Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with a group of friends about the holiday season more than 30 years ago when they bought a bunch of Christmas trees in New Hampshire and drove them down to New York City, thinking they could join the vibrant street-corner tree market and turn a tidy profit. Things didn’t go quite as planned, but the adventure bonded them for life. Patty and Todd, and Donna and Tom, who were dating at the time, have since married, and all the friends enjoy reminiscing about their scheme, and arguing about exactly what happened.
Patty Adams, 56, a publishing director who lives in Beverly, Massachusetts
Brad Anderson, 58, who owns a surfboard company and lives in York, Maine
Kevin Baker, 61, a writer who lives in New York City
Todd Balf, 58, a writer who lives in Beverly, Massachusetts
Tom Balf, 61, an environmental consultant who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Jack Hitt, 62, a writer who lives in New Haven, Connecticut
Donna Heaney, 57, a veterinarian who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: Let’s set the scene. It was Christmastime on the East Coast. What year was it? Whose idea was it to try to sell Christmas trees?
Todd Balf: I guess it was my idea. It was ’84, I think, and I had only been living in New York for about a year [with Kevin]. I noticed that Christmas trees were very expensive in the city. At the time, I was making about $13,000 [a year] as a fact-checker and eating generic spaghetti to get by. I was thinking that [by] selling trees in New York … we could make a windfall. I have these ideas, and then the details aren’t so well thought-out. But I communicated the idea first to Tom, who was living in Durham, at the University of New Hampshire. He was in a master’s program. It was about two weeks before Christmas.