10: Wanted: A Christmas Tree

10: Wanted: A Christmas Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Wanted: A Christmas Tree

I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.

~Mitch Albom, For One More Day

It was getting close to Christmas, and my brothers and sister and I had a feeling it was going to be a spare one. My mother was working hard, getting in as much overtime as she could at her job, but even then we were just managing to pay the bills and put food on the table. An extravagance like a Christmas tree seemed out of the question.

Still, we could dream, and we could look at the beautiful, green, scented trees that filled the lot of the grocery store down the block, or walk through the rows of them that stood in the back of the nursery just a few blocks from our apartment. I loved to touch the branches of the firs and Scotch pines, to breathe in the scent of the sap and pine needles that stayed on my hands long after we’d left the forest of Christmas trees behind.

At night my brother and I would lie in the dark in our room and whisper the hopes we had for Christmas. Usually I had a long list of things I wanted Santa to bring, and my dreams would be filled with visions of wonderful gifts. That year all I could think about was having a Christmas tree. It had become an important symbol of the season’s magic, something that was out of the ordinary in our tiny apartment.

“I want a toy truck and a toy rocket that you can use to zoom to the moon,” my brother Larry said. “And a toy cowboy and a horse for him to ride on, to catch stray cows.”

That sounded great to me, too, but then I turned to where he lay on his bed and asked, “What about a Christmas tree?”

“What about a Christmas tree?” he said back to me.

“That’s what I want for Christmas; a Christmas tree.”

My brother must have seen the serious look on my face. “It’s a week before Christmas. Don’t you think if Mom had the money to buy a Christmas tree we would have one by now?”

I thought about it, staring up at the dark ceiling, and I knew he was right. We always got our Christmas tree at the beginning of December, because we loved to see it decorated for as long as we could. Here it was a week before Christmas and no tree. I knew all of Mom’s pay was spoken for already, with nothing left for something as expensive as a tree.

“I don’t think we’re having a tree this year,” my brother repeated through the darkness.

I closed my eyes, seeing a beautiful, fully decorated tree standing in our living room. Its branches were strung with garland and lights, and handmade decorations covered the tree. There was even a gold star at the top. “That’s okay,” I said, snuggling down to sleep. “It probably would have dried out and died after a few days anyway.”

I tried not to think about having a tree and busied myself making Christmas cards for my family. Our Mom baked cookies and made Christmas candy, and the smell of divinity candy, popcorn balls, and freshly cooked toffee filled the house. We sang Christmas carols, told Christmas stories and talked about all the wonderful Christmases we’d had in the past.

On Christmas Eve we stayed up as late as we could, but eventually I nodded off. At one point I woke up because I heard a noise in the living room. I got up and saw my mom sitting in her chair singing to herself. She sang in a soft voice, and I stood and listened to her sing “Silent Night.” She looked up, saw me, and smiled.

“Hey, sleepy head,” she said as she got up and gave me a hug. “You should be asleep. You don’t want to peek at what Santa is bringing.”

I looked at the spot where we usually put the Christmas tree. “How can Santa put presents out if there’s no tree?” I asked. Tears began to form in my eyes. “We need a tree.”

My mom held me tight and smiled. “Don’t worry. Santa will know where to put his gifts. Now you go back to bed and have sweet dreams.”

I tossed and turned the rest of the night, and when my brother and I finally woke to the sound of my mom’s voice calling to say that Santa had come, I got out of bed and followed after him, not really wanting to see just a pile of gifts on the table.

My eyes opened wide when I walked into the living room. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Sometime during the night my mom had taken the Christmas lights and formed the outline of a Christmas tree on the wall where the tree normally stood. She had stuck garland across it, and hung the strands of popcorn and cranberries we had made. Then she had hung all the homemade and treasured ornaments we’d saved over the years on the garland. She’d even taken a length of gold garland and shaped it into a star on the top.

I stood there staring at the most beautiful Christmas tree I’d ever seen, and the smile on my face was about as big as the joy I felt in my heart. I ran up to my mom and hugged her with every ounce of my strength.

“See,” she whispered as we stood looking at the wonderful tree, “I told you Santa would figure out where to put the presents.”

I nodded, feeling the spirit of Christmas deep in my soul, and held onto her like she was the most precious gift in the world.

~John P. Buentello

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