From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1952 –
The Christmas Tree
By Lillian S. Feltman
“Silent Night – Holy Night.” The soft strains carolled thinly on the crisp December night air. Ellie, walking homeward in the snowy dusk, paused a moment to listen. “Silent Night – Holy Night.” It was almost like old times, just hearing it.
Old times – when the children had all been home and their stockings had hung limply, waiting for Santa to fill them. Tom and Ollie and Marge had married, and had gone, one by one, away from the old home. There was no one left, now, but herself and Paul. Just as there had been only Paul and herself in the beginning.
Their first Christmas had been spent at the hospital, because Tom had chosen the week before to put in his appearance. And the next year there had been a sparkling tree for him. All the other Christmases there had been a tree for the children, and last year all the children and grandchildren had come home, and there had been a huge tree for that occasion. The year before that Marge hadn’t yet been married.
This year would be different. Just yesterday she had tried to tell Paul how very much they needed a tree. What a comfort it would be to them. Christmas just wasn’t Christmas without a tree …
But she hadn’t told him all that was im her heart, after all, because Paul had said, “A tree is just an unnecessary expense. We don’t need one now the children are all gone, and there won’t any of them be coming home this year …”
Ellie blinked back the tears. There wasn’t any use thinking about a tree as long as Paul didn’t want it, too. She couldn’t enjoy it if they had one, knowing he wasn’t.
She reached the house and went into the soft warmth of it. Paul was sitting beside the heating stove, and he said as she came, “Cold out?”
“Not very,” Ellie answered. “The carols are lovely so that one doesn’t notice the cold so much …”
They had supper and the evening passed like all the other evenings nowadays. And then it was morning again, and the next day would be Christmas.
Ellie tried to sing as she went about straightening up the house, because she always sang at her work, and Paul would think she was sick or something if she didn’t. But her heart wasn’t in it, and the sound was thin and sad, somehow, and she was glad when it came time for Paul to go out and tend to the chores. She could stop singing then until he came back in.
And then it was night and supper was over, and Ellie thought of the Christmas tree decorations upon the closet shelf. Tears smarted behind her eyes, and she said, “I think I’ll go for a little walk – listen to the carols. Want to come along?” knowing he wouldn’t – it seemed to make his rheumatism worse if he went out into the night air. “I’ll be back real soon,” she added, and went into the bedroom closet to get her coat and scarf.
Paul was reading the paper when she came into the living room again, so she didn’t say anything – just went out and closed the door softly behind her.
Out there she could hear the carols faintly, and it sounded like the children singing them as they did on those long-ago nights when they were small and exuberant and dependent on her’s and Paul’s love.
If only they had a tree so that it would be like always … She knew she wouldn’t mind their not being here so much. She guessed she was being silly – but they’d always had a tree – Christmas wasn’t Christmas without one …
Ellie walked toward town, went slowly around the small park, once, twice. Paul would be missing her. It was time for her to turn back.
Her feet moved slowly, and she breathed in the clear night air, filling her lungs with its freshness. The night was beautiful, and there were a million stars overhead. They twinkled in rhythmic unison with the caroling.
It began to snow – huge, feathery flakes – and Ellie felt them fall softly upon her upturned face.
Suddenly, she thought of Paul again, and with the thought came an urgency for her feet to hurry.
Nonsense – Paul was all right. He wouldn’t be needing her. He would still be sitting beside the stove reading the newspaper.
Ellie walked faster, and presently she turned in at her own gate and went up the walk. She reached the step – and there in a little heap, with the snow covering him gently, was Paul. A little pine tree lay beside him, and the snowflakes, drifting down, clung lovingly to the branches.
Ellie knelt beside Paul and tugged at him. She brushed the snow from his face with her scarf and laid her cheek against his.
“It doesn’t matter about the tree, Paul,” she said brokenly. “Not really. We can have Christmas without the tree – but not without you … Not without you, Paul.”
He stirred against her. “Ellie,” he muttered. “It’s my lame foot. The ankle turned and I think I hit my head.”
“Here,” said Ellie, “let me help you into the house.”
“Get the tree,” said Paul. “We can carry it together. I wanted to do it alone – wanted to have it up when you got back. I wanted to surprise you. Where do you keep the trimmings, anyway?”
Ellie laughed softly. “They’re on the closet shelf.”
Paul held the tree tightly with one arm and put his other one about her shoulders as they went into the house together.