Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Last Christmas Tree - Part 2


Continued from December 3, 2007 ----------------------------------------------

“Taylor, you and the other kids put these on the tree. Now, be careful
and don't knock any of the white stuff off, and I'll tell you the story
of this tree. You think this tree is different. It is. This is a
special tree. It’s special because it has magic. I guess that you
notice that the tree has no needles on it. The reason for this is that
this was the last tree that no one wanted last year, but the tree still
has life in it for this Christmas and other Christmas’ to come. After
this Christmas, you can plant it next to the house where that bare spot
is. The secret of the tree is not in the tree but in each of you.” The
three young kids were spellbound by what the old man was saying to
them. Ms. Lilly was standing by the kitchen door leaning on the
doorframe. She was exhausted from being on her feet for nearly twenty
hours and in five more hours she would have to be at the diner waiting
on customers again. At least the children had a tree, even it was the
strangest tree she had seen or had. Ms. Lilly didn't give him his five
dollars. She had better things to spend her money on.

Walt stopped talking suddenly and spit a large wad of the chewing
tobacco in the tin can that was now a quarter filled with tobacco
juice. "That old man sat there and convinced those kids that they had
the neatest tree in the world. The old drunk man wasn't satisfied with
this. Old man Lucas followed up this story by telling the kids if they
learned to do for other people and give to other people without
expecting anything in return, the tree would grow into a large fir tree
that they could show their grand-children." Walt shook his head while
he cut himself another plug of tobacco and placed it in his mouth,
wiping the corner of his mouth where a stream of tobacco juice had
dripped.

That Christmas the kids got hand-me downs and the church went by and
brought numerous presents for each child. The kids told everyone that
they met about the magical tree that had no needles on it that was in
their living room. At first, everyone laughed behind their backs but
once they saw the tree with only the two strands of lights, they
marveled at the trees beauty. Some adults told of the aura that the
tree projected outwardly into the dull room where it stood alone
against a bare wall. The following year old man Lucas had numerous
calls for a similar tree but he would just shake his head and turn
around, when he was out of view from everyone, he would take a drink
out his clear pint bottle.

On New Year’s Day, the children planted the bare tree in the spot where
the old man had told them to put it. During the following spring, the
children watered the barren Christmas tree daily and looked with
intensity for it to come to life, but the Noble Fir stood bare. Crows
would come and perch on the top limbs to look around. Their weight
would seem to almost break the thin fragile limbs of the barren tree.
Meanwhile, on Saturdays, when their mother would go to town, the
children started to help people. Nothing big or dramatic, but the boys
would help the people by carrying their groceries to their car or would
help someone get out or enter a car by holding the door. The youngest,
Taylor, would open the door of the car and move next to the opening,
letting the elderly person use his short sturdy body to grip on so they
could straighten and pull up. Lynn, the girl, would pick out an old
person in the grocery store and pull items off the shelf for them. The
oldest, Larry would go to the Smoke House while his mother did the
grocery shopping and straighten up the magazines on the bottom shelves
for old man Cone. The boy did not understand how much old man Cone
appreciated his help. The old man had the worst back that I had ever
seen.

The following Fall, Ms. Lilly finally finished the secretary course at
the business college, and with some help she was hired at the bakery,
where she worked until she retired. She turned out to be a good
secretary."

Walt stopped talking. He made a disgusting look. Harry smiled and
turned his head so Walt could not see his smile. Harry suspected that
Walt had swallowed some of the tobacco juice but that’s the chance a
person takes chewing and talking at the same time. Walt quickly grabbed
the tin can and spit out a large amount of liquid into the can.

"By the next Christmas everyone in the household had forgotten about
the tree that they had bought the year before. Ms. Lilly had bought a
station wagon from my Dad. This Christmas she didn't go back to see old
man Lucas for a Christmas tree. The following spring Larry started to
help old man Cone once a week when the magazines came in. Taylor and
Lynn helped their mother around the house. Taylor planted a garden for
his mother and the kid could grow the most vegetables in the smallest
amount of space." Walt paused and cut another plug off the bar of Red
Man. Harry noticed the plug was a smaller one this time. The bulge on
the right side of Walt’s cheek looked like it was ready to bust.

That summer, Ms. Lilly received a promotion at the bakery and she
started to give each child an allowance of twenty-five cents a week for
helping around the house.

Next Christmas, Lynn mentioned that she wanted another beautiful
Christmas tree like the tree that the funny old man had brought them.
Ms. Lilly refused and told everyone that she had been keeping an eye on
the "so called" miracle tree that the old man had given them. There had
been no sign of life since they had planted the tree. In the spring,
they would cut the tree down and plant a pink dogwood in its place.
This announcement made each child sad. They had helped the needy and
the old as much as they could and had not asked for anything in return
like the old man had said to do but the miracle tree had not shown any
sign of life."

Walt paused and was silent for several minutes. Harry figured that he
was trying to figure out how to tell the rest of the story. Suddenly
Walt started to speak again, but now he had a more serious tone of
voice.

"Each child had saved most of their allowance money. Larry distributed
a large portion of money that he had saved from helping Mr. Cone at the
Smoke House to Taylor and Lynn. Larry had talked to old man Cone about
what they wanted to do that Christmas. The young man made old man Cone
to take a sacred oath, that was, to never tell of his involvement in
what they would be doing Christmas Eve.

That Christmas Eve, a strange thing happened in this small town. Many
were surprised and astonished at the presents that appeared at random
on the doorsteps of certain people in the small town. Canes appeared
leaning on the doors where once there was a need of a sturdy body to
pull up on, bags of sweet candy appeared on the doorsteps of people who
lived alone. A coffee cup was given to old man Cone the first year. The
cup was one of the old man’s prized possessions. No names were left,
only a simple covering of Christmas paper wrapping was left or a simple
Christmas bow. People talked about these strange events for several
months until time took its toll on this oddity.

Spring came early that year; Ms. Lilly was being courted by old man
Lucas’ son, Clyde. Larry had started junior high baseball and Lynn was
part of the Girl Scouts. Taylor was planning a bigger garden. Everyone
seemed to have forgotten about the barren tree they had planted over
two years ago until that Wednesday night at the supper table, when
their mother announced that weather permitting, the family would be
cutting down the old barren Christmas tree the following weekend. A
pink dogwood would be planted in the trees place.

Saturday morning came early for everyone. Ms. Lilly knew her children
were to learn a hard lesson about listening to old drunken men and
their folly when they were drunk. She sensed the despair in her
children’s hearts and their souls; their beautiful dream would be torn
to pieces. Yet, this was life and not a fantasy world like the old
drunk lived in.

Walt halted and spit twice into the tin can again. The tin can was now
half full of the brown slimy liquid. Walt looked around to see if the
other men were looking at him. Half of the men had fallen asleep, but
they had already heard the story once. The other half was moderately
interested in learning the cruel end to this tale. Walt understood that
most of the men had heard his story several times since he had told it
the first time.

"That morning after breakfast, Ms. Lilly told Larry to get the rusty
hand saw that hung on the wall in the tool shed next to the door. She
directed Taylor to get the shovel where he could dig the hole for the
pink dogwood. Ms. Lilly and Lynn would drag the pink dogwood around the
back of the house to the old Christmas tree.” Walt spit again into the
large tin can pausing only slightly.

"When the family turned the corner of the back of the house where the
large azalea grew, each member stopped and starred at the Nobel Fir.
The tree had grown a foot from the last time that anyone had paid any
attention to it. Examining the Noble Fir closer, each one could see the
evidence of the emerging small green needles appearing on the bare
wooden branches of the Noble Fir tree.

Their mother’s voice broke the dead silence by directing Taylor to
begin digging a hole next to the fence for the pink dogwood. No one
dared to mention anything about the condition of the Noble Fir until at
supper, when Ms. Lilly announced that she would be calling old man
Lucas about planting another tree in their yard. She figured that old
man Lucas had replaced the tree at some time during the previous month
when no one was at home. To this day, no one knows the out come of that
call that she made to that old man.”

Walt spit a large amount of tobacco juice into the nearly full tin can
of disgusting liquid, followed by a large wet mass of tobacco.

"Ms. Lilly married old man Lucas' son, Clyde, six months later, after
old man Murphy moved in with the rest of family. Clyde worked the
Christmas farm that his father ran, and sold trees every year at the
same lot that his father had at Christmas time, but Ms. Lilly would not
let Clyde create any more trees like old man Lucas did that year for
her." Walt paused briefly.

"The tree with no needles that they planted years ago is still living.
It’s nearly fifteen feet tall now. I go by there every Christmas to see
the tree. Taylor travels to foreign countries telling people how to
grow their crops. Larry is a publisher of a book company and instructs
people to teach other people sign language. Lynn is married and has
three children, two boys and one girl. She's a nurse.

What's sad? Old man Lucas quit drinking five years before he died. The
old man knew that the booze had finally caught up with him. But I'll
never forget the old man’s smile when he told me the ending of the
story about the last Christmas tree; there was a smile on his weather
beaten face when he finished telling me the story.

Both of us sat there that night in the cold for the longest time not
saying a single word to each other. The old man broke the silence by
telling me one last thing. I don’t think I'll ever forget those words
he spoke.

"Christmas is for kids. It’s a time when they learn the real miracle of
this world. The miracle is ‘giving’ without expecting anything in
return. Most of us grown folks don't understand that it’s the giving
and it’s done during the rest of the year. That’s where the miracle
lies." and you know that old sucker winked at me. Then old man Lucas
got up and went to the old camper that he kept at the market during the
Christmas season. He died a of couple weeks later."” Walt paused for a
brief moment to regain his composure. Harry noticed Walt’s eyes. They
were watery.

"The old man never told anyone else that story." Walt was silent again
but now he had a little smile on his face.

Everyone in the group nodded. They understood that this was Walt’s gift
those who wanted to listen to his story about his dear friend.

--------------------------------------------

Written By Franklin P. Smith @ Tales from the Smokehouse

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