It’s here. Today is Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season.
My friend, Cheryl, takes this day very seriously. She, her mother and sister nap after Thanksgiving dinner and then are up and out of the house by midnight in order to hit the nearest outlet mall.
Their shopping is planned with military precision. They spread out among the stores then periodically reconnoiter at a predesignated location to advise each other on the best deals. Eighteen hours later, they’re back home, the majority of their Christmas shopping completed. If shopping were an Olympic event, they’d take the gold.
Black Friday has another meaning for me. It heralds the opening of the Optimist Club’s Christmas tree lot. Since 1956, the Gainesville Evening Optimist Club’s primary fundraiser has been the sale of Christmas trees and wreaths. For three weeks in November and December we take over a corner of the property at Gallery (Wolfman) Furniture on Browns Bridge Road.
The trees came in on Wednesday. They’re gorgeous Fraser Firs, personally selected from a mountaintop in North Carolina by Earl Odell, Harold Platt and Cheryl Hughes. Cheryl, Judy Kellogg, Yvonne Clarke and I are manning the wreath hut, turning the trimmings from the base of the trees into wreaths and swags.
When it came time to order trees, we were worried. In this Grinch-like economy, would people spend their dwindling discretionary income on live trees? Well, they don’t call us Optimists for nothing. We’re betting on the affirmative.
As we get the lot ready for business, it’s a good time to mention the Optimists who have done so much to bring us to this day.
Recently, our group was thrilled to have the opportunity to help the Hall County Optimist Club endow a scholarship in honor of Optimists J.H. and Margaret Holcomb and their late sisters, Mildred and Nelle.
Lifelong educators all, they influenced and encouraged three generations of area youth. J.H. and Margaret continue to do so through their Optimist work. They’re absolute treasures.
Soon J.H. will celebrate 50 years as an Optimist. J.H., who just turned 92, says he won’t be able to work at the tree lot this year. Carwell Odell, 94, won’t be there, either. We’re really going to miss them. It won’t be the same without them, but we’ll soldier on.
In the last couple of years, we’ve lost some of the tree lot’s mainstays: Jim Snow, Bob Holbrook, Mark McClure, Lowell Hipps, Virginia Ricketson-Wills, James Rowan and Haskell Stratton. These people left a legacy of happy-spirited service to the youth of Hall County. For decades they did the heavy lifting for the club. They leave big shoes to fill.
Buy your tree at a commercial location and your money goes into some anonymous corporate pocket, maybe here, maybe abroad.
Buy your tree at the Optimist tree lot and every penny goes to support Optimist projects in our area: oratorical and essay scholarship competitions, Youth Appreciation programs, Respect for Law dinners, youth golf tournaments.
So in case you’re the sort who needs an invitation, here it is: Come on out to the Optimist Tree Lot on Browns Bridge Road. Let the kids play hide and seek among the trees while you and your
better half pick out the perfect one.
Have a cup of coffee or cocoa with us and, if you ask, we’ll tell you all about the Optimist Club, the work we do and how you can become part of it.
I look forward to seeing you. I’ll be the one in the Hanukkah sweatshirt.
Originally published in the Gainesville Times, November 28, 2008