at the time . The cancerous growth on his neck was apparent . He lived for a few more years , but with a lot of suffering .
My mother called me to tell me the news the day Lance died . I was in my apartment near UCLA at the time , when I was finishing up my BA. I completely broke down and cried and cried all of the tears for Dad that I hadn’t been able to cry at the time that he had died .
My college roommate walked in and saw me . He was shocked and wanted to know what it was all about . Easy to understand , but hard to explain . I told him that I was crying because my father died . He knew it had been years since my father had died , so he might have considered me something of a nut case .
And , now , here it is Christmas and I’m thinking about all of this old stuff and remembering how much my father loved Christmas .