a short story by Joni Hendry
(caddis11 [at] hotmail [dot] com)
I rub the sleep from my eyes and wish I could laze in bed all day long. I snuggle deeper into my covers, but the sun keeps spilling through my window, bright and warm on my face. From down stairs I can hear the fireplace hissing and my mother in the kitchen fixing breakfast. It’s Sunday morning.
Misty, the family poodle, jumps on my bed and starts licking my face urging me out of bed. He wakes me up this way every morning since I got him as a puppy. A birthday present I received when I was six. At the age of seven he still acts like a puppy sometimes. I finally get up and go downstairs. Misty traipses behind me, tail wagging, barking to be let out. I can smell the pancakes and hear the sizzle of bacon frying.
I let Misty out and stand in the doorway, watching big fluffy flakes of snow falling, transforming the yard into an imaginary place as if someone had turned a snow-globe upside down. From here I can hear my father in the garage, sharpening his axe, the screeching sound of metal on metal. Today is the day we get our Christmas tree. As a family we decided, no taller than five feet and a tree with short needles. They last longer, my Mom says. After breakfast, we bundle up and dash into the yard letting the big flakes melt on our tongues. We laugh as the snow clings to warm cheeks and tickles our eyelashes. Mom and Dad urge me to hurry before the snow gets too high to walk in. We hike a mile from the edge of town, deeper into the thick woods, searching for the right tree.
In an open meadow we decide to make snow angels. All three of us, plopping down on the soft mattress of white, fanning our limbs, jumping up, our bottoms are wet and the outlines of angels quickly fill in. I shake the wet snow off my yellow jacket and see the tree we should bring home. Its arms full with bright green needles and the top branch perfectly straight. We all agree this is the one to take home. Dad removes the cover from the ax. The sharpened ax makes good time. The tree falls with a creak and a whoosh; the sap dripping off the edge of the trunk. Carefully we wrap the tree in a tarp for the trip home.
Uncomfortable being out so long in the cold, Misty yaps urgently at Dad’s feet, wanting to go home. Dad trips over him and falls flat on his face. Embarrassed, he jumps up and grumpily exclaims its time to go.
Arriving home, Mom mixes sugar water to prolong the tree’s life. Dad props the tree into a stand. Mom prepares hot chocolate with colored marshmallows floating on top. Silent Night serenades us from a record as we place ornaments. Carefully the tinsel is put on, and an angel is placed on top. We stand back and admire our work. The tree is stunning to look at with all its holiday clothes on, but something happened inside me.
I’ll never forget that year, that tree, as I put the final touches, the frail heirloom angel, on my aluminum Christmas tree. Glowing on metallic needles the image of that long ago day returns. I turn away and walk to the window. The snow is still falling. In my mind, I see the tree again, standing tall and green and hear the whacking sound of my father’s ax, and the sap weeping into the snow.