By Michael Gunther

As I was hanging an ornament that I had created in 1973(hard to believe it has been 40 years) on our Christmas tree this past weekend, I reminisced of Christmases past. 1973 was the year we almost didn’t have a Christmas tree. Can you imagine how I might have been feeling about this situation at 10 years old? No Christmas tree – how would Santa know where to put all the gifts? As this memory came rushing back to me, I started to tear up. All I could think about was how my mom saved the day and more importantly, through her attitude, persistence, and faith, created a Christmas I have never forgotten.

That year the holiday season started out like many of our holidays in the past. My parents gathered 14 of the 17 kids into our Dodge maxi-wagon van on the Sunday after Thanksgiving to drive to the Christmas tree farm.  Our goal was to locate and cut down the perfect tree in order to enhance our celebration with our family gathering of sixty plus people on Christmas day.

We headed out of town on this sunny day when all of a sudden we heard a big thud and discovered we had not one, but two flat tires out on a desolate highway far from town.  As a 10 year old you can imagine my disappointment. After a few hours of locating a tow truck (no cell phones in those days), getting both tires replaced, and trying to keep the kids entertained, my dad decided that we were going to turn around and go home.  In fact, he said that there was no way we could afford a tree now after paying for the tires and tow truck. I must admit I was thoroughly disheartened – how will Christmas be Christmas without a tree? How could we ever truly celebrate? Needless to say, the mood in the van on the ride home was somber and you could feel the angst from all the kids.

When we arrived home, my mom (the perennial optimist) said we would figure it out. In the meantime, she pulled out these wooden Christmas ornaments she had found a few weeks earlier on sale. She had us sit around our two long, picnic-type tables in our dining room to paint and decorate the ornaments. She put on Christmas music and made hot chocolate. I remember painting these ornaments with my siblings, laughing and showing off all our artistic creations. My mom basically turned this situation into a productive craft for us; one that got us working together and doing something Christmassy. The mood of the family quickly shifted with this holiday activity that my mom swiftly put together for us.

We almost forgot that we weren’t going to have a Christmas tree until I was at school the next week. I keep hearing my classmates discuss their trees and the great lights, decorations, and gifts that were already appearing underneath them. Needless to say, I kept asking my parents every night if we were going to get a tree. My dad was adamant that our tree money was already spent on those two new tires for our van.

Then, that next Friday after school, something miraculous happened. There was a Christmas tree in our living room. This wasn’t just any tree, but a tall tree that had two major gaps of branches – it was by and far one of the ugliest trees that I had ever seen (even to this day). But it was the most beautiful tree that I can remember. I was so excited and surprised by this tree standing in our living room, as were my siblings as they streamed home that day from school.  It turns out my mom’s persistence made this happen.

My mom had gone to numerous tree lots and asked if there were any trees that the lot proprietor felt they would have a hard time selling. On her third lot she found our tree. The proprietor had already put aside a few trees to discard. My mom asked if she could have the tree and would be happy to pay for it. The gentlemen asked my mom why she would want this tree so she explained the situation. He ended up selling it to her for a nominal fee – well below cost. He wanted to give it to her, but she felt she needed to at least cover his cost.

That evening we strung popcorn and cranberries to create garland for our tree. We decorated the tree with such joy and appreciation. Even though it started out as a seriously ugly tree, it became a beacon of hope and excitement in our household. It was a tree, to this day, I have never forgotten.

Bottom Line

We might have the best intentions or goals that we are working towards, but they may get side tracked by unexpected events or situations. How do you respond? Do you give up or do you keep your employees motivated and find other creative solutions to achieve the goal? Are you persistent enough, even after being told “no” numerous times, to keep striving for your goal?

As a side note: Mom, I know you are in heaven laughing at this story, you probably didn’t realize how much you impacted me with this tree. Every time I add that wooden ornament to my Christmas tree I think of the ugliest Christmas tree I have ever seen as well as your persistence.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services.

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