“Tree for Jenny,” Friend, Dec. 1992, 4
On her way to school, Meg passed the snow-encrusted vacant lot next door. Spotting a crumpled foil candy wrapper under a scraggly shrub, she stooped to retrieve it. Cut into strips, the foil could be used as icicles for their Christmas tree. “If we have a tree,” she muttered.
Dad had lost his job at the plant and in searching for work had moved the family to this new town. They had left many things behind in storage, including their Christmas tree decorations. “It’ll be a lean Christmas,” Dad had tried to prepare them one night after Jenny had been tucked into bed. “There’ll be no need for decorations because there won’t be a tree. I’m sorry.”
Meg had cried. No tree! It would be especially sad, she knew, for her sister, Jenny, who was in kindergarten.
Now Meg pulled her coat tighter against the cold. Longingly she eyed the big pines in the yard next to the vacant lot, then hurried on to school.
That afternoon when she got home, Meg hung her coat on a hook behind the kitchen door and removed the foil from her pocket. She’d smoothed the wrinkles from it and was cutting it into thin strips when Ryan, her younger brother, came in.
“Sort of short icicles aren’t they?” he said. “Anyway, what are you going to use for a tree?”
“I’ll think of something,” Meg answered.
“Su-u-re!” said Ryan.
“The yard on the other side of the vacant lot has beautiful pine trees,” Meg said slowly, putting the strips into a box with others she had collected.
“So? Are you figuring on cutting one down?” Ryan stirred the soup Mom had put on to simmer before going to get Jenny from kindergarten. He licked the spoon, washed it, and went into the living room.
Meg followed. She bustled about, arranging the white knit lap robe on the couch to hide the worn places. “Since Dad’s temporary job is at night, sometime after Mom goes to bed, we could slip over there and cut a few limbs from one of those trees. If we tied the branches together, they’d make a cute little Christmas tree for Jenny.”
Ryan stared at her. “That would be stealing!”
“What’s wrong with people sharing with you?”
“Sis, it isn’t sharing when people don’t know you’re taking.”
Meg sighed. “I know. I just want a tree for Jenny so bad. …” She was setting the table when Mom came in with Jenny.
“Look what I made at school today.” Jenny proudly held up an angel for them to admire. It was made from a straight wooden clothespin. Its robe, a scrap of white satin, was draped over pipe-cleaner arms. A string of tiny glass beads gathered the robe at the waist.
“See the halo?” Jenny turned the angel to show gold braid against white yarn hair. “Miss Grant said we could bring ours home for our Christmas trees.”
“It’s beautiful!” Meg looked meaningfully at Ryan over Jenny’s head.
She didn’t mention the tree to Ryan again, but Meg thought of it constantly. One day after an art project, she found some fat, fuzzy red and green yarn scraps in the wastebasket. She took them home. A week before Christmas a friend gave her a package of assorted fruit-flavored candies. She saved those too.
Every day Jenny asked why they didn’t have a tree. “All the other kids have told about their trees at Show and Tell,” she complained one day after supper.
“Don’t worry Jenny,” Meg said comfortingly. “We’ll soon have a tree—I promise.”
Mom shook her head sadly as Jenny went to bed early. “I’m going to bed too. Don’t stay up late, you two.”
Meg gathered the dishes from the table while Ryan took care of the food. “I’m getting Jenny a tree tonight, Ryan. Are you coming?”
“Sis, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Jenny needs a Christmas tree, and I promised her one.”
As soon as she was sure that Mom was asleep, Meg got her coat.
Ryan slipped into his jacket, too, and got his Scout knife. “I’ll cut—you carry the limbs.”
Rain turning to sleet stung Meg’s face as they crept past the vacant lot under the dim glow of the streetlights.
They paused outside the yard next to the vacant lot. When Ryan pushed open the gate, the hinges creaked. Meg’s heart thumped painfully in her throat.
Under a thick pine, Ryan reached for a wet branch. The wind was forcing icy rain down Meg’s neck. She suddenly sobbed, “We can’t do this, Ryan! You’re right. It isn’t sharing if people don’t know you’re taking.”
With Ryan following her, she stumbled up the steps to the house and knocked hard on the door. The door opened, and a man stood in the soft light. “What in the world are you kids doing out on a night like this?”
Trembling, Meg told about how Dad had lost his job and how Jenny needed a Christmas tree.
Ryan stammered a request to cut a couple of pine boughs to make a Christmas tree for his little sister.
“I’d be glad to give you some boughs for your sister,” said the man. He grabbed his coat, got some pruning shears from his garage, and went into the yard. Soon both children’s arms were filled with fragrant pine boughs.
With many thanks, Meg and Ryan left.
At home, they wired the branches together. They made a perfect little tree! Meg found a fat green vase for it and set it on a small table. She put Jenny’s angel on the topmost bough, then she and Ryan used snips of green and red yarn to hang the candies Meg had saved. Ryan draped longer lengths of yarn around the tree in splendid garlands, while Meg hung her foil icicles. “I wish we had something to put around the bottom,” she said.
Grinning, Ryan took the lap robe from the couch and handed it to her with a flourish.
Meg draped it gracefully around the bottom of the vase. She and Ryan sat and admired the tree for a while.
Ryan soon yawned and went to bed, but Meg sat still, thinking how the tree, with its angel on top, was a reminder of the birthday of Jesus. Suddenly she had the most wonderful feeling. It was more than the good feeling of having kept her promise to Jenny—it was a feeling that everything would be all right.