It was my very first Christmas after Dad died. I was only seven then, but I was the man of the house—at least that’s what Dad had always told me whenever he went someplace. Whenever he had to go away, he’d say to me, “Son, you’re the man of the house while I’m gone, and I want you to look after Mom and Aaron.”
Aaron’s my little brother, and he was only four that Christmas. We didn’t have much money with Dad gone; at least that’s what Mom told me. Now when she went to the store, she didn’t buy peanuts and candy like she used to when Dad was still alive. Aaron didn’t get much for his birthday either—just a ball, and it wasn’t even brand-new. I didn’t tell Aaron that because he liked the ball just fine.
Christmas was getting close, and I was getting excited. I told Aaron all about Christmas. He couldn’t remember the other ones because he was just a baby back then. I told him about the lights and the decorations and about Jesus in the manger and about the presents and the stockings and Santa Claus. Aaron doesn’t talk much, but he listens a lot. I really like Aaron because he’s a good listener.
Lots of times when we were in bed at night, Aaron would ask me to tell him about Christmas. I’d talk and talk until I was sure he was asleep, but as soon as I stopped talking, he’d whisper, “Alma, tell me again,” and I’d have to start all over. He’d never go to sleep until I finally told him that my throat was sore and that I had to stop talking.
The thing Aaron liked most to hear about was the Christmas tree. He’d make me tell him about it all the time. Whenever I talked about the tree, his eyes got really big and he’d smile. He always asked me if we would have a tree, and I’d say, “Sure. Everybody has a tree. You can’t have Christmas without a tree.” Well, I shouldn’t have said that, because later Mom told me that we couldn’t afford to have a tree.
I was in trouble then, because it was getting really close to Christmas, and everybody on our street had trees in their windows. Aaron was getting more excited. He asked me every night to tell him about Christmas and the Christmas tree.
I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. Well, on Sunday my Primary teacher told a story about a pioneer boy who found his own Christmas tree. He just went outside and found a tree in the woods and cut it down. It didn’t cost him anything. I didn’t hear the rest of the story. All I could think about was getting a tree.
On the way home I looked for a tree. We weren’t pioneers or anything like that; we were just poor. We didn’t live in the woods either, but there were some Christmas trees growing in our neighborhood. Lots of people grew Christmas trees in their yards, and there were some growing in the park, but most of them were too big for our house. We didn’t have a very big house, so I knew I had to get a little tree that would fit.
I looked and looked, and I almost decided that there weren’t any trees our size when I saw one in Brother Hubbard’s yard, right next to the sidewalk. The tree was about as high as my mom, and it was really fluffy. It had lots of branches, and it was kind of blue and green. I knew that that was the tree I was going to get for Aaron.
That night in bed I told Aaron all about the tree and asked him if he would help me cut it down. He said he would, and then he asked me to tell him about Christmas again.
The next day, when Mom was in the house cooking supper, Aaron and I went to the garage and got an ax and one of Dad’s saws. Dad had two axes, but one was too big for me. The other one was still kind of big, but I was the man of the house and I figured I could use it.
We put the ax and the saw into my wagon and started down the street. At first Aaron pushed while I pulled, but after a little while he climbed into the wagon and rode.
Brother and Sister Hubbard weren’t home when we got to their house. I was glad because I didn’t want to ask them if I could cut down their tree. I figured it would be easier to just cut it down like the boy in the story and not ask anybody anything. Besides, I didn’t think Brother Hubbard would mind. He was the nicest man I knew, next to my dad. Brother Hubbard was our home teacher, and he visited us all the time. He did lots of nice things for us, especially after Dad died. He told us that whatever we needed he’d try to get for us. So I didn’t think he’d care if we cut down his tree, because Aaron really needed a Christmas tree and I didn’t know how else to get him one.
I got right to work, but Aaron just sat in the wagon and watched. Although he was cold, he didn’t ask to go home. He wanted a Christmas tree. First I had to saw off some of the branches so I could chop at the trunk. That was kind of hard because the branches prickled my hands and face.
As soon as I got the branches out of the way, I got the ax out of the wagon and started to chop, but it didn’t work very well. The ax was too big, even though it was Dad’s little one. It kept hitting into the branches and bouncing off the trunk. I knocked some bark off, but I couldn’t chop down the tree. I kept trying, though, until I dropped the ax on my foot. Then I just had to cry because the ax was heavy and my foot really hurt. I didn’t let Aaron see me, though. I put my head down close to the trunk and pretended I was looking at it.
I finally decided to use the saw, and it worked better. Pretty soon I had cut halfway through the trunk. But the tree still didn’t fall over, and the saw kept getting stuck. It would squeak and then stop. I pushed and pulled and kicked the tree, but that just hurt my foot, and I scratched my face on some branches. I was tired by then, and my hands and feet were cold. I started to cry. This time Aaron saw me, and he started to cry too. When I tried to get him to stop crying, he said that he was cold and wanted to go home and that we could get Mom to come back and help us. Yet I was the man of the family, and this was my job.
While we were both crying, Brother and Sister Hubbard drove up in their car. They didn’t know what we were doing at first, but as soon as they got out of their car, they could see. Brother Hubbard’s a nice man. He’s old—kind of like a grandpa—and he’s my best friend, next to Aaron.
“What are you boys doing, Alma?” he said when he walked over to us. Sister Hubbard stayed by the car and watched. I wasn’t crying anymore. I just stared at Brother Hubbard’s big feet. They were bigger than Dad’s. Aaron stopped crying too.
“We’re cutting a Christmas tree for Christmas,” Aaron said. “We’re going to put it in our house, and we don’t even have to buy it. Do you want to help us?”
Brother Hubbard didn’t say anything, and I didn’t dare look at him. “We can’t buy one,” I whispered, “because we don’t have any money, but my Primary teacher told me about a pioneer boy who cut down a tree, and he didn’t have to buy it. We aren’t pioneers like the boy in the story, but we thought it would be all right, since we didn’t have a tree. Yours was the very best tree. I hope you don’t need it.”
Brother Hubbard thought for a minute and then asked, “Does your mother know you’re here, Alma?” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I shook my head.
“I’m the man of the house,” I said, “and I wanted to surprise her.” I looked up at Brother Hubbard and then at Aaron and then back at Brother Hubbard. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I pulled Brother Hubbard by the hand and took him behind the tree so Aaron couldn’t hear us. “I’ve been telling Aaron all about Christmas, but now it doesn’t look like we’ll have too much Christmas. Tommy—he’s my friend at school—says Santa Claus is just your mom and dad. Well, we don’t have a dad now, and Mom is poor, so if there isn’t a Santa Claus, we won’t have any Christmas at all unless we get a tree. That’s why I needed a tree. I really want Aaron to have a Christmas. He can’t remember the other ones, and I want him to have a real good Christmas, even if Santa Claus doesn’t come.”
I don’t know why I started to bawl, but I did, I guess my foot still hurt. Brother Hubbard patted my shoulder and said, “Well, Alma, it doesn’t look like that tree will be doing much good where it is now. Do you want me to help you finish cutting it down?”
I looked up at him, and he was smiling, so I figured everything was OK. I just nodded my head. I was afraid I’d start to cry again.
When Brother Hubbard had finished cutting down the tree, he said, “Alma, don’t worry too much about what your friend Tommy said. I don’t have a dad or a mom anymore, but Santa visits me every Christmas.”
“He does?” I asked.
“Sure. And I bet he’ll come to your house. In fact, I know he will.”
Brother Hubbard dragged the tree home for us, and I pulled Aaron in the wagon. When Mom saw the tree, she was really happy. She even cried.
On Christmas Eve Aaron and Mom and I sat around the Christmas tree and sang. Mom told us about Jesus and all the people who came to see Him when He was born. We were almost ready for bed when someone knocked on our door. I answered it, and there stood Brother Hubbard with a big box in his arms. It was filled with oranges and apples and nuts and fruit cake and a turkey and candy and lots of other good things. Mom invited Brother Hubbard in, and while Aaron and I looked through the box, she and Brother Hubbard whispered in the corner. When they were through, Brother Hubbard put his arms around me and Aaron and asked us if we were ready for Santa Claus. I nodded my head, but I really didn’t believe Santa Claus would come. I was afraid Tommy was right and that Brother Hubbard was just trying to make me feel good.
I guess Brother Hubbard knew what I was thinking, because he patted me on the back and smiled. “He’ll be here, Alma. You wait and see. He hasn’t forgotten you and Aaron.”
Aaron and I had to go to bed then. I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, but Aaron wouldn’t let me. He made me tell him everything I knew about Christmas. I don’t know which one of us fell asleep first, but it didn’t seem like I’d been sleeping very long when I felt Aaron shaking me and heard him whisper, “Alma, he’s here! He’s here! Wake up!”
Finally I opened my eyes. I couldn’t see anything but a crack of light under our bedroom door. Someone had left the light on in the living room. “Who’s here?” I asked grumpily.
“Santa Claus? Who said?”
“I can hear him, Alma! I can hear him! He’s out by the Christmas tree!”
“Go back to bed, Aaron,” I said. “I’ll turn the light off. It’s not Santa Claus. Go back to bed.”
I stumbled down the hall to the living room. Aaron was right behind me. I was too tired to stop him. All I wanted to do was turn the light off and get back into bed. Before I could, Aaron yelled, “It is Santa Claus! Alma, it is Santa Claus!”
I turned around and there he was! Aaron ran and kissed him on his white beard. I couldn’t even move; all I could do was stare. Santa’s eyes got big. He was surprised. I could tell. I was afraid he was going to go away and not leave us anything. Mom used to say that if we didn’t go to sleep, Santa wouldn’t come.
“Aaron, come here,” I hissed. “We aren’t supposed to be here.” But Aaron didn’t mind me. Santa was holding him, and Aaron was squeezing his neck and wouldn’t let go.
All of a sudden, Santa started to laugh. He sounded a little like Brother Hubbard, but Brother Hubbard is skinny, not fat. He put Aaron and me on his knees and laughed and hugged us. He looked at me and said, “I heard you didn’t think I was going to come.” I looked at the floor. “Well, I’m here,” he said. “I brought you and Aaron something very special, but you must go back to bed while I work. You’ll see everything in the morning.”
Santa carried us to our beds and tucked us in. He kissed us both on the forehead, and his beard tickled my cheeks and nose. It felt good. I didn’t go to sleep for a long time. I listened to Santa doing things in the living room. When he left, I listened for him on the roof, but I didn’t hear anything.
I wanted to go out and see what he’d brought, but I didn’t dare. I knew I had to go to sleep. As I lay there thinking, I was glad that I was the man of the house and that Brother Hubbard and I could get Aaron a Christmas tree. That was one of my very best Christmases.