When I was growing up in the south Queens community of Hamilton Beach in the 1950s, my friends Butch and Frankie and I earned a few bucks each year for family presents by selling Christmas trees.
First, we’d give money we’d saved to Butch’s uncle so he could buy trees at the wholesale market in the Bronx for us to resell. He’d buy five for $5. Then we’d sell the best one for $5, and the others for less.
We set up lights and stored the trees in an empty lot next to a candy store. We lived in a poor neighborhood, but we all had fathers who provided for their families. However, a number of people were not doing well at all.
Railroad tracks went through the community, and the families on the other side were often worse off. On that side lived a family with five children.
A few days before Christmas, their father, Eddie, who was in his mid-30s, stopped by to look at our trees, but it was clear he had little or no money. He walked away without saying anything. We felt sorry for him, but we were in no position to be charitable.
When there were no people on the lot looking at trees, my friends and I made wreaths with branches from the sparse, less desirable trees. This process left us with trees that had only a few branches.
On Christmas Eve, Eddie came by again. You could see that he was disappointed that we had so few trees left, and many were not attractive.
“Hey, Eddie,” Butch shouted as Eddie turned to walk away. “You want a tree? I’ll get you a tree. Come back in an hour.”
Frankie looked at me, and we both wondered what Butch had in mind.
Butch grabbed a pathetically sparse tree and started to make holes in the trunk with a drill that he cranked by hand.
“We’re gonna make a tree for Eddie,” Butch said.
The three of us shaved the ends of spare branches so we could insert them into the trunk that Butch was drilling. We kind of overdid it. The tree looked great. It was just about as full as you could imagine.
Eddie came back and looked at the tree.
“This is great, the kids will like this,” he said.
He tried to give us what little money he had in his pocket, but we just said, “Merry Christmas,” and shut down and went home.
Two days after Christmas, we saw Eddie on the avenue near the railroad tracks.
“Eddie, how did the kids like the tree?” Frankie asked.
“Great, they loved it,” Eddie said, “but this morning, most of the branches dried out and pulled out of the stem, and the ornaments were mostly on the floor.”
“Aw, that’s too bad,” Frankie said.
“No, no,” Eddie said. “We had a great tree, and when they saw the tree this morning, they thought it was funny. We had a great Christmas. Thanks.”
Reader Ernest Fazio lives in Centerport.