On Being Charlie Brown and Linus…


I met Nancy in high school. We were in Mr. Tweed’s Stage Crafts class with a bunch of other losers – I mean a bunch of other drama enthusiasts. In Stage Crafts, we learned to build sets and the ins and outs of lighting, costumes, and were basically the gophers for the more talented, more beautiful performers. She and I hit it off immediately.

The week leading up to the Christmas break, the class spent most of our time planning the design for, and decorating the cafeteria for the Christmas dance. Channeling Lucy van Pelt, Mr. Tweed approached Linus and Charlie Brown, played by Nancy and me, with a request.

“I think we need a Christmas tree,” he said.  “I want to put it right up there on the stage. Can you two get us one?”

Being the total dorks we were, of course we said “Absolutely.”

“Get the biggest one you can,” he said. “So, it can be seen from everywhere in the room.”

“Decorations?” I asked.

“We have boxes of them in the craft room,” he said.

“Is there a budget?” Nancy asked.

“Not really,” he said, dismissively. “Just do what you can do.” He turned to walk away, waiving his hand at us in that charming “off with you both” way he had.  “Oh,” he said, turning around. “Have it here tomorrow, so we can decorate it.”

Nancy and I wondered what to do next.

“Did he say how we pay for this?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“Do you want to ask him?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

My, but we were dorks! But we wanted to please him so much; disappointing him was not an option. He could be harsh with a look and his tongue when disappointed.

I told Nancy I had been volunteering that season with the Key Club on the Kiwanis tree lot in Midwest City. I knew that the trees were left out in the park pavilion all night long, unsecured in any way. I had asked the Kiwanis (Kiwani? Kiwana?) man that I worked with most evenings why they didn’t lock up the trees at night and he said, and I quote “If someone needs to steal a Christmas tree, then so be it.”

Nancy thought that was as good as permission.

Dressed in dark clothes so as not to be seen (I remember distinctly the heavy chocolate brown corduroy trench coat I wore), we parked my car on a dark residential street a few blocks from the lot, lights off (like we were planning a heist – which I guess we were), and waited. When the lot closed and the volunteers left, we made our way across the park to the dark pavilion. There was a dim glow from the streetlamps nearby. It was bitterly cold, our breath visible in front of us.

I knew the largest trees were hanging from the roof and I led Nancy inside to a 9-foot-tall tree I had admired. The price tag was more than most people would or could afford, so it hung there night after night.  It was gorgeous and if someone did buy it, it would be a lot of money for the Kiwanis (Kiwanises? Kiwani?).

“Get the biggest one you can,” Mr. Tweed’s words reminded me.

“This one,” I said to Nancy.

The tree was tied to the rafter with a piece of twine, but neither of us thought to bring anything to cut with. It looked thin enough to break, so we tugged on it. No luck. Hindsight says we should have known a piece of twine strong enough to hold a tree of that size was not going to give easily, but at that time we were not only dorks, we also lacked common sense. We tugged several more times, harder and harder, and still nothing. So, I did the only thing I knew to do, I jumped on the tree and swung from it like Miley Cyrus would on a wrecking ball some 30 years later.

Even with the heavy corduroy trench, I didn’t weigh more than 90 pounds at the time and the tree remained attached to the roof.  It spun around and around but would not come down. Nancy jumped on with me and, after several more swings and finally the twine gave and we landed in a pile on the ground. We lay there on the frozen grass for several minutes, the tree on top of us, making sure we were undetected by anyone who would have heard the thump. When we got up, I was still dizzy from the spinning and Nancy was  laughing convulsively through the hand clasped over her mouth.

I don’t know how much that tree weighed, but it gained weight with every step we took through the park. Parking on the dark residential street seemed like a good idea at the beginning, but again, we were dorks and lacked common sense a fact that would be more evident when we finally got the tree to the car. It seems the advertisements for the 1975 Chevy Nova never once mentioned it being large enough to carry an 9-foot Christmas tree for good reason.

I opened the trunk, knowing it was pointless.

“It will hang out and people will see it,” I said, not thinking it would be perfectly normal for a person to have a Christmas tree in their car at this time of year.

“Oh, no! There are cops everywhere on this street.” Nancy said.

Because we were, as I mentioned, complete dorks lacking in common sense, it didn’t occur to either of us to return to the pavilion and get some of that super tough twine and tie to the top of the car like normal people would. No, we had an even better idea.

“Back seat” I said.

Nancy nodded and rolled down the window on the passenger side and I rolled down the driver side.  We hoisted the tree bottom first into the passenger side window and Nancy pushed it through as I pulled from the driver side.  I can’t say for certain how wide a 1975 Chevy Nova is, but subtract that number from 9 feet, divide by two, and that is how much tree hung out of each window.

“Oh my God!” Nancy said. “We are going to get caught!”

“We will drive side streets,” I said. We opened our respective car doors planning to jump in and speed off like the bandits we thought we were, but – again, we were dorks without a shred of common sense. The tree, being as full as most 9 foot trees are, had taken over the entire backseat and now was spilling into the front seats. We fought our way in through the tree which, at this time seemed not to know it was dead but continued growing. Like a can of biscuits, once we had opened the doors, there was no getting them closed again! But, we were certain the surrounding residents had all witnessed our crime and called the police, so we had ro leave NOW. Holding my door closed with one hand, I turned the key with the other. I struggled to find the gear shift in all the greenery. Nancy held branches back from my face while holding firm to her door. We drove through residential streets to avoid detection from the tree thief police we knew were out in full force.

You might not believe this, but (I’m sorry to say) both of us were sober. We cannot excuse ourselves by claiming drugs or alcohol were involved in this tale. The rest of the night, is a bit of a blur. If memory serves, it took us hours crawling through back streets, and we dropped the tree at school on the porch outside the cafeteria to wait for the next morning. Bringing it home was not an option, I would not have been able to truthfully explain it to my parents. Plus, I was starting to itch really bad!

I dropped Nancy at her house and then went home. My hands, hair and clothes were sticky with sap and pine needles stuck to it like I was working undercover as a spruce. My car smelled like air freshener for months afterward and a vacuumed needles for as long as I owned it.

The next day, Mr. Tweed commended us on the tree. We were so proud, or would have been if we both didn’t feel so guilty about stealing a Christmas tree. I was pretty sure that stealing anything to do with Christmas was a one-way ticket straight to hell.

“Good job,” Mr. Tweed said. “Did you get money out of your class budget to pay for this?”

Nancy and I just looked at each other, then back at him quizzically. There was a class budget?

He just shook his head and walked away.

I had to work at the tree lot the next night and it was hard to look at the Kiwanis (Kiwani?) gentlemen. Not one of them mentioned the missing tree, although I’m certain they noticed – it was the biggest tree on the lot.  I just knew they knew. I knew my sins had found me out.

It was a beautiful tree and the dance was a success. Afterward, our tree was donated to someone who did not have a tree. I can’t for the life of me remember who received it, or who facilitated the donation; just that it was. Maybe I made that part of up to cover my guilt.

Nancy contacted me several months ago and asked if would mind writing about our shenanigans so many years ago. She wanted to share it with her son. I was hesitant, as young as we were, and as I have mentioned dorks lacking common sense, I still felt some guilt. Guilt is my superpower.

While I was struggling to write it, I received this text from Nancy:

“Looking back, what I can remember, it was so much fun and then to donate to the school for the dance was top! Funny, how we took an act of juvenile delinquency and turned it into an act of charity and kindness. Kinda Robin Hoodish.”

Wow! All these years I’d carried so much guilt about it. Thank you, Nancy, for your perspective. All along I thought we were criminals, but we weren’t. We were just (Robin) hoods. But, come to think of it, Linus and Charlie Brown walked onto their lot and just took that little tree without paying for it, and making Lucy mad in the process. We did the same thing, minus the mad Lucy.

All my guilt has been abated! I’m cured!

I think I’ll make a donation to Kiwanis International, just to be on the safe side.

So, here you go. Merry Christmas, Colin.

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