On a boring, grey Monday morning, we saw it.
The white semi truck backed into the Cosley Zoo with hordes of men in flannel, hauling nettled bundles down the ramp, stacking them against a sea of tilted wooden crosses.
“The Christmas trees are here!”
My son screamed as we rushed by to try and get him to school before the bell rang in his chemistry class. In that moment, all the gray of November was erased by the hope of what lies ahead. Our hearts lifted up. The day became brighter. We began dreaming about snow and colored lights and “sneak-a-deeks.”
Every year, we pilgrimage to the Cosley Zoo’s Christmas tree fundraiser and our kids play the game they invented, “sneak-a-deeks.” They pack themselves with snowballs and hide between the trees, waiting to ambush another family member.
While we search for the prettiest tree we’ve ever had, they are running all over the lot creating chaos. We try to ignore them, especially if they blast another customer in the face mistakenly.
One year, our son broke a bone in his foot and his best friend put him in the tree cart and wheeled him around the lot at top speed while he pelted us all with an arsenal of snowballs nestled beside him. His broken foot became an advantage.
These joyous memories filled me up as I made my way back home to grade papers and do laundry. But instead of going home, I did a u-turn, camera in hand, and set out to learn more about these people who bring Christmas to us.
I met Sue Whalgren, director of Cosley Zoo, who has been selling trees there for 30 years.
“I remember when we first started out, there were nights when I sat in a small room waiting for people to show up. Some nights no one came.”
Now, they sell all the trees they have, over 2,200 trees each season. It is Cosley’s biggest fundraiser, and Fraser firs are their biggest seller by far, Sue said. The Wheaton Park District has been ordering their trees from Badger Nursery in Michigan for years because, “they are able to cut theirs later, so we get fresher, higher quality trees.”
Andy Burgess works for Allegan Trucking and he hauls the trees in from Michigan. He taught me that it takes four trips for him to bring in about 500 trees a day and it takes 10 years to grow the 8-foot tree that we display in our living room.
When Andy isn’t trucking trees, he’s bringing in fall pumpkins or summer flowers. He does it because he likes the open road. However, he doesn’t like the increasing traffic and regulations, which slow him down. The best part of his job is the pine smell of his truck as the delivery is being unloaded.
Who brings Christmas to you? Take a favorite holiday memory and wonder for a moment, who was behind it? If you have the chance to meet and thank them, you’ll be blessed.
Margaret Philbrick is a writer, blogger and Wheaton resident.