“No one has ever become poor by giving.”—Anne Frank
“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life – happiness, freedom, and peace of mind – are always attained by giving them to someone else.” —Peyton Conway March
Sarah rattles the chain link fence and breaking icicles shatter like bells. I look back at J in the driver’s seat of the Micra, drumming mittened fingers on the steering wheel while the car puffs determined smoke rings into a swirl of snow. This is not going to work. The tree lot still has lights on, but it’s late Christmas Eve, the roads are skating rinks, we’re in the middle of a white-out, there are no people around and the place is locked up tight. Except, maybe, for police trolling up and down Hastings Street eyes peeled for burglars.
I blow on my hands and say we can keep driving, check somewhere else.
Sarah scouts the perimeter. It’s so cold the inside of my nostrils freeze. We’ve just come from delivering a hamper to a sole support mom and her kiddos. When Marsha said that she couldn’t find a single Vancouver taxi willing to deliver a tree to her, and her kids held up strings of homemade popcorn and cranberries, their eyes blinking, well, we were goners.
Sarah finds a spot where the chain doesn’t meet and manages to slide inside, elfin and thin. I’m a hundred pounds bigger and 23 years older, and when she holds open the gap, for a minute I just pray for a cop, anyone who’ll bring this illegal foray to an end just in order to stop me from getting stuck. At least I’m charged up with holiday spirit and reckless, but breaking and entering, me? But it’s Christmas eve, our motives are altruistic, so kind of it seems like we could never get caught. Sure enough, yup, I get stuck as if the fence is size 10 pants. Can’t go forward, can’t go back. Just for a second, I despise J safe in the warmth of the getaway car.
Sarah says, “Mom, come on,” and yanks my coat.
Like that will work.
Suck it in, I tell myself and surprise myself by popping out like an overgrown ping pong ball. Now, at least, I am the most graceful thief in all of Vancouver, betcha.
Green boughs beat in the wind like weird angel wings, but we soon discover there aren’t actually any real trees left. I think, Why lock the place up then? There are needles and wood chips and chunks littering the ground, heaps of string, dangling ropes that once anchored trees. I’m cold, shivering. Around Vancouver, no one dresses for the weather, and I’m in a spring jacket. Sarah finds tops that have been cut off other people’s trees, woebegone trees, and holds them up for my appraisal (which surely I could have offered from the legal side of the fence, so she could go to jail while I provide bail). Finally, I just nod, because really, they all look the same—like not real trees, just like Charlie Brown trees that no one could love.
The tree cries sap as we drag it back to the opening. I tell Sarah we should leave a twenty stuck in the door of the shed, but she says I’m insane, so I reassure myself the tree-top was going to be pulped. Sarah slides out. She tugs the tree out. I, on the other hand, heave and ho and suck in my gut and finally stumble free ripping the back out of my coat. J lifts the sorry little mess into the back of the car. We skid out on the slippery roads with the tree shushing out the hatch-back like some clear-cut’s Paul Bunyan wanna-be.
But little kids are happy. Little kids are very happy.