Now that we were parked back at Camp Carr in Rincon, Georgia, it was time to start the annual medical and dental appointments. We aced our annual physicals – we’re doing something right, but our visits with the dentist proved to be more expensive than we thought. Alas, our teeth are getting old too.
While we were still parked at Camp Carr, we enjoyed visits from family and friends. Ontario friends Harry and Marie were in the area for a quick overnight and enjoyed a meal with us. They were on their way to their winter home in Frostproof, Florida. Quebec friends Art and Suzan also were in the area – we met them for dinner at El Ranchito just off I-95. Lucille’s aunts came up from Florida to visit their sister (Lucille’s mother) in Richmond Hill. We picked them up at Savannah’s Amtrak station and brought them to spend the night at Magnolia Manor, and then saw them again the following evening.
We moved to Savannah the Saturday before Thanksgiving to man the Christmas tree lot for which we’ll be responsible for the next five weeks. We are working for the Poppell family from Poppell Farms out of Odum, Georgia. Gennell and Tanya have been in the Christmas tree business since 1991 and have fourteen lots throughout this part of Georgia. During the rest of the year, they have produce stands, pumpkin patches and a very successful corn maze during October.
Getting into our spot was challenging because of all the traffic on very busy Waters Avenue. Why else have tree sales if there’s not a lot of traffic! Larry figured the best time to get to the lot would be at daylight that Saturday morning so we wouldn’t impact traffic flow too much. It was still amazing to see how many cars were out that early on a weekend morning. Luckily, there was enough real estate on the lot itself that once Larry got backed in from this two-lane road, with cars reluctantly stopping for him, he was able to jockey back and forth without having to go back out on the road. We’d been out to the lot a few days before to plan our approach as well as to trim back vines that would have damaged the fifth wheel as we backed into the site.
Selling for Poppell Farms isn’t as labor-intensive as other Christmas tree lots we’ve heard about in Texas. Gennell and his crew put up the 30 x 30 tent (no sides), hammer in about 100 poles to support the trees, string lights around the lot and under the tent, and then install chicken-wire fencing and gates around the entire lot, including where we are parked. They also hooked up a temporary power box attached to a small building behind us and ran wires out to where we are parked. At best, we have close to 20 amps, which can become a problem if we don’t properly monitor our electrical usage. At any one time, we can run either the microwave, or the electric heater, or the air conditioning (if needed), or the toaster oven, or the hot water heater. But water pressure is great, we have permission to dump the gray water in the tree line and we macerate the black into a porta-john Poppell provides.
Mid-afternoon that day, our first load of trees arrived. His crew spent a couple of hours offloading and tying the trees to the poles scattered throughout the lot. Some trees went back into a corral, awaiting an available pole. Tanya came out and gave us a quick lesson on the cash register and the wireless credit card machine – how cool is that! We were now set up for business. Alrighty-then….After our first four days, we were down two trees and hadn’t made a sale yet – what!!! Can you believe someone managed to get into the one weak spot in our fence (since repaired) and stole a tree sometime during the night! What lowlife would steal a Christmas tree!!! Tree #2 was a pre-arranged freebie for a local church. We finally made a sale on Day Five and have since been slowly decreasing our stock.
Just before the end of the month, we got in another load of trees, restocking our empty poles. We’re glad there was no one around making a YouTube clip the first time we tied a tree to a pole - Gennell’s crew made it look so easy. By the time we finished and stood back, it was leaning over quite a bit. We both got a good chuckle out of that and later on learned a quicker way to fasten them on without having to wrestle them into place.
A few factoids about these North Carolina Fraser firs, thanks to friend Bill who lives surrounded by Christmas tree farms in the Grandfather Mountain area: “Maintenance of the tree is from $1.00 to $1.50 per year…the trees you will be selling have been in the grower’s field for six to nine years…they are about three years old when brought from the nursery at a cost of $3.00 apiece. If you consider shipping costs of $3.00 apiece and the cost of the land (or leasing acreage) there is a significant cost to the growers.”
Bill had also told us when we visited him and Jane in April that there is an annual get-together of growers and buyers when the buyers bid on specific lots of trees to be delivered to them later on. When I asked Gennell if he participated in this week-long event, he said he’s been using the same grower for the past sixteen years and has been so pleased with the quality of the trees, there’s no need to shop anywhere else. From the positive comments we get from repeat customers, and from seeing the trees ourselves, his decision to use the same grower is a smart one.
You meet all kinds of folks coming in to the lot – the young families are especially fun to watch as they look for that perfect ‘first’ tree, sometimes video-taping their search. After someone selects a tree, Larry uses a chain saw to cut part of the trunk so there is a fresh cut to absorb the water in the tree stand. We also trim back any lower branches, per the customer’s request. One little girl got upset seeing Larry take the saw to her tree, thinking he was hurting the tree. Her father was quick on his feet and replied that it was just like getting a haircut – she was happy with that answer.
Our hours are long, especially when it’s slow. The lot is open from 9 am to 8 pm every day, except on Thanksgiving, we opened up at 2 pm. That gave us time to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with Lucille’s mother at Magnolia Manor – a fabulous meal as all their meals are. The week before, we enjoyed a Thanksgiving family feast at the nursing home where her father resides. And what a feast it was! The nursing home provided all the traditional dishes, from meats to vegetables to desserts. Families were asked to bring a favorite dish to share, one that the resident would remember. We brought our French-Canadian meat pies, one for the buffet line and one for our table. The staff suggested we do this in case the buffet line contribution was gone by the time we had our turn.
We had a third Thanksgiving meal this year – Yvette and Pat brought out leftovers on Friday after their own meal. They, as well as her son Brian and his family, came by for a visit, picking up pizzas on the way in. Their boys, Aidan and Eric, had a ball running around the trees and thought using the porta-john was the coolest thing – a new toy! Did we think to take pictures while they visited us – no!
Pat’s daughter Malinda and her husband Michael came by the weekend after Thanksgiving – we usually visit with them Thanksgiving Day while we all enjoy the feast Pat and Yvette and the families put on. The tree lot is conveniently located to several big box stores, a mall, and medical facilities so we’re not too far out of anyone’s way if they’re out and about in this area. Company is always welcome.
Pat and Yvette came by the last Sunday of the month. Pat and Lucille’s birthdays are just a few days apart so we enjoyed a joint birthday cake. On Lucille’s birthday, Larry took her out for breakfast at McDonalds – woo hoo! Actually, we left the tree lot early that morning to be at Camping World when they opened their doors at 8 am. McDonalds is right around the corner. Once Camping World opened their doors, Lucille picked out her birthday gift – a comfy outdoor recliner. Might as well be comfortable if we’re going to be sitting out a lot!
Coming up: We’ll be selling trees till just before Christmas, and then we’ll move back over to Camp Carr through the end of the year. January will find us in Brunswick, Georgia with Dave, Mary and other Habitat for Humanity RV Care-A-Vanner friends. February – time to play! as we head down to Palmdale, Florida, with a couple of quick stops on the way.