For this story to make any sense, you first need to understand my dad's obsession with experiences. Other than the fact that it was cheaper, I think the reason we always drove and never flew to family vacations was because my dad holds a firm belief that the journey itself is half the fun. He would drive us all over the place looking for that hole-in-the-wall diner as we passed eight chain restaurants and shouted, "We're hungry!" from the backseat.
In his defense, we ate some delicious meals on family vacations. We'll never know whether or not the diner food was actually delicious or by the time we found it we were just too hungry to care, but the fact is, we made some good memories along the way.
You can, then, understand why, when the seven of us set out to find a Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving, my dad immediately scoffed at the idea of going to Lowe's. "That doesn't count," he said, shaking his head in disgust. "We need to find a tree farm and cut down our own tree!"
Our Chicago family had done this many times before, so that in itself wasn't a crazy idea. But this was Texas, not Illinois. And it was 60 degree and sunny, not 20 degrees and snowing.
My dad spent a good hour or two on Thursday night looking for tree farms in the Dallas area and came to the unfortunate conclusion that the closest tree farm was an hour from our house. Apparently North Texas people don't do tree farms.
We had limited family time on Friday before everyone scattered to their various places of residence, so we took a family vote on whether we'd rather spend the majority of our time in the car driving to and from the tree farm or go to the Lowe's five minutes from our house and spend our time decorating the tree with lights and ornaments.
Six out of seven of us voted for Lowe's.
I'll let you guess which member of the family was left.
"But don't you guys want to go chop down a tree?" my dad said. "AND..." He threw out his ace card. "...we'll have hot apple cider and spiced donuts." Tree farms in Illinois always had the most delicious hot apple cider and spiced donuts.
"I do love apple cider and donuts," I said. I'm easily swayed when there's food involved.
"Don't we have apple juice in the fridge?" my sister said. "Let's just heat up a glass of apple juice in the microwave when we get home."
My dad looked like he'd just eaten something sour. "That is not the same thing!" We all stared at him. "Fine. Just fine. We'll go to Lowe's."
We piled in the car, and by the second turn, we were headed in the opposite direction of Lowe's. My brother leaned forward. "Dad? Where are we going? We're not going to Denton are we?" That's where the closest tree farm was.
"No. We're going to Justin. I think there might be a tree farm there."
My mom had the resigned look of someone who'd been through this act before. "You think there's a tree farm in Justin? Or you know?"
"Well, you know, there should be one in Justin. Let's just see."
"So you're hijacking us," my brother said.
We drove for about fifteen minutes and soon found ourselves in the middle of Texas nowhere. And then, what did we see while barreling down the open road at 60 mph was this sign: BOWMAN'S TREE FARM.
"WOAH!" my dad said and screeched to a halt. "Tree farm!"
We pulled a semi-dangerous u-turn and headed back to the sign. And there it was: BOWMAN'S TREE FARM.
We all cheered, and my mom looked at my dad. "How do you always find stuff like this?"
It was gorgeous Texas hill country, rolling green hills and trees filled with orange and yellow and brown leaves. We turned down a gravel road when we saw another Bowman's Tree Farm sign. My dad was nearing giddy with excitement at the thought of finding a hidden Christmas tree farm by accident.
We drove down the road until we came to our final turn. The iron gate was open, and the gravel driveway was lined with cedar trees. Or, I suppose I should say one side of the driveway was lined with cedar trees.
On the other side, we saw this:
"Oh my gosh it's a nursery!" someone shouted.
We all burst into laughter. The kind of laughter where people start snorting and crying.
What I can only assume to be the owner of the tree farm had come out of his house, and my dad drove up and leaned out the window. "Do you sell Christmas trees?"
"Naw," the man said. He was older, with thin gray hair and wearing overalls and work boots.
"Well do you know where I could buy one?"
The old man scratched his chin. "Maybe Lowe's?"
At this, we burst into another round of laughter. Then, my brother leaned forward again. "Dad, ask him if he has cider."
My dad said later he almost asked about the cider but couldn't keep a straight face. "Okay," my dad said to the man. "Well we'll just turn around, then." The man stepped back inside, and by this point we were all dying laughing. DYING.
"Christmas. Tree. Farm. FAIL," said my dad between laughs as my mom wiped tears from her eyes.
So we turned around, drove back down the gravel road, and past the sign for Bowman Tree Farm. By this time we were all hungry, so we stopped at a taco shack for lunch. That's how, an hour and a half after we left the house, we found ourselves at Lowe's Garden Center five minutes from our house, picking out a Christmas tree.
We found one we liked, and my brother held it upright while my dad got on the ground and pretended to saw the bottom. Then we counted down and yelled "TIMBER!" and my brother dropped the tree to the floor. We applauded and laughed some more, and an older couple stopped in the aisle to stare at us.
And just in case you thought I was kidding about the whole shouting-timber-in-the-middle-of-Lowe's thing, I have pictures. You're welcome.
The lesson in all this? Bowman's Tree Farm sells baby trees.
You're better off going to Lowe's.
* * *
Does your family do fake or real trees?
Have you ever gone to a tree farm and chopped down your own Christmas tree?