American Consequences - December 2017

“We’re like the last circus travelling around the country. We’re the only ones left that don’t know when to quit or just give up.”

Christmas lots together. There’s a strong sense of family wherever you look: whether it is Gary Jenek lugging white pines around with his kids, or Tommy Thompson being the son tasked with upholding his father’s business for reasons maybe he doesn’t even understand, or Jimmy Coan treating his RV- bound employees like his children (Coan paid for Fyffe’s bus ticket from Dayton, Ohio to Austin – no strings attached). Christmas tree sellers all seem to be walking a line between scratching some entrepreneurial itch and keeping family close. That itself is a lot like Christmas. At the end of every December, we make sacrifices others might not for the sake of family. Just like this pine- scented brethren, most families aren’t what is generally considered normal. No matter if it’s selling trees or surviving the holiday season, the hardest part is making people happy. There is no single way of getting there, even if you are a Southern gentleman eccentric banjo player.

That’s a big sacrifice, I say. Secretly wanting to say: That’s not normal, man. “Well, that’s the way it is. And they love it. The boys ... there’s one of my sons,” he motions toward a young guy in bright roadworker green. “My boys have always loved selling Christmas trees instead of going on vacation, right?” “Made me the man I am today,” the young guy says, laughing, flexing. “Yeah, right,” says Gary. I sit in my car with the wipers running for a long while, directly between Tommy and Gary. The two poles of Christmas Tree Lane could not be more opposite. It’s as if on one side you have Frank Sinatra singing “Away in a Manger” and on the other is Jimmy Durante croaking out “Frosty the Snowman.” One is slick, professional, and a profitable endeavor. The other is ragged, emotional, flawed: the lovable underdog. Worse, I still don’t know what fuels their woodchipper hearts. They all seemingly have nothing in common beyond the desire to make money. However, it’s not hard to think of at least a dozen warmer, saner, lower-risk ways to earn a living. The car pulls away and it occurs to me that there’s actually one thin web that ties these

Patrick Wensink is the author of five books, including the bestselling Broken Piano for President , and a journalist with work appearing in the New York

Times , Esquire , and Men’s Health . His first children’s book, Go Go Gorillas! , is a dancing, rollicking tale... and a fantastic Christmas gift for the grandkids.

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