In 1988, Jim Henson created a muppet named Spruce Springsteen and auctioned him off for charity at an event called the Night of 100 Trees. His legacy lives on in the heart and mind of perhaps one person on a tree farm in the American heartland. Here we see a farmer calling his children together.
“Gather ‘round boys and girls. Let me tell you about an evergreen named Spruce Springsteen.”
“You mean Bruce Springsteen, the rock and roll star,” said Bobby.
“No, Spruce was no rock and roll star. Listen up, now,” replied the farmer. “No interrupting!”
The farmer continued.
“Spruce was larger than life, an evergreen like no other. He was sown by the river on E-Street, high up in the hills that run perpendicular to the land of hope and dreams. As a young sapling, Spruce was wide-eyed and restless. My great granddaddy said Spruce was born to run, and he would’ve if he had a pair of legs and sneakers!”
The farmer licked his lips and glanced at his children who were grinning and holding on to his every word. Except for Bobby. He looked irritated, like he wanted to be somewhere else. Teenagers are like that.
“Now you should know that Spruce established a lot of goals for himself right and early in his life. He wanted to become a boss one day. You wouldn’t believe the pressure he put on himself. At night he’d wake up with his sheet soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of his head.”
“You meanin’ to tell me that Bruce was a bed wetter?” asked Bobby.
“Bobby, what’d I say about interrupting me? And for the last time, I’m talking about Spruce, not Bruce!”
“Sorry, Pa. But yer story sounds awful familiar and all.”
“Just a coincidence, Bobby. Now I’d be most obliged if you let me finish what I began.”
“Fine by me, Pa”
“As I was saying, Spruce woke up with his sheet soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of his head. This was because it was always raining up in those hills. And he slept outside standing up, all stuck in that ground with no place to go. Plus, with him being so close to the railroad tracks and the downbound train, well you can only imagine how hard it was to catch a wink with all those discomforts.
“Sometimes, to relax, he’d think about girls in their summer clothes. My granddaddy said this was completely natural. Because Spruce was growin’ up. One night, when he was working on a dream –”
“I’m sorry, Pa, but you must think we’re idiots. All yer doin’ is making things up and using the titles and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen songs and calling it a story. We weren’t born yesterday, and we weren’t raised in a barn neither. Except of course for ol’ Earl there, but that’s cuz he’s a horse and all. Now are you gonna come straight with us, or just go on babblin’ like that? Cuz we’re awful busy with our chores and we don’t have time for no stories.”
“Bobby, this is my hometown. Stop actin’ like a Jersey girl and cover me. It’s getting cold.”
The other children laughed. Reluctantly, Bobby walked a blanket over to his old man and wrapped it around him. Even though he thought his daddy was a questionable storyteller, and a plagiarizer to boot, he saw how much his younger siblings were enjoying this.
“As I was saying, Spruce was becoming a man. He wanted so badly to head into town and talk with somebody. And why not, everybody’s got a hungry heart. He wondered what took place at Cadillac Ranch. Could Mary Queen of Arkansas take him to the promised land?
“Then along came old Dan Tucker with a hatchet in his hand. He was aiming to chop down a giant spruce tree and take it home for Christmas. Spruce thought this would be a great time to make a run for it. So as Old Dan Tucker hacked away, Spruce remained calm then took off the second he felt the last root break free of him. THE END!”
“What? That’s it? You made us sit through a yarn and you done come up with an endin’ like that?” cried Bobby.
“Seriously Bobby, what’d you really think of the story?”
“My personal opinion, you made it all up and didn’t have the decency to write a good endin’. You make me sick, Pa!”
With that comment, Spruce Springsteen hopped out from behind the barn and appeared in front of Bobby and the rest of the children. The sun had fallen out of the sky and darkness had crept in. But as clear as day, ol’ Spruce asked Bobby a question.
“Does this bus stop at 82nd Street?”
Bobby and the rest of the children looked at each other, bewildered, confused. Bobby spoke up.
“Excuse me your treeness, but you’re on a farm. The bus that stops at 82nd Street connects on Thunder Road.”
“Ain’t that where Rosalita lives?” asked Spruce Springsteen.
“No, you’re thinking of Mrs. McGrath. To get to Rosalita’s house you need to pass under the tunnel of love. Here, take my radio.”
“What for?” Spruce Springsteen turned it on and started shaking and shimmying. He looked like every dad who has ever danced at a wedding. Twisting, turning, uneasy to look at.
“Cuz it’s got 57 channels and nothin’ on. Got a light?”
Bobby took out a candy cigarette, real ones are bad his Pa taught him, and asked Spruce Springsteen once more if he had a light.
Spruce scratched the top of his trunk with one of his branches. He looked around then got a crazy idea. He rubbed two branches together for a few minutes then stopped when he got tired. Bobby lunged at Spruce Springsteen, tackling him to the ground. He pulled out his hand pruners and snipped away at Spruce Springsteen until all that remained was Uncle Raymond.
Embarrased, Uncle Raymond stood up, lumbered about for a minute, and shook off the branches and limbs that remained of his costume. He spat out a cone and brushed the needles from of his floppy hair.
“How’d you know it was me?” asked Uncle Raymond.
“Everyone knows you can’t start a fire without a spark. Even when yer just dancin’ in the dark!”
The farmer, Bobby and the children laughed. As did Uncle Raymond. Then they went to bed without finishing their work.
Illustration by Keely Sajovie