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My math, which is always open to challenge, indicates that I have personally purchased over 40 Christmas trees from the Mandan Lions Club. Counting the number of Christmases I’ve enjoyed spending in Mandan, coupled with the understanding that my parents also purchased their trees at the same place, the number hovers around 69 somewhere. Anyway, this year was no different.

For many years I’ve been working on the hypothesis that it’s difficult to keep real Christmas trees from shedding most of their needles between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I usually wait until the Lions tree lot on Main Street is dang near empty. Yes, there have been a few years when I was left with the choice between various “Charlie Brown” trees that resulted in a significant amount of family chastisement, which left a tear in my eyes as I’d blurt out between sniffles, "Well, at least it’s a real tree!”

There aren’t a lot of support groups for this kind of stuff so once again the school of hard knocks has caused me experiment on my own experiences. Therefore I’ve consolidated this annual purchase into something simple. Whenever I head down Main Street, which is quite often because that’s the way I go when I go (which is a story in itself that will have to wait for another time because I’m in the midst of this one), I try to make a note of how the Lions tree lot is doing. For those of you busy texting and driving, it’s close to Dykshoorn Park, between the depot and the public fountain. They open around Thanksgiving weekend with a full lot and they usually sell out a week or so before Christmas. I should mention here that they are not only staffed by volunteers but all their proceeds go to the Lions Club, whose members not only enjoy each other’s company but also find good deeds to do and lord knows we can always use more good deed doers doing good deeds.

I pulled into the parking lot, which requires knowing a bit about the area; I think the city designed it that way so we can tell the locals from the tourists. I grabbed my gloves and noted that the lot was pretty bare and the attendant, one of the volunteers I was telling you about earlier, was leaf-blowing the lot. There may have been a dozen trees in various states of repose and this is where the 69th test of my previously mentioned hypothesis was once again proved.

The final step in this hypothesis requires a modicum of courageous humility along with the faith that you have enough money to buy whatever’s left, so I’ll go slowly here. I pretend to look around a bit while heading toward the help. Once we establish contact I shake his hand and immediately say, “Give me the best tree you have left.” It usually takes the attendant a bit to realize that I’m being serious before he asks you what kind of tree I’m looking for, long or short needle, short, tall, etc., to which I usually answer with “the best one you have left.”

More often than not, once again proving my hypothesis, he shows me his choice and I buy it without further question. A bonus in this gyration is that it usually takes longer to write the check than it does to find a tree. Thus I have proven another hypothetical doodad. Feel free to share it and if you make any money on it I do expect my usual 10 percent.

Here’s hoping all those good deed doers out there never quit doing good things because they really do leave this place better off than they found it.

Merry Christmas, and may your holidays find you surrounded by the warmth of those you love.

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Dan Ulmer is a parent, grandparent, as well as a retired teacher, counselor, politician, lobbyist, public employee, nonprofit executive and opinionated citizen who believes that we need to do what we can to leave the world better off than we found it.