From the Improvement Era, December 1955 –
The Glory of the Tumbleweed
By Ruth Sporleder
Back and forth across the valley, between the hills and the wide, gray benches, the useless tumbleweed had been rolled and tossed by the ever-blowing summer winds. The autumn storm had sent it scurrying to pile high in the fence corners; now it was winter; the snow would come to cover the tumbleweed. When the snow came, the children knew it would soon be Christmas.
The half dozen ranchers in the valley were troubled about Christmas. Not that they had ever had a tremendous celebration, but there had always been a gift, an orange, candy for each child, and a small tree, brought by the engineer of the train at their expense. On Christmas Eve they gathered around the tree at some rancher’s home, and one would tell the story of the Christ Child who was born in a manger, and they would sing the old songs of Christmas.
But not this year! There was no money for the oranges and candy, and no one felt like singing. There had been a serious sickness among the children that fall, and in heaven there was a new little angel who was just learning to find his way to his little window where he could look down on the earth.
At last it was the day before Christmas. There was a great still new in the air, for suddenly the wind had stopped blowing. The tumbleweed lay motionless on the ground. In the sky, back of the mountains, was a heavy gray cloud.
“Snow tomorrow,” said a rancher to his wife, as he looked at the clouds. “A white Christmas – but for all of us in this valley, a gray Christmas – as gray as those clouds.”
“It is the children I think of,” replied his wife. “They ask all the time at whose house will be the Christmas tree, and will they have an orange and some candy for Christmas. We have sewed and knitted little gifts – but very little.”
“It was so hot and so dry,” said the rancher, “everything blew away – everything but that useless tumbleweed.”
“It is good for nothing,” sighed his wife, “not even to build a fire to warm the house.”
At that moment a strange little puff of wind suddenly sent a bit of tumbleweed against the rancher’s boots. He frowned as he looked at it. Then his face cleared. Flinging his arms about his wife, he held her close.
“The children shall have their Christmas tree,” he exclaimed. “A big, golden tree that they will always remember! I will get the other men, and we will gather these tumbleweeds, and build a high tree. When the darkness comes tonight, we will light it. It will be like a million candles shining.”
Hastily saddling his horse, he rode a mile to one ranch, a mile to another until he had stopped at every home. soon, from all directions, the wagons began to converge on a central place on the prairie. As they came on, the drivers stopped and picked up the tumbleweeds and piled them on the wagons.
Again and again the wagons went out, and higher and higher from its broad base rose the pile of tumbleweeds. It was higher than the highest house – so high that the tallest rancher, standing on his wagon, could not toss another tumbleweed to the top.
That Christmas Eve when the darkness began to settle on the prairie between the mountains and the wide, gray benches, the wagons came again. This time, from each wagon tumbled the happy children. They raced toward the pile of tumbleweeds, shouting, “We’re going to have a Christmas tree. It’s the highest in the world. It goes way up to heaven!”
Every man took his place beside the tree, lighted his match and watched as his tiny flame grew and grew and joined the other flames. The children shouted and danced with joy. The golden sparks, like tiny golden stars, rose higher and higher toward the stars above.
Far up the railroad, the engineer saw the sudden bright glow. “Oh, not that, dear Bod,” he prayed. “they have had so much trouble. We’ve got to get there and help them.”
The train with its single baggage car and passenger coach doubled speed. It came to a jolting stop near the fire, and the engineer jumped from his cab and ran toward the fire. The passengers erupted from the passenger coach and ran with him.
“What is this, anyway?” shouted the engineer angrily when he reached the fire. “I break all the rules because I think your home is burning, and it’s only an old tumbleweed bonfire.”
“No, no,” replied a rancher, quietly. “This is a golden Christmas tree. It’s all we could give the children this year.”’
The passengers silently looked at one another, remembering the abundance of gifts they were taking home with them. The children stopped their play and drew closer.
“Why,” said a woman with a warm, lovely smile, “it is very fortunate that you lighted your Christmas tree. This is the Santa Claus train, and we have many packages on board for little boys and girls.”
“Did Santa Claus put some on board for us?” asked a little boy, “Mom said maybe he couldn’t see us because no one had a lighted-up tree, and it’s real dark on the prairie.”
“But you have a beautiful lighted-up tree,” said the woman, “and we will go right back and find the packages.”
One of the ranchers returned with the passengers to the train. Everyone happily shared his gifts until there was a pile of gaily wrapped packages spread on a blanket. They tied the corners of the blanket together and lifted it onto the rancher’s back. “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to all,” they called.
“Merry Christmas,” replied the rancher, “and may God bless you and give you the happiest Christmas you have ever had.”
When the red and green lights of the Christmas train had disappeared in the distance, the ranchers and the children gathered around the golden heart of the tumbleweed tree. One told again the wonderful story of the blessed Christ Child, and again they sang the old songs of Christmas.
Slowly the golden embers faded. A few wandering snowflakes drifted downward. The sleepy children, treasuring their gifts, were lifted into the wagons.
“A white Christmas,” said the rancher to his wife, “for all of us, a merry one. Never will I call anything useless, for if it had not been for the tumbleweed, our children would not be so happy tonight.”
A new little angel, looking out of his window, smiled happily to himself.