You could see the man had had a hard life as he guided his electric wheelchair to our Scout Troop’s Christmas Tree lot, where my wife was working her shift.

He stopped, and for a moment, didn’t do anything, just breathed and smiled.

Both hands were wrapped around his paper cup of coffee, just like we all hold it when it’s cold out, partly just to hold it, partly as a hand warmer.

There was no question why he needed the wheelchair, he was missing one leg, and the other one had a different look to it.

Cindy asked if she could help him.

“Is it okay if I just sit here for a bit and enjoy the smell?  I can’t afford a tree this year.”

He didn’t ask for a giveaway, just asked if it was okay if he sat there for a bit.

“You can sit here all day if you’d like”

He looked up at Cindy, who for that shift wasn’t wearing her reindeer antlers, and wasn’t wearing her little “Cindy Lou Who” jingle bells, she was wearing a Santa hat – but instead of being made out of red material and white fuzz, it was made out of camouflaged material, and white fuzz.

“Why are you wearing hunter’s camo?” he asked.

“It’s not hunters’ camo, it’s in support of our troops.  My nephew is in the Army, and so I wear it to remember him.”

“I was in the Army, too,” he said. “They didn’t do this though,” he said, gesturing toward where his feet used to be.  “Diabetes.”  And he explained how he’d lost both legs to the diabetes and had gotten a prosthesis for that one.  He waved Michael, our son to come over, and pulled his pant leg up just a bit – and the leg underneath wasn’t skin colored, but the same camo as Cindy’s hat.

“I’m gonna get the other leg in January, but for now have to go with this.”

It became clear that not only would he not have a tree, but this lonely man didn’t have anything or anyone to help him celebrate Christmas – so he had come to the Tree Lot to find a little Christmas spirit to help nourish his soul.

But letting him go back to an apartment devoid of Christmas just didn’t seem right.

My wife found some of the branches we’d trimmed off other trees and used a little bit of wire that had been holding some wreaths together.  She wired them together, so they became a little Christmas tree all by themselves, and gave it to the gentleman.

“Here, no one should be without a Christmas tree at Christmas time.”

He put his cup down and reached for the branches with both hands, looked up at Cindy for a moment, and took the ‘tree’ from her with a reverence not normally reserved for a bunch of branches held together with a little wire.

He held the branches to his face, hiding it completely, and inhaled the aroma deeply.

He held it for a long time, and when he spoke, there was a catch in his voice, and it was a little rougher as he wiped his eyes and told Cindy, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s done for me in a long time.”

“Now you come back next year and get a tree when you can stand on your own two feet and put it up yourself.  We’ll be here.”

“I will, believe me, I will!”

Merry Christmas, all – and happy birthday Cindy.