Throughout my early boyhood, old Helmer Larson was an endearing presence. For many years he worked for the gas company, driving, and hiking the natural gas lines that cut ribbon like over the rugged Allegheny Mountains. It was along those desolate lines high on the hillside that Helmer found his Christmas trees. If he noticed a tiny evergreen, he’d trim it. Returning the following year he’d trim it again patiently waiting until the tree had reached nine or ten feet. Then he’d cut it down and deliver it to our church. It was a lovely gift that only he could give.
As he grew past retirement age, it became apparent that Helmer would not be able to do his job. He could no longer distinguish colors and had several minor mishaps involving traffic lights. The company said it was time to retire and he agreed to resign at the end of the year.
I felt so sad when, for the last time, on a snowy Saturday morning, Helmer delivered his last tree. It was perhaps his most beautiful… thick full branches, deep summer green.
“And there’re more where that came from,” he said. “It’s a shame I won’t be able to get ‘em ”
My dad spoke up, “Helmer, you don’t have any six or seven footers up there do you? I haven’t gotten our tree yet. I wouldn’t mind hiking up myself.”
Helmer’s face lit up. “No need for you to bother Bob. I’ll bring one up to your house. I’ve got a perfect tree in mind and it’s beauty.”
Later that afternoon, waiting excitedly at our front window, I saw Helmer spinning his back tires, fighting his way up our snowy street and into the driveway. I ran out to meet him followed closely by my mom and dad. Before Helmer was even out of the cab I was gazing down from my perch a top the wheel well.
“What do you think Bobby?” Helmer asked dropping the tailgate, “Isn’t she a beauty?”
“The most beautiful beauty I’ve ever seen,” I said honestly.
As Helmer dropped the trunk onto the ground and held the tree upright I saw my father’s face drop and I thought I saw tears in my mother’s eyes.
“Oh my! Helmer,” she stammered and then hugged him around the neck. “Helmer thank you so much. It is just,“ she seemed at a loss of words, “ … beautiful.”
My dad patted him on the back and thanked him and then Helmer got in his truck and drove off with a smile. It was then that I realized something was wrong.
“Oh glory,” my mom said to my dad. “Bob what are we going to do? We can’t have that tree in our house.”
“Mom, what do you mean?”
“Bobby,” she said, “It’s bright yellow. There’s not a bit of green on the whole thing. Poor Helmer couldn’t see the color.”
Well I’d known my colors for several years so I too had seen that it was yellow. I just happened to think it was a stunningly attractive yellow tree.
“Mom,” I protested feeling the tears filling my eyes. “We have to put it up. It’s from Helmer! When he comes for supper he’ll know. Dad and I could wire together a dozen puny little trees from ourhillside and never make one like this.”
Since they both knew I was right, we put it up. And it was the most beautiful yellow tree. But I don’t think my parents saw it that way. Oh the shape… yes certainly they knew that the shape was exquisite. But I don’t think they ever saw the beauty in the color. Other visiting adults noticed too but none said it was beautiful. I guess they’d just had too many years of expecting green.
Fortunately I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. All my friends gasped at the beautiful color. One buddy mentioned that his family had been hoping to get a yellow one but then his dad got laid off so they had to stick with green. How odd that only the children recognized the stunning beauty of Helmer’s perfect gift.
In this busy season,
May we with childlike eyes
Recognize the beautiful gift