A Christmas Tree Story
by Mary Flinn
Abigail Sprinkle is one of my favorite students. I know that as a teacher, we’re not supposed to have favorites, but I do sometimes. Besides, she’s one of those eight-year-olds who make you think you are talking to an adult. As usual, I saw her on a Friday. It was the last Friday I planned to see her, as she’d fixed her R sounds and would be leaving speech therapy after just a few months of practicing. And as usual, our conversational practice centered on what we’d be doing over the weekend. She was planning to decorate her Christmas tree. I smiled. I mentioned that I’d be going to the mountains for mine this weekend, as part of my thirtieth anniversary trip with my husband.
Part of our trip would include a book signing at the Banner Elk Winery on Saturday. I’d written a trilogy of novels about a girl who lives in my fictitious mountain community I call “Snowy Ridge” and whose family runs a Christmas tree farm. I didn’t tell Abigail that since my husband had been without a job for a few months that I’d saved our cancer screening refund check to use for dinner at the Gamekeeper, one of our favorite restaurants in Boone. We’d planned to use some Hilton Honors points to stay one night at the Hampton Inn. Mike had earned plenty of points over the last thirty years he’d traveled. To some, our trip might not have sounded like much of a thirtieth anniversary celebration, but it was a welcome getaway for us, and all we could swing for the time being. We were excited nonetheless.
I pulled myself out of my thoughts and realized then that Abigail was describing the choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm where she, her mother, and grandfather had been to cut theirs. She couldn’t remember the name, but “It’s in Boone,” she said. “It’s a family business. We go there every year. The people are so nice and they have a daughter named Abby, so they always remember me. When you cut down your tree, they write your initials on the trunks of the trees, so they’ll remember whose tree is whose, but they let me write my whole name. They have three different sizes, and they have white tags and green tags and yellow tags, depending on the size tree you want.”
“Oh, it sounds so nice. I wish you could remember the name of the farm,” I said. “Maybe I’ll call your mom and ask her.”
The rest of the day got away from me and I forgot to call Abigail’s mother. Mike and I left early the next morning to head up the mountain toward Boone, on our way to Banner Elk for the book signing. As we drove past the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, more and more choose-and-cut signs appeared with the cheerful red and green writing, making me wonder what would be the likelihood of ever finding Abigail’s farm. I told Mike the story, as we marked different ones we might check out on our way back home the next day.
The book signing was profitable and fun, as we met several couples who were celebrating birthdays and taking a special time out to do a wine tasting and relax before the holidays, like we were. We ran into one of the couples at the Gamekeeper later. While we waited for our table in the bar, we met a nice couple from Greensboro, who knew our daughter’s boyfriend’s family. The woman wanted to support a local author who writes about Snowy Ridge and bought a whole set of books. Mike went to the car to get them for her. Dinner was fabulous, as we’d come to expect, and the dimly lit rustic little place was decorated with grapevines strung with white lights and large ornaments hanging from the exposed beams in the ceiling. The hostess had decorated our table with confetti in the shape of a heart.
On Sunday, as we were driving down the mountain, we tried to remember the tree farms we’d seen. There were so many, we couldn’t go wrong. Suddenly Mike and I both spotted a sign at the same time; Snowy Ridge, next left, it read. “Snowy Ridge!” I said, grabbing his arm. “Oh, we have to go!” Mike laughed, knowing how the details of my stories sometimes have a way of making their way into our real lives.
“Snowy Ridge it is, then,” he said, and he turned off the highway and took us up the twisty road toward the farm. After several minutes we reached the top of the ridge and turned into the lane that wound around past a house where we came to a beautiful overlook and parked the car. We were the only ones there. It was cold and still as we looked around for some sign of life. The mountains stretched across the clear blue sky in front of us, where rows and rows of Christmas trees descended down the hill. Looking at the view to the right of us, the New River snaked its way through the property below, between a few houses and pastures.
“Do you think they’re open?” I asked, when a friendly voice called down from the house we’d passed.
“Hey y’all!” said a woman, waving and walking toward us, dressed in a pair of jeans, a sweat shirt, and a ragged faded pink baseball cap.
“Hey!” we greeted her in return.
“You haven’t been here before have you? I’m Judy,” she grinned, stretching out her hand for us to shake. We introduced ourselves and I explained about the books and how the name, Snowy Ridge struck us as we were coming down the mountain. Judy asked what the books were about and told us she loved to read, so we agreed to barter; she’d knock the price of a book off the cost of the tree we chose.
“What size tree do you want?” she asked.
“A nine-footer,” said Mike and she gestured down the hill.
“Well, you’ll want to go down a ways and turn to the left. There are some nice ones with white tags. We’ve got white tags and green tags and yellow tags, but you’ll want one with a white tag.”
Chills ran down my arm and I glanced at Mike. “Wait! Do you have a daughter named Abby?” I asked Judy.
“No, but I’ve got a granddaughter named Abby.”
“Do you know a little girl named Abigail from Greensboro who was up here last weekend?”
“Yes! She was up here with her mother and her grandfather. He’d just turned eighty-two! I remember them. They come every year.”
“And she writes her whole name on the tree?”
“She told me about your place but couldn’t remember the name of it. I forgot to ask her mom, and here, we drove right to it. Out of all the farms up here, we managed to find her farm!” We were all grinning by now, and shaking our heads.
“Then it was meant to be!” said Judy.
After searching through so many perfect trees, we found our tree, and then Judy and Nancy found us after a little hollering back and forth. Nancy held back the bottom branches out of the way with a pole while Judy buzzed it down with her chainsaw. The perfect tree landed with a soft thunk on the ground. Mitch came over and dragged the tree to the flatbed as we talked about how serendipitous it was that we’d found Abigail’s Christmas tree farm out of all the places we could have gone. The sun shone and a soft wind blew our hair as we all gazed out over the mountain to the river, wondering. We talked about books, and stories, and how things seem to happen for a reason. And how from here on out, we will return to Snowy Ridge each year to find our perfect Christmas tree.
And we did.