It’s lunchtime. A knock sounds at the kitchen door.  There shouldn’t be such a knock. Not on any door. There’s a coronavirus pandemic outside, and mask and distancing are the prevailing rules. The knock persists, however, and the third one beckons me.

I manage a cut-your-own Christmas tree business in what I call “upcountry,” a 200‑year-old, slipping away Maine hill farm. This year I avoid customers coming to the door and handing me $20 for a tree; instead, I put up signs that read “honor system,” and tack envelopes on the house and barn for depositing $20 bills. There’s no need to bring the cash to the door this year, or gather in the barn for small talk with me. I won’t be there. I’ve grown cut‑your‑own Christmas trees in this little Maine town for 40-some years and I can attest that trust will work just fine.

I live a hundred miles from my Christmas tree business. For 40 years I’ve advertised “weekends only.” I have come here the four weekends before Christmas, two, maybe three days each, and collected $20 at the door for each tree cut. Now, however, the nation is suffering from a pandemic, so I come on Saturday, eat lunch, clean the cash out of the envelopes and chat a bit over my shoulder as I leave with a bag full of twenties.

Over the 40 years, many customers have paid little attention to what day of the week it was, anyway. They needed a tree, so they came and got a tree. For 40 years, when I went upcountry for the weekend, I would find $20 bills slipped under the doors of the house, or put on the counter in the barn. Or my neighbor might bring me a handful of cash from folks who cut a tree midweek, or a guest at a Christmas gathering in the village would hand me a twenty for a tree he’d cut a few days ago.

Now, back at the farmhouse, the third knock prompts me to open the kitchen door. A man, a stranger, stands back a ways from the step. No tree in his hands, no saw to cut a tree with. But an envelope showing in a pocket. He looks across the weathered grass between us and asks, “Are you John?”

“I’m John,” I say.


“I was a friend of your father’s.”

He’s not the first person to stand there and tell me that. I nod, smile, and he continues.

“John,” he sounds in his loudest voice, “this is your lucky day.” I smile and mutter something about what is your name, but he ignores me, holds up the envelope and says, “For the past five years, John, I have cut my Christmas tree here – and I haven’t paid for a single one.”  Then he opens the envelope, shows me the five twenties inside and hands it to me.

I smile, say “thank you,” and wish him a Merry Christmas. Patience, I think. Patience also works.

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