1. White Spruce from Heaven

1. White Spruce from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

White Spruce from Heaven

Miracles happen to those who believe in them.

~Bernard Berenson

“Mom?” The voice on the phone was tentative, a young man. The question wasn’t intended for identification since he already knew it was his mother, but more to gauge her temperament. He was calling with bad news from distant lands.

“Ephraim!” she breathed with excitement. Then she paused, a mother’s intuition rising from within her maternal DNA. “What’s wrong?”

Ephraim Rogers, a thin, sandy-haired man in his mid-twenties, was an award-winning soldier in the Delaware Army National Guard’s Military Police (MP) 153rd Unit. He was the first Army National Guard soldier to have ever won the Army’s “Soldier of the Quarter Award” twice. He was ordered to Riyadh, in central Saudi Arabia, in July 2002, just prior to the rollout of Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaving behind a loving and faithful family in Dover, Delaware. His unit’s primary mission was to provide security for the American airbase. The unit was projected to return to the States in March 2003, but there was growing hope that the soldiers could return home for the holidays.

“Things are kind of edgy over here, Mom,” Ephraim replied with a serious tone. “I can’t get into it, you know, classified security stuff. I’m sure it’s in the news back home every night.”

“You’re not coming home for Christmas, are you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“Still hoping for March, Mom. It was a long shot for Christmas, you know?”

“Yes,” she managed, her hopes dashed.

After a pause he asked, “Did you get my presents?” His voice carried an upbeat tenor.

“Yes, they came today, several large boxes, all wrapped. You did a good job. Who helped you?” She laughed.

“No one, Mom,” Ephraim replied lightheartedly. “I wrapped them myself.” Then after an awkward period of silence, “Mom, I’ve got to run. Probably won’t talk to you ’til after the holidays so please tell everyone ‘Merry Christmas’ for me, okay? I’ll e-mail when I can, but they’re keeping us busy.”

The mother couldn’t talk, her throat constricted, tears pooled in her eyes.

“I love you, Mom.” Then the call ended.

It was a mere two weeks before Christmas Eve. Earlier that same week, Lilian Rogers, the soldier’s mother, in preparation for her son’s possible homecoming, visited nearby Turning Pointe Farm and selected a striking and splendid White Spruce. The bluish-green needled conifer was immediately decorated with the family ornaments, twinkling lights and some tinsel. It was perfectly shaped, and delivered a visual and aromatic air of Christmas to the house. Ephraim’s gifts were strategically placed under the tree’s branches where additional gifts would soon join them.

Christmas was quietly and reverently celebrated by the Rogers family, minus Ephraim, but Lilian, after discussing the idea with her husband Al and their daughters Corinne and Louise, decided that all the gifts would remain unopened until Ephraim’s safe homecoming. The family watered the cut tree throughout the Epiphany season, often referred to as the “12 Days of Christmas,” and for the rest of January And then they stopped, in view of taking it down.

But as the calendar days clicked away, and February came and went, the family witnessed a strange, unexplainable reality… the White Spruce had not lost any needles. It continued to look as fresh as the day the majestic tree was sawed down in the field, tenderly carried into the house, and erected in the emerald and burgundy colored tree stand the family had used for decades.

With a sparkle in their eyes, and sympathetic hearts, Corinne and Louise suggested the tree remain in place as long as it continued to look good and retained its needles. They reasoned, “Why take it down?” But they also assumed the tree was on its last leg, especially since they continued to deprive the tree of any watery nourishment.

In the interim they decided to also add yellow ribbons and bows to the branches in preparation for Ephraim’s return in March. And each night they plugged in the lights. Could the tree miraculously hold on?

The deployment for the soldiers of the 153rd Delaware Army National Guard unit was about to end; excitement connected the First State to the sandy landscapes of Saudi Arabia when the second Iraqi War violently broke out. Terrorists in Riyadh blew up a hotel where many Americans were staying as guests. Ephraim’s unit was summoned to assist in removing the deceased. The work was solemnly and carefully completed, but tensions in the region were understandably high. Ephraim and his dedicated buddies would stand guard in full military armor and garb for shifts lasting fourteen hours, in 120 degrees of suffocating heat. It was a hellish existence, and Ephraim, along with many of his fellow soldiers, relied on prayer and faith in God to survive the challenging days.

And no one went home in March, because their deployment was extended.

April arrived and the Christmas tree still stood proudly in the Rogers’ home, like a protective sentry, and like Ephraim and his unit at a barricaded gate in the Middle East. Still not one needle had fallen from any of the branches. The miracle continued.

Ephraim’s unit did eventually come home… on May 10th! They received a heroes’ welcome when they landed, complete with tears of joy and bear hugs from joyous family members, all captured by local TV stations and newspaper columnists and photographers. The homecoming festivities spilled over to the Rogers household as Christmas gifts were happily shredded open to reveal items purchased by Ephraim for his family while stationed in Riyadh, including diamonds for his sisters and expensive cigars for his dad. Laughter filled the house, Christmas carols wafted through the stereo speakers, cameras permanently captured each precious moment, while outside the neighbors mowed grass and planted flowers.

That evening the tree was taken down and placed outside. Not one needle ever fell from its limbs. The family stood amazed, and praised God. Then everyone went to bed, exhausted but ecstatic.

Lilian walked outside the next morning and took in the beauty of the morning: singing birds busy at work on nests and hunting worms, the fragrant scents of newborn grass and sprouting flowers, and the warmth of rich, yellow sunshine upon her face. Then she noticed the tree.

In less than twelve hours, the green fir tree had turned orangey brown as if it had been dead for months. The needles were dried out, crispy, and hundreds of them now littered the ground. Lilian was amazed. Was this the same tree that looked as good last night as it did five months ago when it was taken from Turning Pointe Farm?

~David Michael Smith

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