The Family Tree

The Family Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

The Family Tree

“Mr. Zimmerman’s sons are returning home to take over the farm.”

The adult conversation around the kitchen table worried me. At seven years old, I was big enough to understand what that meant: My father and brother would no longer be working for the German farmer, and that spelled disaster.

The Great Depression had hit our rural Idaho community, and money was scarce that Christmas. Most of Father’s income from Mr. Zimmerman was in trade for food and a place to live. This place. The only home I’d ever known. The home I loved.

The two-story farmhouse had one large sleeping room upstairs. It opened to a balcony overlooking the backyard and my favorite oak tree. During the spring and summer, soft, warm breezes blew through the room, and Jimmy, Eddie, Iris and I played for hours on end.

Now it was too cold. We had closed off the upstairs for everything but sleeping. Most of our winter living was done downstairs next to the warm fireplace, or in the kitchen where Mother was always baking yeasty breads and fragrant pies.

I was sitting on the floor playing with Harley, who was learning to crawl, when mother came in from the pump and set the bucket on the large woodstove. Water sloshed onto the hot stovetop, sizzling and filling the air with steam.

“Mother, will we really have to leave here?” My question was blunt. It was the worry foremost in my mind.

She looked down at me, sympathy and understanding etching her kind face. “Yes, Carol, we will.”

I frowned. “But what about Christmas?”

“It will be the last holiday we’ll celebrate in this house.” Mother verbalized my darkest fear.

“And a tree? Will we have a tree?”

“Child, we have no means to get a tree this year.”

But I couldn’t—I wouldn’t—accept her calm answer. Somehow we must have a tree for our last family Christmas in this wonderful old farmhouse.

That night I prayed for a very, very long time.

The next morning I hurried downstairs fully expecting to see the answer to my prayers, but there was no tree. I put on my warm sweater and mittens and headed to the outhouse. As the cold air hit my face, I became even more determined.

When Father left to walk the four miles into town, I decided to wait outside until he returned—even if it took all day. I settled beneath my favorite oak on the cold, hard ground, certain he’d bring home a tree.

It seemed like I’d been sitting for hours when I felt the ground start to rumble and heard a dull, distant roar that grew louder and louder. I jumped to my feet and ran to the fence. A large truck—full of Christmas trees—was headed for delivery in the city. My heart pounded as it drew up beside our house.

And then, like a hand tossing them from heaven, two large branches flew right off the truck and bounced into our front yard. My prayers had been answered. My tree had arrived!

I raced inside and, my words tripping over each other, babbled to Mother about how badly I wanted a tree for our last Christmas here and how hard I had prayed for it and how I was hoping Father would bring one home and how I just knew we’d get one in time for Christmas and now . . . and now!

Mother took my hand and walked me outside where Iris, Jimmy and Eddie stood gawking at the miracle in our yard. She smiled and pulled us together in a hug. “And to think, children, it was Carol’s faith that brought us our tree.”

We tied the bushy limbs together, then decorated them with wallpaper scraps and garlands of popcorn. I admired the tree as it stood in our big farmhouse home and knew it was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.

That year I also received the only doll I would ever have as a child. But my greatest gift was the discovery that—with faith—miracles happen.

Carol Keim
As told to (daughter) Tamara Chilla
Submitted by (niece) Laura Linares

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