I write this post from a hotel room overlooking downtown Kuala Lumpur, watching all the twitter updates and Facebook statuses about Black Friday and I cannot help but reminisce about the Laufenberg family tradition for Black Friday that held for 25 years. Anyone who knows our family knows that we are a haven for small ventures off the farm – selling firewood, timber, sweetcorn… we raised 100 puppies a year for 10 years and parakeets for 4 years… there were horses, cows, chickens, pigs. This was a farm with all members contributing to make it work. We raised, worked and sold all kinds of things. To date, my favorite part was our Black Friday tradition – setting up the Tree Lot.
My dad planted christmas trees in the mid-80s – and the shortly after was a drought. I vividly remember that my sister and I were charged with carrying a 5 gallon bucket and cup, up and down the rows of acres of trees, in an attempt to save them from their natural fate. And then years later, I remember working with my dad to unload those same trees at our lot in Eau Claire, WI. Set up on the massive front yard of a longtime Eau Claire family, we assembled the Laufenberg Tree Lot on the day after Thanksgiving every year for 20+ years.
In the beginning it was mostly just my dad, then my sister started helping out and eventually it turned into an all hands on deck affair. I didn’t start helping out a ton until I moved to Eau Claire for college. Working at the tree lot meant very busy weekends and then occasional sales when I was able to stay later into the evening on week nights, so my dad could get home and reload before it became much colder and/or darker. The hours were such that I could work on my homework, in between sales, tucked inside this tiny camper with space heaters blasting. Some years the weather was glorious, one year it was so warm we were in t-shirts and I was interviewed for local TV about the weird weather and how it affected the lot. Some years the weather was dreadful, people pulling up and cracking their windows about an inch to say, “Put your favorite tree in my trunk, I’m not getting out of the car”. My sister made 100’s of handmade wreaths and toward the end of the run, her kids would stop by to see the lot and help out here and there. It was a family affair.
Our lot was situated overlooking the highway that led to the mall. While we were setting up we would wait to hear the screech of tires and one year even watched a semi blast down the hill toward us as it slid out of control. Getting to the mall was so important that bodily harm was risked. The weather may have changed from year to year, but the crazy situation on that highway did not. For those that enjoy the sales and the energy of the mall, I wish you the best. But to this day, I find myself unmoved to consume on that day. The day after Thanksgiving will always be about family and assembling this space that brought so much wonder and joy to the families that would visit. I have never been one to enjoy selling ‘stuff’, but the things that I raised, or picked or cared for – I didn’t have trouble with that. People would ask where the trees came from and I was proud to be able to say, our farm.
As a farm kid, I had an increasingly uncommon childhood that required an intense amount of productivity. We were hardworking at school, in sports and on the farm. It was not always a pleasant existence. I was not always the best worker. The tree lot, at times, was brutal. We would find ourselves laughing and cursing at how the cold or wind brought general unpleasantness. At other times, it was glorious, watching the families return year after year, kids getting bigger as time passed. And, there we were year after year, led by the unending work ethic of my father. That was our Black Friday tradition for more years than not. And it was about the two things that are still most important to us, being with family and being productive. Because you can add all the college degrees you want, but my siblings and I will always be most influenced by life on the farm.