Putting Up the Christmas Tree

By Betty Lou Mell

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    And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance (Isa. 32:17).

    “Come on, Rory!” Greg muttered impatiently. “I want the milk too!”

    I poured some over my cereal, then passed the carton to him.

    “Greg, Rory,” Mom said as she packed our school lunches. “Listen up, you two. I’ll be leaving to get your father at the airport before you get home from school. They are predicting more snow, so I don’t know if his flight will arrive on time, or how the roads will be. Don’t worry if we’re late. I made a potpie for dinner. The first one home is to pop it into the oven at 350° for about forty minutes. There are homemade doughnuts for dessert. Then,” she continued as she shoved our sandwiches into brown bags, “get the Christmas tree down and set it up. If there’s time, check the light strings and put them on too. That would be a tremendous help! I know it was a big disappointment to not have our traditional tree-trimming family home evening this week, but it couldn’t be helped, and with Christmas only two days away, we just can’t wait any longer to get it up.”

    “Mom,” Greg complained, “it’s Friday—the Mutual activity starts at 6:00 so that we can get to the senior citizens’ center early.”

    Mom put the lunchmeat and cheese back into the refrigerator. “That gives you more than two hours between the time you get home from school and when you are expected at the meetinghouse, Greg! I don’t want to overwhelm your dad as soon as he gets home—there’s no need to with you two strong boys in the family. Remember, 350° for forty minutes—got that?”

    Greg sighed loudly. “Got it.”

    Mom kissed us both, then hurried into the hall. As she slipped into her coat, she called, “I’m off to help Grandma. Have a good day, you two, and if you need anything, call!”

    “Yeah, yeah! Be careful driving!” Greg called.

    “Yeah, Mom—be careful!” I echoed.

    She waved and was gone, leaving us staring across the kitchen table at each other. Greg ate glumly, like he was mad. I ate my cereal quickly and quietly—I didn’t want him snapping at me.

    After school, my friend Eric and I trudged home through the snow. “Can you come over?” he asked with frosted breath.

    I shook my head. “Nope—I have to put our Christmas tree up.”

    “Oh.” He kicked at a clump of snow. “Maybe next time.”

    “Yeah, sure.” I waved and turned in at our snow-covered driveway. I cleared the walk and went inside.

    I slid the potpie into the oven, then went upstairs and changed my clothes before climbing to the attic. The Christmas tree box lay on the floor in a corner under the eaves. As I dragged it out to the middle of the floor, I heard a car. I looked out the window, hoping it was Greg, but the car continued slowly down the street.

    As I tugged at the sturdy cardboard box, it opened and artificial pine boughs spilled onto the floor. I dug around the box and found the aluminum stem, the spreader ring, and the stand. I had to be real careful not to scratch the walls as I took them down to the living room, but I made it.

    Then I went to check the potpie—it was starting to smell good. Greg still wasn’t home, so I pulled the sofa away from the picture window and set up the tree stand and the stem. By the time he finally got home, I had the tree set up, branches and all, and was in the attic, getting the decorations.

    “Ho!” he shouted.

    “What took you so long?” I bristled. “I made a thousand trips up and down!”

    He rubbed his hands briskly, then grabbed a box of Christmas lights and decorations and lugged them down the steps. “Some kid’s car got stuck in the snow at school, and I helped get him out—that’s what took me so long! Come on, Rory, shake a leg. The potpie smells like it’s done!”

    We sat down and said a blessing on the food, then ate so fast that Mom would have yelled. I got stuck putting the dishes into the dishwasher while Greg tested the lights. “Well, all the lights are good, and I’m gone!” he announced.

    “Mom said we’re both supposed to do this, and it’s only 5:20—you can get to the ward in ten minutes!”

    He was already putting on his jacket. “Not when the roads are bad! Besides, I helped, so quit complaining!” Ten seconds later, he was gone.

    I sat on the floor to untangle the strings of lights. I was glad that Mom and Dad didn’t walk in right then and see the mess. Everyone’s in a rush, I thought as I threaded a string of lights through the branches, and I’m stuck with the work. This is fun when everyone helps. It’s notmy fault that Dad was sent out of town for a few weeks and things got behind. With drooping shoulders I reached for one string after another. Greg gladly helps everyone except his little brother. When Mom and Dad get home, I’ll tell them how little he helped. He’ll get hollered at but good, and he deserves it!

    The clock was striking eight when I knelt and pushed in the plug. The room suddenly glowed—it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It didn’t take as long to hang the colored balls and other ornaments. By the time Mom and Dad got home, the tree was trimmed, except for the icicles. When I heard our car in the driveway, I shoved all the empty storage boxes into one corner, then collapsed onto a chair and tried to look relaxed.

    “It’s wonderful to be home,” Dad said, as they came inside and gazed around, smiling. “Everything looks great!”

    “You boys did a super job,” Mom added with a grateful smile.

    “You certainly did,” Dad agreed, giving me a bear hug.

    That was my chance—except I didn’t feel angry at Greg any more. He was right to help someone in trouble, and putting up the Christmas tree alone hadn’t been really awful—just lonesome. Besides, I decided, it is the season of peace on earth. So I just said, “Thanks, Mom, Dad. But the icicles aren’t on yet, and I can’t find the tree skirt.”

    Mom smiled. “I know where it is, honey. I’ll take care of that.”

    Dad sat in his recliner. “And after I get a couple of your mom’s doughnuts in me, I’ll help you put the icicles on. It surely feels good to know that your family comes through when your plans are upset. With this much done, there won’t be any obstacles for our traditional Christmas Eve gathering with your grandparents and cousins. And Mom and I will make sure that our first-family-council-of-the-new-year will include some extra family events especially of interest to you boys. We’re really proud of you.”

    Later, as I was reading in my room, Greg appeared at the door. “Mom and Dad thanked me for helping with the tree,” he said meekly. “I guess you didn’t tell them how little I helped.”

    I shrugged. “The tree’s up, so it doesn’t matter much who put it up—no big deal.”

    He tapped the doorframe with the palm of his hand. “It is to me,” he said. “Thanks, little brother. I’ll make it up to you—and I won’t treat you like that again, honest.”

    As he turned away, I smiled and closed my book. I turned off my light, said my prayers, then crawled under the covers and grinned at the ceiling. It’s funny how good keeping the peace can make you feel.

    Illustrated by Beth Whittaker