It was December. I was in a new school in a new place and there were new teachers and new classmates. And we were living in a new house too. Also there was no snow in Florida. That was a lot of new things at once. I didn’t like it. At least I had my bicycle—it was my old bicycle so it wasn’t new.
December used to be a good month. It used to have Christmas in it. But not this year. Mama had told me. No Christmas this year. She never said we didn’t have any money, but I noticed there wasn’t much food. Lunch was one slice of bread with a thin slice of mystery meat from a funny blue can. Mama didn’t eat anything that I could see—maybe a piece of fruit—one of the mangoes that fell off the tree in back of the house. No Christmas.
Now Mama loved Christmas. Or maybe you could say she loved Christmas trees. They were a big deal. She would make me go to bed early. Then she would stay up all night long decorating the tree. It was always a big tree—all the way up to the ceiling. She had all the decorations in boxes. Some of them were huge glass balls, all silvery or gold. There were smaller ones, too. And angels and candy canes and little sleds and colored lights and everything you could imagine and more. When I came in on Christmas morning it was so beautiful. Mama slept late, so I didn’t get to open presents right away, but it was OK because I loved that tree just like Mama did.
But this time there wasn’t going to be Christmas. No tree. No decorations. No lights. No little sleds and angels. And no presents. Mama was going to be very upset. Me too. I thought and thought but I couldn’t come up with any ideas.
And then, the week before Christmas, a small tree showed up in homeroom at school. We had it for the week before our school break. Mrs. Clark baked cookies for us to have in homeroom before classes began—she said they would give us energy to study. I don’t know if they did, but sometimes I ate two.
On the last day, before the break, I got an idea—maybe it was those cookies that helped. I waited until everyone went to class and I asked Mrs. Clark what was going to happen to the tree over the break. “Oh, we’ll throw it out so it won’t shed pine needles all over the floor.” She turned away, but I didn’t leave. “You’re going to be late!” she said. “Umm, Miz Clark,” I said, “could I have the tree at the end of the day?” She was very surprised and I could see she didn’t know what to say. “Please?” I added. “Alright, yes, you can have it, just come right after your last class.”
I could hardly concentrate all day, cookies or no cookies. At 3:02 I was back at homeroom to collect the tree. Mrs. Clark had taken off the tinsel and the few decorations. The tree was lying across her desk. I picked it up in my arms. It was very scratchy. “Thank you so much!” I said through the branches and found my way through the door to where my bicycle was waiting.
“Now what?” I thought. “How am I going to get this home?” And then it came to me. I could put it across the handlebars and tie it on with the straps of my book bag. It took a couple of tries but I finally got it balanced. I got on the bike and headed home. But it wasn’t so easy to steer. And besides, there was that dog that chased me every morning on the way to school and every afternoon on the way home. If I didn’t pedal fast enough he would bite the hem of my skirt. Then Mama would have to sew it up. That happened a lot.
When I got to the block with the dog I put my head down and pedaled faster than I did even without a Christmas tree on the handlebars. I made it, but by the time I got home I was really out of breath. And then I had another problem. I wanted to surprise Mama. That meant I had to hide the tree for a day. I couldn’t hide it in the house. I couldn’t hide it on the porch. I put it exactly behind the trunk of one of the mango trees so if Mama looked out back she couldn’t see it. I could get it later.
Mama was pretty upset on Christmas Eve. She didn’t eat. She didn’t talk. Papa told her to go to bed early. She did. I told him I had a plan. He was surprised. “I have to bring the tree in, “ I said. “Tree?” he said. “Yes, it’s outside behind the mango tree.” We went out back and sure enough the tree was waiting. We brushed off some ants and brought it inside. I found a pail and put water in it and stood the tree up in the pail. It looked a little funny because the tree was so small—nowhere near the ceiling in height. I couldn’t be bothered with that. I had work to do. “Do we have tin foil?” I asked my father. Tin foil is what we called aluminum foil when I was growing up. “Sure.” he said, and brought it out for me. I started tearing it into small squares with the shiny side up. I wadded them up into little balls. Then I started putting them on the tree, squeezing them so they would stay on the tree branches. When I was done I went to get my hair ribbons and used those on the tree, too. It was looking like a Christmas tree, at least a little bit like one. “Go to bed.” Papa said. I was tired so that was easy.
The next morning, Mama was sleeping in. I went in and woke her up. “Mama, Mama, you’ve got to come!” She was sleepy. “Come on!” I said.
She got up and let me lead her into where the tree was waiting for her. “I brought Christmas!” I said. I saw her eyes start to fill up and I thought she was upset. “Mama, I’m sorry, I was trying to help…” She turned around and said to me, “You sure did bring Christmas! It’s the best! It’s the best!”
And then she hugged me for a long time.