The wind blew through the trees, Jimmy watched as the leaves shimmered in the afternoon light. He stood up, stretching his back, shoveling was not as easy as he thought, he stared into the hole, slowly getting deeper and deeper as his father continued to shovel. He watched the pile of dirt beside the hole get bigger and bigger, so big that the dirt would slide down bit by bit. He looked at his father, smiling, his sweat covered brow in a sullen expression. Jimmy continued to help as best as a five year old could.
"Gonna be a cold winter this year," his father said nonchalantly
"Yup," said Jimmy as he took another glance around. Was he waiting for someone to show up? he hoped not.
"Do you think there's a heaven Pa?"
"Don't reckon so but I've known to be wrong."
"Do you think that there's hell?"
His father stopped shoveling for a moment, thinking. Jimmy could tell he was thinking hard, because he had that look of curiosity on his face.
" I reckon if there's no heaven then there is no hell. But if I'm wrong perhaps there's both." he continued to dig. Jimmy didn't understand why it needed to be so deep. But Pa insisted.
He looked at the 2 foot pine tree, the wind had blown it sideways, and now it lay on the cool earth. Pa grunted as he dug deeper, the frost made it hard to dig, felt like rock Pa mumbled, but he smiled down at Jimmy, he was never one to complain. When a job needed doing, you did. Pa had always told him, you are responsible for your own actions. Good or bad. He also believed that family was kin, and kin was blood.
"These things are for family only, no need to get anyone else involved.
"Pa, do you believe in god?" Jimmy found it an odd question to even ask, after all can you believe in a God without believing in heaven or hell?
"I reckon there is something of great power."
"Does he judge us, people?" Jimmy starred up into a blue sky, watching the lazy white clouds, like cotton candy as they stretched slowly through the sky covering the sun for a moment, giving them a moment without that scorching sun hitting their backs.
"I hadn't really thought about it, son. I figure when it's our time we will find out. " Pa was a man of reason and logic, he liked proof.
A dog barked off in the distance, Pa looked up for just a moment before continuing the task at hand.
Jimmy loved planting trees. Pa looked at his watch,”Lunch time son.” They took off their gloves and Jimmy sat down leaning his back against a tree trunk. This was his favorite time of year, a November which meant Christmas wasn’t far off. He glanced at the rows of trees. Pa always planted around this time of year. He said that when you plant in early December the trees grow stronger. If they make it through their first winter they’d make perfect Christmas trees in years to come. They had the biggest nursery in Blackswitch. People came from all around just to buy one of their trees. It was a good living, his Pa always said, honest in a way. Working with the earth was always a good partner. Pa wiped the sweat from his face with a dirty rag he kept in his back pocket. He thrust the shovel into the earth and let it stand on its own. Jimmy did the same, took him a few tries but it finally stood tall.
They sat quietly eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Pa sipping at a thermos of coffee, little Jimmy sipping from a similar thermos. The creamy hot chocolate filled his mouth and ran warm down his throat. They watched the Canadian Geese flying overhead, that meant it was gonna be a cold winter. He looked lovingly at the little tree resting beside him and hoped that it would survive the coming months. This one was special to him. He would check on it every day. Not that there was much he could do, other than provide a little support. He’d talked to dozens of trees as they grew over the years and he got a little misty eyed when someone bought one.
“Son, you need to understand that once we plant this tree it's up to the earth to help it.” He handed Jimmy a big old oatmeal raisin cookie.
Jimmy nodded, he wasn’t as strong as his father, perhaps it was with time, age and wisdom that he wouldn't feel so worried or sad when a tree didn’t make it. His Pa reminded him that everything that dies feeds the earth, it becomes food for animals, plants and the forests that surround their Nursery.
“I understand Pa.” he finished his cookie. Wiped his hands on his already dirty Levi's jeans and continued with the task at hand.
When the hole was deep enough Pa stopped digging and set his shovel down. They looked over at the lump underneath an old wool blanket. He would miss her, the way she read bedtime stories, her oatmeal raisin cookies. He watched his Pa as he dragged the lifeless body of his mother across the cold ground. “I need a hand boy.” You bury what you kill. “ he said straight faced. Pa had always taught him that. “Whether it be an animal or a person. You kill it, you bury it.” Pa repeated himself. He looked out at the dozen or so freshly buried trees. Their tiny limbs blowing in the breeze. Jimmy smiled. Human flesh was always the best fertilizer, it was why those trees grew so well. Life is all a cycle his Ma used to say. Shame she’d lost her mind like that. When she demanded they sell the Nursery and move into the city that was just too much for Jimmy. Sure she’d mentioned it in passing a few times to Pa while they watched the local weather station. This time she’d insisted, sell the Nursery or she was leaving. That just wouldn't do. He’d taken Ma’s favorite cutting knife and plunged it into her back over and over again. People needed Christmas trees, and where would they get them, at the local grocery store? Mass produced trees that never show love and kindness. Kin is kin Jimmy thought as he helped his father roll the body into the hole. Jimmy tossed the knife onto of his Ma. They took one last look at the old blanket, the dirty covering it shovel full by shovel full until it was gone and the earth was again flat. Jimmy stomped hard on the ground then knelt down and the cold hurt his knees but this one was so special. He could handle the cold seeping through his jeans. He lovingly scooped out some dirt, making a small hole then set the roots down and packed the dirt around the thin trunk. He looked out again at the freshly planted trees. People just didn’t understand how important this Nursery was, the man from the bank last week, asking them to sell their farm, for lots of money. “Money isn’t as important as some would tell you son. But Family is forever.” Pa reminded him of this every time they planted another tree. Jimmy spit on the ground beside him. This was his legacy, one day he would own this land, and then his son and so on. Nothing comes before family. Kin is kin.
“Come on boy.”
The sun was setting as they took their shovels, slinging them over their shoulders as they headed back towards the house. It was gonna be a cold winter this year. He will come out and visit his mother tomorrow. Jimmy was sure she understood that this was the only way.