(I first wrote this story—it’s a true one—in 2007. Today, nine years later, we have, in addition to long-time readers, a whole new generation of Scouters, Scouts, and parents reading. So it occurred to me that perhaps it’s time for our newest readers to see this particular tale…which I offer with very best wishes to all my loyal readers for happy holidays—no matter which ones you celebrate!)
The Scout Who Saved Christmas
The Christmas season that year wasn’t particularly cold but, after all, it was Southern California back then. It was early evening, Christmas Eve, and my 12-year-old Boy Scout son and I were hunting for our last item…a Christmas tree.
This was a difficult winter, although I did my best to show a bright face. Fact was, I was pretty much in survival mode. I’d just become a single parent. And I’d lost my job. A rancorous divorce had taken its monetary as well as emotional toll. Cash was so tight, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make this Christmas anywhere close to merry. My son was devastated just a week earlier, when his “early Christmas present”—a shiny new bicycle—had been stolen. Yes, I’d found a replacement for it, but it sure was no bargain at this time of year. I had some other gifts for him, but I knew in my heart that “Santa” was going to fall a little—actually a whole lot—short this year.
If I can just get through the next couple of days, I thought, then maybe things will turn out OK. But, sitting next to me in the car was a bright-eyed boy who, if not believing in Santa Claus himself anymore, still believed in the spirit of Christmas. I sure didn’t want to disappoint him, and so I hoped against hope that the few dollars I had left in my pocket would be enough for a tree. As we drove around town on our “tree hunt” that evening, some lots had already sold all their trees and were closing up. Others were still open and had trees, but they were just too expensive for me.
We made the rounds. Parked the car. Looked at some trees. Drove and parked and looked some more. Mostly, I tried to pretend the trees we saw were too tall, or too short, or too whatever, when the truth was I just didn’t have enough money to buy them. Now it was getting late, and still no tree.
“Hey,” I finally said to my son, “Remember that Boy Scout tree lot…the one the troop in the next town over has, to raise money for their camping trips? We’ve bought lots of trees there over the years. Maybe they have one just for us, this year.”
“Yeah, Dad, I remember them,” my son said. “Let’s go check ‘em out.” I knew he was probably weary of driving from one tree lot to the next with still no tree, but he was still grinning. So, turning the car around, we drove to the next town, and found the troop’s tree lot…just as it was closing down.
A few Scouts were still milling around, picking up stray pieces of twine and small branches that had been trimmed from the tree bottoms so they’d fit in their stands. A couple of fathers were putting saws and unused tree stand wood into the back of a small pickup truck. We parked anyway, and walked over to where they were cleaning up. And there, amidst the last-minute debris, was one lone tree. Just one. Unsold. Standing alone, by itself. Not too tall, not too short, with full, bunchy branches still visible in the fading evening light.
As I quietly tucked one hand into my right pants pocket, trying to re-count the few dollars I had left, one of the Scouts—he was maybe 16 or 17 years old—walked over to where we were standing.
“Hi! Can I help you?” he asked.
“We’re looking for a tree!” blurted my son, while I foolishly tried to look as if we might have been there for some other reason.
Then, one of the fathers came over. Asked the same question, I just sort of shuffled my feet, feeling the thinness of the folded dollars in my pocket.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” asked the Scout. “Yeah, I know you two,” he said. “You’ve bought trees from us almost every year, ever since I became a Scout six years ago.”
“I’m a Scout now, too,” my son said, “Just like you!”
The Scout turned to his father. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “you’ve been complaining about what we’re gonna do with that one last tree. How about we just give it to these guys. They’ve been good customers of ours ever since I joined the troop.”
His dad smiled. “Sounds like a good idea to me. Want us to tie it to the top of your car?”
“Sure, and I’ll help,” my own son added, and he and the other Scout tied up the branches and then secured the tree to our car.
“But I have to pay you something,” I said.
“Naah…Don’t give it a second thought,” the Scout’s dad said. “That tree’s been looking for the right home all day, and it just found it!”
“Have a Merry Christmas!” the Scout waved, as we drove from the lot.
You have no idea just how merry you’ve made this particular Christmas, I thought as my son and I headed home.
It’s been nearly twenty-five years since that night. My son’s an Eagle Scout now, like his Dad. We’ve had many Christmases, and many Scouting adventures, both together and separately, since then. But of all the Christmases of my own childhood and his, and of all the Christmases ever, this remains the one Christmas Eve forever warm in my memory…almost as if it had happened just a moment ago.
I don’t know the name of that Scout, but I know his face, and the sound of his voice, and his carriage and manner. I hope he somehow finds and reads this one day, and recognizes that this is about him and the wonderful thing he did that night, without even knowing it, just because… just because that’s what Scouts do.
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to email@example.com. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)
[No. 511 – 12/21/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]