This story is based on an incident that happened to my dad when he was a little boy. As he passed away when I was very small, I heard the story from my mother and always knew this was how the ornament came to us. I have fictionalized what I don’t know, but much of it is true, and the message I think it brings is timeless. In this beautiful season of the year that has been darkened by recent events, I would like to dedicate the story of a little boy who found kindness and love in the midst of sadness and hardship to the memory of the children and their teachers who went to heaven on December 14, 2012.
GRANDMA’S CHRISTMAS TREE
About a hundred years ago.
A sharp December wind skipped across the brown lawn as Buddy dragged his feet up the walk. Like most nine year old boys, he was glad to get home from school, but today it wasn’t because he was eager to play with his little black spaniel. Today he wasn’t feeling so well. His throat felt scratchy and his head ached, and not even Susie’s romping about to greet him could coax Buddy into playing. All he wanted was to get into Grandma’s warm house, although he wasn’t so sure even that would make him feel better. Since his parents had left him here two months ago, Buddy had begun to think of himself a bother, a nuisance. Surely Grandma did not want to have to take care of a sick little boy. Probably she would be mad at him for getting sick. Hadn’t Buddy just the other night overheard her telling Grandpa she was too old and tired to be looking after a youngster? Dejectedly, Buddy clumped up the porch steps.
When she opened the front door for him, Grandma took one look at Buddy, felt his forehead and sent him straight up to bed while she went to the kitchen and made tea with honey in it to soothe his throat. Upstairs, Buddy lay down on his small bed without even stopping to take off his shoes. Susie jumped up on the bed and curled next to him. She nosed his cold hand, asking to be petted, but Buddy didn’t feel like stroking the long silky ears the way he usually did. Instead he, too, curled into a little ball. He shivered. The room suddenly felt very chilly. Before he knew it, Buddy fell asleep.
Grandma came upstairs with the tea and saw her grandson shaking with fever. She set the cup down on his bureau and lay her wrinkled hand on his forehead once more.
“Just what I feared,” she murmured and glanced at the black dog lying protectively beside her small master. “Think I better call the doctor right away. Buddy might be coming down with that fever those other children had. I certainly hope not, especially with Christmas right around the corner, but I guess we better find out.” She pulled Buddy’s shoes off and drew the patchwork quilt up over his shivering shoulders. Then she paused to scratch the dog’s ear. “Keep an eye on him while I go down and ring Dr. Tate.” Susie nuzzled the boy’s cold hand and whined softly because he wouldn’t get up and play with her.
Dr. Tate came soon after, looked down Buddy’s throat and shook his head.
“It’s the fever, Emma. Same as the Miller children had two weeks ago.”
Grandma wasn’t really surprised. She had suspected as much, but she was worried. Buddy wasn’t the strongest child and she feared the fever might strike him harder than usual.
“His throat’s quite red already.” Dr. Tate peered into his black bag. “And his fever is climbing. Better try to get some of this down him.” He handed Grandma a small bottle of dark liquid, then turned and snapped the bag shut. “Call me again tonight if he seems any worse. Otherwise I’ll stop by in the morning. Oh, and Emma?”
She looked up absently from the bottle in her hand and saw the doctor’s heavy brows drawn together in a frown. “Hmmm?”
“Have you ever had it?”
“What’s that?” Grandma was puzzled and a bit impatient, anxious to get the boy cooled off and some of the medicine in him.
“The Scarlet Fever?”
“Why…I can’t say for sure. Might have when I was younger, but I don’t really know.”
“Well, let me know the first sign you have of any chills or sore throat,” he made her promise.
“I’m too old to catch it,” Grandma protested. “If I haven’t caught it by this time in my life, I doubt I will now.”
“Well, just the same you take care. The fever can be rough on the very young and the older folks,” Dr. Tate insisted.
“Are you calling me older folk?” Grandma snapped.
The doctor just harrumphed and picked up his bag. “Call me if you need to, Emma,” he said. “I’ll see myself out.” He left the room but not before noticing Susie lying by the door, waiting for her chance to take her place on the bed again. “You make sure that old woman listens to me,” he said and heard the thump of the spaniel’s tail in response.
(Please come back tomorrow for the second chapter of Grandma's Christmas Tree.)