I want to share this with my community — a story about a holiday hero.
When I was growing up, my mom always made a big deal about putting up our tree together. She would make hot chocolate or cider, and as a family we would decorate. Even in the hardest of times, I had a holiday tree growing up.
We had a rough 2008, my then-husband lost his well-paying job, and after months of unemployment he had only recently found work at a chain restaurant. It was Dec. 24, we had pocket change left to live on, one present to give to our 5-year-old child and a month’s worth of unpaid bills.
I made a tree on our wall out of construction paper, and we taped and pinned our ornaments on it. The construction paper tree looked more desperate than festive. It was depressing.
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I remembered seeing a sign for $5 and up Christmas trees in the lot next to Eastside Big Toms on Pacific Avenue. After a few minutes of discussion, we scrounged together $5, mostly in change, and drove to the lot. A man in a flannel shirt greeted us. “Happy Holidays!” he said, voice full of joy, despite the weather, cold enough that my breath looked like smoke.
I asked if he had any $5 trees left and held out my hand full of change. He looked at it, and at my 5-year-old daughter, and a smile came across his face that I will never forget.
“We do have a $5 tree left, follow me.” We followed him to a 7-foot tall, gorgeous green fluffy tree that I am sure was nowhere near the $5 Christmas tree section. After tying the tree to our car, he refused to take the $5 in coins and left us with a smile.
My eyes burned when I thanked him, and tears poured down my face all the way home while our daughter joyously sang carols in the back seat. When we got home, I heated up water and poured in hot cocoa packets (conveniently stashed in the tree by our Holiday Hero). We had the best time drinking hot chocolate, singing half of every carol we could remember, and decorating our tree.
I have told this story to a lot of people since it happened, and it brings tears to my eyes every time.
When I’m asked where to get a tree, I tell everyone to get a tree from the lot right next to Eastside Big Toms, because once, in the very dreariest of times, that’s where magic happened for my family.
Laura Kaszynski is an Olympia resident.