Tuesday, November 27, 2007
A Christmas Story I Wrote
A TREE FOR MOLLIE
Written by Charmaine Anderson -- based on a true story
The floor was cold as Mollie stepped out of bed. She could feel the heat from the big black coal stove coming up the stairs to her room. It was still dark when she heard daddy pulling out the old clinkers with a poker as he built a fire. She had snuggled next to her little sister Bobbie not wanting to get up until the chill was out of the air. The morning light was streaming into the room now. This was an important day.
Mollie tucked the covers in around the sleeping Bobbie, pulled socks on her cold toes and a sweater over her nightgown. She wanted to speak to daddy early this morning to make plans for getting a Christmas tree. She hoped they would drive to the mountains and chop their own pine tree but some years they bought one from a tree lot in town. She was worried about both prospects because the car was out of gas. But she knew her dad would think of something.
She scurried into the kitchen where her mother was cooking a big pot of oatmeal. It smelled spicy and sweet. She went to the stove and stirred the pot a few times and then sat on a little stool by the big warm stove and rubbed her arms and hands. At the window she could see a few flakes of snow falling. It made her happy to think that they might have a white Christmas.
"Where’s Daddy" she asked her mother. "He’s in the shed killing a couple of chickens for dinner tomorrow." She answered
Mollie was determined to talk to her dad but didn’t want to go to the shed while he was plucking the chicken feathers. The smell was horrible. She would wait until he came back to the house.
She found a book to read and continued to sit on the stool as her mother cooked and hummed softly. Mollie couldn’t concentrate on the book as her mind kept wandering to thoughts of Christmas and the tree. She jumped up and ran up to her room to get a coat and shoes. She would endure the chicken feathers—she and daddy had to talk!
The shed was not far away in the back yard. The snowflakes floated around her face as she bounced along. She pushed hard on the heavy shed door; it didn’t budge. Daddy came quickly to pull it open and she hurried in.
"Hi, sweetie," he said. "What brings you in here so bright and early?’
"Daddy, when are we going to get the Christmas tree?" She tried not to think about the smell or look at the naked chickens lying on the table.
There was a long silence. Daddy’s eyes were fixed on the floor. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and placed them lightly on Mollies shoulders.
"I know this means a lot to you Mollie," he said, "but there is just no way for us to have a Christmas tree this year. You know the country is in a depression. We have no money to buy gas for our car and so there is no possible way to get a tree. I am sorry. We are blessed to have a home and food. I hope you will understand. We will have the best Christmas we can without a tree."
He couldn’t be saying this! She pulled away as the tears welled up in her eyes—begging would be useless. She knew her dad well enough that when he spoke—the conversation was over. She ran to the door. It didn’t seem so heavy this time but swung open easily and slammed soundly.
Mollie raced to the house and up the stairs to her room. She pulled the covers over her head as she jumped back in bed with Bobbie. Her sobs woke her little sister.
"What’s the matter?" Bobbie asked.
"We’re not going to have a Christmas Tree," Mollie cried though she knew her sister was too young to understand or care. Why did they have to be poor and live on a farm? Why did this stupid depression have to happen? She heard her baby brother crying from her mother’s bedroom and went in to get him. She gathered him into her arms and buried her head in his softness hoping his sweetness would console her disappointment.
All that day Mollie avoided her dad. She helped with the baby and played with her little sister and read in her chilly room. But then Daddy didn’t seem to want to cross her path either. He spent his day digging some vegetables from the root cellar and repairing a fence to keep their cow from escaping. Then he disappeared into the shed and whittled.
On Sunday Mollie, Bobbie and their mother rode to church with a neighbor. Daddy stayed home with baby Ted. When they returned Mollie could smell chicken roasting and potatoes boiling on the stove. Dinner looked delicious but she didn’t have much of an appetite. Daddy asked questions about church but only Mama would answer. Mollie knew she was being a brat but she couldn’t help it—at least not today. She was trying to think of something to decorate instead of a pine tree. Maybe they could find a branch from a bush in the yard and pretend it was an evergreen. Somehow they had to have a Christmas tree!
The next morning when Mollie came down to the kitchen she planned to approach daddy about a substitute tree. But he was nowhere to be found—even Mama didn’t know his whereabouts. She said he had gotten up early, built a fire in the stove and left on foot. She wasn’t sure what he was up to.
All day they waited—each one taking a watch at the window. Staying out the entire day without communicating with Mama was so unlike Daddy. Perhaps he had gone to help a neighbor and circumstances had delayed his return.
As the afternoon wore on and the snow continued to fall, the concern and worry showed on Mama’s face. While Mollie stared down the lane she saw a figure approaching in the distance. It looked more like a snowman than a real man—a snowman dragging a pine tree.
Mollie grabbed her coat and ran out the door. So many confusing thoughts swirled through her head as she hurried down the road to meet her daddy. She had acted like a spoiled child and now she knew her father had walked all day to bring her a Christmas tree.
Mollie threw her arms around him and cried, "Oh daddy, why did you go out on a day like this? I wanted to tell you this morning that we could manage with a pretend tree. I am so sorry." They moved down the lane together. Daddy didn’t speak. She helped him remove his boots and brushed the snow from his face.
"I wanted my little girl to have a tree." Was all he said.
Mollie went to the window often that Christmas to gaze out to the distant hills and wonder how anyone could walk so far and then carry a large tree such a long distance home in the cold and snow. She was awed by daddy’s sacrifice and ashamed of her own selfish behavior.
It was a beautiful tree—tall and straight with crisp prickly branches. That evening the stately pine stood in the living room on a tree stand built with scraps of lumber. The next day they all gathered to decide how to decorate it. Daddy remembered seeing some red rose hips left on the wild roses by the creek. He went to pick some along with the silvery dried milk weed pods close by.
The little family sat together one evening at the kitchen table and strung together red rose hips, white popcorn and silver pods to make a festive garland. They fashioned bows with scraps of fabric. Mama created some delicate little snowflakes with white paper. Daddy pulled out a box with a few ornaments from past Christmases and when the decorating was finished Mollie thought it was glorious. She sat by the tree for hours enjoying every branch and ornament—the tree glowed with love.
On Christmas morning there were two little dolls from Santa under the tree. Daddy had built a doll bed and Mama hand stitched a perfect little quilt. Mollie could see fabrics from some of their dresses in the blanket. The two dolls fit perfectly in the little bed just like Mollie and Bobbie fit in their bed together. There were six little willow bark whistles; each one made a different sound. The hours daddy spent whittling in the shed he carved a perfect chain from a long stick with a four-sided cage on the end ; a ball rolled inside the cage. Baby Ted loved it. Mollie was always amazed at what daddy could do with his hands—his great loving hands. She would never forget this Christmas.
I am Mollie’s daughter and when I was a young girl she told me this story as we were bundled in an old truck going to the Mountains to chop a Christmas tree for our home. This story is a gift I cherish. I believe our stories are the only treasures that will have any real value to our posterity. Christmas traditions, passed on from one generation to another, convey to children that they are loved.
When my first little boy was three years old, my husband took him Christmas tree shopping. I was home with a new baby. We were living in California at the time and my husband did not have to trudge through the snow. We had a car with gas to carry the tree home. After dragging the little guy through several tree lots looking for the perfect tree my small son tugged on his daddy’s hand and said, "Dad, let’s not get the right tree." I guess even a twig from the yard would have made him happy.