When I was about three and a half months old, my Grandpa Paul wrote me a story about my first Christmas tree:
Today, on the way home from your log cabin, Grandma Paul mentioned the small, frail Christmas tree outside your door. Grandma said that your Daddy and Mommy probably had a good reason for picking this particular tree.
I told Grandma that I knew why they picked that tree, because I know how your Dad and Mom feel about trees. Your Dad and Mom went out to get the most beautiful and tall Christmas tree, just for you, because it was to be your first Christmas. Well they walked for miles, and they saw many beautiful trees, but they couldn’t make up their minds on which one to take home. And in the center of all the trees was this frail looking tree. They were about to pass it by, when they heard this little tree say, “Oh please won’t you take me home, because I am so lonely out here in the cold. All my brother and sister trees are gone, and I am sure they made many children happy. They were all big and strong and beautiful.”
Then your Daddy said, “How come all the other trees are so big, and you are so small?”
The little tree said, “I would have been big and strong too, but I sheltered so many birds in my loving branches, and deer would eat the top branches off of me, because I am a special tree.”
Then your Mom said, “I don’t know, I wanted something bigger for our little girl’s first Christmas.”
At that remark, the little tree began to cry, and said, “All my life I have been praying for someone to take me home. All the people come by and look at me, and walk on, and some say cruel things. Then I would see the more beautiful trees taken home, and I knew that they were trimmed with balls, and tinsel, and lights, and they would make many children happy. And my heart would break.”
Well your Dad and Mom didn’t know what to do, and they started to walk away, like all the other people, and leave the little tree. They walked a short distance, and then stopped and looked at each other. For they knew what was in each others’ heart. So they came back to the little tree.
Seeing your Mom and Dad coming back, the little tree glowed like the sun, and said, “Please take me home to your little girl Lisa, and we will all have a beautiful Christmas.”
Now your Mom and Dad wondered how this little tree knew the name of their daughter, who is only 3 1/2 months old. So they knew that this was truly a very special tree, for a very special little girl. And so they brought it home, and set it up, and trimmed it with balls, and lights, and candy canes, and everything nice.
And the next time that Grandma and Grandpa Paul saw the little tree, it was crying with joy, and we could feel the love that this adorable little tree was sending out to everyone who saw it.
And Lisa dear, I hope you will always remember the story of this special little tree, and thank your Mom and Dad for bringing it home. Have a very Merry Christmas, and I pray that you will grow up to be something special, just like your first Christmas tree.
Sunday, December 20th, 1981
I still can’t read this letter without tearing up — I’m tearing up as I type it in. I don’t know if Grandpa Paul invented this story or adapted it from the Reader’s Digest. Grandpa Paul died when I was very young, so I never had the chance to get to know him. I was never able to reconcile the bitterness with which my Mom and Aunts sometimes remember him with this sweet story. I value this letter above almost everything I own. It hints at the soft spots that must have existed under Grandpa Paul’s strict, tough exterior, spots that few people knew or remember.
Today, it’s hard for stories to compete with all the other distractions. But don’t give up on them. Take the time to make up and write down stories and family histories for your kids, grand kids, nieces, nephews, friend’s kids, whoever. Holiday traditions are a great place to start. Your kids may prefer to watch Dora the Explorer right now, but in the future, they’ll value your written words more highly than a rerun of the Dora Christmas Carol Adventure.