What could possibly entice a young boy and his brother to miss a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home for a cold lunch out of a cardboard box in the Nevada mountains? Answer: The prospect of being with our Dad and bringing joy to folks in the form of hundreds of Christmas trees.
My father, Joyce Humphreys, and his brother-in-law, Junior Taylor, started their sales of Christmas trees in the 1950’s. In those days few artificial trees were sold. Everyone went shopping for a freshly cut tree. In order to bring those trees to our lot in Ogden, we had to travel quite a distance. Places like Tonopah, Ione, Belmont, Manhattan, Wells, and Ely each had a story I had heard from Dad over the years. At nine and seven years old, I and my brother Dave began riding in the truck to Nevada to take part in this great adventure. Dave and I, sometimes along with Larry and Steve Rhees of Pleasant View, would join up with Uncle Junior and his Navajo farm workers, Kato and Dickey. Our job was to drag the trees to a pile near the truck, where Dad and Junior would carefully load the trees. Jack Buckhouse was the Ranger for the Humboldt National Forest who directed the sale and areas where trees could be cut.
My grandkids have often asked “Grandpa, did you get paid?” I tell them, “We got an occasional Arctic Circle hamburger. We just wanted to do our part and let the men know we could handle big time jobs.”
We sold the trees from our lot at the old J&K Hamburger drive-in at 4th and Washington, while J&K’s closed for the winter. It was always exciting to see people from Pleasant View as they came in to buy their tree. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas added a bit more to the Christmas Spirit for each of us.
As a fourteen year old boy, I only wanted one thing for Christmas: A shotgun. I had dreamed about a Remington 870 Wingmaster pump; but when Christmas tree sales were less than hoped, Dad asked if I’d be happy with a single shot. I said “sure,” but deep inside there was a let down feeling. I still had a sliver of hope. Dad had a history of pulling surprises.
After standing in the cold and showing off trees all through December, we closed up on Christmas Eve. Dave and I were beside ourselves with anticipation for Christmas Day. We settled into our beds in the basement, but in the middle of the night we couldn’t hold off any longer. We had already counted the steps from the basement to the kitchen to know which ones squeaked. Without a sound, we made our ascent. Quietly standing in the living room we could see the gifts in the glow of the Christmas tree Mom had decorated. Dave found his stuff and I saw a gun in a cloth case wedged in between the cushions of the couch. What did that cloth case conceal? I hurriedly untied the bow knot and let the flap down, and out slid the most beautiful stock, then that distinctive receiver…I could not believe what I was seeing!…a gold-plated trigger engraving…It was a Browning Automatic Shotgun! I was so overwhelmed by the sacrifice my parents had made to bring a world of happiness to a young boy that I couldn’t even speak.
I still feel gratitude for that gift every time I show that gun to a grandchild. I hope someday they will feel what I felt so long ago and still feel to this day – GRATITUDE at Christmastime!