I was in Panera in one of my addled early morning states realizing I had forgotten my wallet. Digging in my pockets coming up with three bucks making me still, 17 cents short.
I asked the cashier who sees me most mornings if I could pay him the next day. He waved me off and told me it was okay. Unbeknownst to me, the guy next in line paid the 17 cents. When I turned to thank him, he was the guy outside selling Christmas trees. Cute as can be in his weathered army jacket, jeans and wellies, a Steve McQueen watch cap on his head….thirty if he was a day, more like late 20s, smiling at me like he had just won a car.
I thanked him again thinking, wow, I could be his…well…his big sister.
Cut to…two days later. I see him out there in the cold, manning those poor pine trees that will live only through December in someone’s living room before being tossed out on the curb headed to mulchville.
I say hello, he gives me that award winning grin before I disappear into Panera. I ask Eddie, the cashier, if he knows how Treeman, likes his coffee.
“He did me that favor,” I remind him, “so I’d like to buy him a cup.”
Eddie says, “just bring a cup and tell him to come in. I like him too, he’s very sweet.”
So out I go handing him an empty coffee cup announcing there’s one on the house with his name on it. There’s that smile again.
Moments later there he is, waving, saying thanks to me this time. Eddie, who just might be in love, offers him a Danish he happily takes like all young men who live to eat.
Next day, act 3…Treeman comes in with two of the tiniest trees one has ever seen. A little bigger than dollhouse size, maybe 7 inches tall secured in a piece of wood with wee lights hanging like itty-bitty reflectors giving one to me, and one to Eddie.
I was thrilled, so kind of him while he smiled at us both before heading back to his post.
On the way home, a mother and her young son coming towards me are having an argument. He wants a tree and she’s telling him they can’t afford it causing my heart to strum like a banjo.
“But mom, all my friends have trees.”
“Hernando, please. It is very hard for me to say no, but I must. I am sorry.”
Oh God, not as sorry as I was to hear her have to say that.
“Excuse me, listen, I have a tree that, if it’s okay with you, I’d like you to have.”
I take it out of the Panera bag Eddie gave me watching the kid’s jaw drop. “That’s not a tree,” he said, “it’s…it’s I don’t know what it is.”
“It is too a tree, and a special one given to me by a very special person so it comes with good luck.”
The mother is just watching this rather unexpected exchange seeing, I imagine, what her young son was going to do.
“So Hernando, can I call you by your name?” He shakes his 6 year-old head yes while I hand him the tree.
“It will need a little water when you get home and it’s so special you can bring it to school to show your friends.”
I could see he liked that idea, as he took it from me along with the Panera bag. The mother smiled and said, “What do you say Hernando to this nice lady?”
“It’s so small.”
“Come on now, what do you say?”
As the thread continues.