When Buddy awoke that afternoon, it had already begun to darken outside. It was the first day of winter and the days were very short. He sat up and the first thing he did was to reach down to stroke Susie’s silky ears. Then he glanced around the room that was fast falling into shadows and suddenly he caught his breath. Rubbing at still sleepy eyes, he looked again. Could he really be seeing it? Yes, it was still there, but Buddy couldn’t believe what he saw. Standing there in the corner of the front room stood Grandma’s rubber plant, tall and unwieldy as always, yet something was different. Hanging from the flat green and shiny leaves were the precious ornaments that Buddy remembered from Christmases past, when he and his mother and dad had come visiting. How could it be? Grandma dearly loved that plant. Often she scolded Buddy and Grandpa for bumping into it or for treating it with any less care than she did. Now here it was decorated with Christmas ornaments, and no one else could have done it but Grandma.
Buddy slid out from under his warm quilt and padded barefoot across the cold wood floor. He didn’t feel his toes grow chilly as he stood before the strange Christmas tree. He didn’t see Grandma when she came from the kitchen. He only barely heard her say, “Put your slippers on, boy. You can’t expect to get well running around here barefoot.”
Buddy turned his face up to hers, and Grandma’s stern frown melted when she saw the light in his eyes. She watched in silence as he reached out a hand and touched one of the paper ornaments, causing it to turn and catch a bit of the light that was left, reflecting it in the glitter sprinkled on the paper.
“It’s the best I could do, Buddy,” Grandma said in a voice that was softer than usual. “It certainly doesn’t look like a Christmas tree, but in times like these I guess we just have to make do with what we have.”
Buddy touched one of the ornaments again and felt a small warmth begin to grow inside him. But it wasn’t only because of the makeshift tree bearing ornaments of times past but because somehow he knew that in spite of her sternness and impatience, Grandma really did love him after all. Despite her brusk manner and sometimes scolding words, despite that she did not often hug him, Buddy knew that only love would make Grandma do this. Only love would have allowed her to hang her ornaments on the rubber plant so that he might have something that at least vaguely resembled a Christmas tree.
The truth of this warmed Buddy from the inside out, and even if he couldn’t have his parents here, together; even if they wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas with Grandpa, even if this was the only tree they had this year, it really didn’t matter right now. The discovery Buddy had just made was enough to fill his small self with joy.
“I’ll go dish us up some soup,” Grandma said, breaking the silence. “Might as well eat early tonight.”
Buddy didn’t say anything when she turned to go back to the kitchen, but before she left the front room he called out, “Thanks. Thanks, Grandma.”
A moment of silence loomed before he heard her say, “Put your slippers on, boy.”
“Yes, Grandma,” he said softly and turned to go back to the couch.
Snow fell outside the window, big sparkly flakes that glistened even before they reached the ground. From down the street drifted the sound of Christmas carols. Buddy knelt on the couch and peered out, hoping to catch of glimpse of the carolers. Were they coming this way?
In a few moments he saw them and then they stood out on the walk, bundled from head to toe in big woolen wraps and mufflers. They sang an old song that Buddy remembered hearing at school, a song about a Christmas tree.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
How lovely are thy branches.
Buddy’s throat was still a little scratchy but he joined them in singing the words and when the carolers were gone, moving on down the street, he sat back on his heels and sighed. Susie jumped up next to him and he put his arm around her, the beauty of the song staying with him, joining with the new-found joy he felt inside.
“She really does love us,” he whispered into Susie’s ear.
The little dog leaned into him as in the December twilight, they watched the snow fall.
At one time scarlet fever was a dangerous disease of children and adults alike. People feared epidemics, as those stricken often died or were left with lasting disabilities due to the infection caused by the streptococcus bacteria; thus the reason for quarantining anyone with the disease. In the Little House on the Prairie series of books, Mary Ingalls lost her eyesight to the effects of Scarlet Fever. In the book Little Women, the third sister, Beth, died from the effects of the disease. Thanks to the discovery of and widespread use of antibiotics, scarlet fever is no longer the scourge it once posed in our country but still remains a problem in other places in the world.