As you know, I have come across some very strange stories in my researches, but this Christmas story is probably, bar none, the absolute strangest. It comes from Ruth Ann Musick’s 1965 book The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales. In notes at the end of the book, Dr. Musick recorded that it was collected from the husband involved, told for truth, in 1948.
The married couple had been out all that day hunting the perfect Christmas tree. The husband could have chosen one in an hour or two and been perfectly happy. His wife, unfortunately, could not. She was, as we say in the knobs, awful partickler. This tree was too tall; that one was too short. That one had too few branches; that one had too many. That one looked fine to her husband, but to her, it seemed already to have needles dropping. And that one–no, no. Just not suitable at all.
Now the husband was getting hungry and frustrated, so they agreed to go home and begin the search anew later in the day or, perhaps, even the next day. But, strangely enough, as they drove home, his wife spotted the perfect Christmas tree.
Trouble was, it was smack in the middle of a cemetery, growing out of a grave: a beautiful pine, shaped exactly as the wife envisioned her tree.
Nothing would do but that she had to have that one. And so, protesting all the way, her husband went into the cemetery and cut the tree, tied it on top of their car, and, still grumbling, headed for home.
The road home was a winding country one, and, at an especially dangerous curve, the couple spotted something odd: a man, standing beside a horse and buggy, sort of halfway in the road. They managed to get around the odd equipage, only to look back and see man, horse and buggy had vanished.
Well, that was very strange, but they went on. Just before they reached home, they saw the man, horse and buggy again, silhouetted against the afternoon sky, but the vision disappeared over a ridge.
When they got home, the husband took the tree inside and set it in a stand and braced it up and watered it, then went off to find something to eat. His wife, ecstatic over finding the right tree, immediately dragged out her boxes of decorations and began trimming the tree. It didn’t take her a terribly long time, but, when she was done, she noticed something strange–something she certainly hadn’t put there–near the top of the tree:
a small decoration in the form of a man, a horse and a buggy.
Horrified, the wife called her husband in to take a look. Between them, they realized that the man looked an awful lot like the one they’d seen, twice, on the way home.
He looked, it seemed to them, as if he wanted to talk.
And talk he did, once the wife, her voice quavering, asked him what he wanted.
He had in life cut many pine trees and given them away to people for Christmas, but those, it seemed, were the only unselfish deeds he had ever done. But he was killed in a buggy wreck, many years before. His last instructions, before he breathed his last, were to his family: they must plant a pine tree on his grave, for by that means, he opined, he would eventually be able to get into heaven, since that tree would represent his generous acts.
And so he was buried, and a seedling pine planted on his grave. Over the years it had grown and grown, and he was, in his afterlife, hopeful that one day it would grow tall enough to reach heaven.
And then, he griped, this partickler, unthinking woman had come along and stolen it–a tree that, in life, he would have cut down willingly and given to her, had it been anywhere else. She had cut down his special tree–and that, he could not forgive.
Oddly, the man seemed to bear no grudge against the husband, who had actually cut down the tree; he reserved his venom for the wife. He told her that he was leaving now, having lost his hope of heaven to the theft she had prompted.
The last thing he told her was that she would suffer the rest of her life for her thoughtlessness and disrespect. But, he added, she wouldn’t have long to suffer, for, when the pine tree was dead, she would die.
Despite their best efforts to keep the tree alive, it died. . .
and, a month to the day after the tree was cut, so did the wife.