Whittle-ed Away

Whittle-ed Away

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Whittle-ed Away

“Connie Ann!” Mom caught the piece of tinfoil in midair. “We might need this next time we bake potatoes. You know better than that.”

Ashamed, Connie Ann gave a gusty, seven-year-old sigh and retreated from the kitchen. Yes, she knew better. The Whittle family creed demanded that everything, even a piece of foil, be used again . . . and again. Especially now, with the divorce and all.

And she knew about other things, too. Like salvaging buttons and zippers from old clothes to use on the new ones her mom sewed. Like gagging on dust clouds each time someone emptied the vacuum bag instead of throwing it away. Like walking everywhere when most of her friends rode in cars. Of course, the Whittles didn’t own a car; Dad had left them the Pumpkin.

The bronzey colored, short-bed pickup couldn’t hold all ten children at once, so the Whittle children walked. To school. To church. To get a gallon of milk. Mom said it was simpler than buying a car. Besides, they got exercise and saved on gas at the same time.

Mom said she liked doing things the simple way. In fact, that’s how she got rid of the Christmas tree, too.

Without Dad there to haul it out that year, she puzzled over the problem. “How will we get rid of this monstrosity?”

She circled the tree.

“It seems like a waste to just throw it away. It should be good for something, shouldn’t it?”

Connie Ann nodded in agreement, knowing Whittles never wasted anything.

“It still smells good.” Mom poked both arms through the brittle needles to heft its weight. “Hmmm.” Her brow furrowed a bit, and she glanced over her shoulder where coals still glowed in the fireplace.

“Our gas bill has been sky high.” She scooted the tree from its nook in front of the window. “If I just push it in . . . a bit at a time . . . as it burns. . . .” She wrestled the tree to the floor.

“Connie Ann, you grab that end while I drag the bottom.”

Wincing from the pain and prickles of the browning evergreen, they struggled to get their handholds.

“What could be simpler?” Mom half-shoved it across the floor with a grunt. “A fragrant room freshener,” she tugged at the trunk, “and free heat,” she gave one final push, “and we get rid of this thing.”

With a precise aim, she poked the tippy-top of the tree right into the middle of the glowing embers.


In a roar as loud as a sonic boom, the entire tree—from its bushy head to its board-shod feet—burst into one giant flame. Screaming, Mom dropped the trunk, and they both jumped across the room.


All the branches disappeared. In one big breath. Just like magic. Nothing was left of the Christmas tree except a charred trunk, some scraggly Charlie Brown twigs—and a trailing, tree-shaped shadow of white ashes.

For one long, bug-eyed moment, Mom caught her breath. Then she pulled Connie Ann close to search for burns and swept a glance over herself for singes. And she examined the carpet for damage. Finding none, she slowly shook her head in wonder.

After a stunned silence, Mom brushed her hands together efficiently. “Well! I guess that takes care of that.”

Then she picked from among the newly formed crowd of wide-eyed, jabbering children.

“You and you and you,”Mompointed at the oldest, “help me haul this tree outside. At least now it’s manageable.”

Connie Ann nodded in agreement. She knew how much Mom liked things kept simple. It was, after all, the Whittle way.

Carol McAdoo Rehme

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