Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well and feeling creatively fulfilled! Today I’m sharing a short tale with you which was inspired by a real story my Nanna told me about her family not having tree one Christmas during the second world war. I hope you enjoy it!
Tommy Anderson knelt on a chair and looked at the Christmas card standing proudly in the centre of the kitchen table. On its front, was the bright smiling figure of Santa Claus, dressed in his red and white finery and sitting in a sleigh being pulled through a blizzard of snow by a green and grey Hawker Tempest, emblazoned with the name Dasher.
It looked tremendous, and Tommy had never seen anything quite like it. He loved planes and longed to fly them when he was older.
Inside the card was a hand-scrawled message from his uncle Arthur, his mother’s younger brother.
When it had arrived, Mrs Anderson had been overjoyed. She’d not heard from Arthur in a while and had feared the worst, so she’d not been able to keep the smile from her face since it had landed on the Andersons’ threadbare doormat that morning.
‘Well, what’s he said?’ Mr Anderson had asked as he and Tommy waited for her to finish reading.
‘He says he’s missin’ us!’ Mrs Anderson had read, ‘an’ he’s wishing us all a Merry Christmas and says that we shouldn’t worry ’bout him because things are not so bad out there at the moment.’ She’d looked down at Tommy who’d been listening intently.
He’d been hoping there’d be a tale or two about his uncle’s adventures flying about in his plane, as Arthur had often been apt to send.
‘It’s just a quick one this time,’ Mrs Anderson had said, ‘just to let us know that he’s alright. Though he has added a little message for you, Tommy.
Tommy sat and listened, hanging on each word.
‘He says, “Dear Tommy, I hope you’ve been very good this year, though I’m sure you must’ve been because I have it on very good authority that Santa Claus will be leaving you a very special present under the tree.”‘
Tommy beamed, and so did Mrs Anderson. She held the card to her breast for a moment, thankful for her brother’s safety, before plonking it proudly in the centre of the kitchen table.
Looking at it now, Tommy couldn’t help but feel excited. Christmas was such a magical time and the way his father would speak of the years before the war made it feel even more special somehow. That people could still find a reason to be happy in such hard times was magical in itself.
‘There’s not meant to be any of this war malarkey,’ Mr Anderson had said that morning while he’d been placing holly sprigs behind all the picture frames. ‘Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill an’ all that.’
Having been born in the October of 1938, Tommy had only experienced a single Christmas without war, but being that he’d only been a baby at the time, he couldn’t remember what it had been like. The Christmases of his parents’ day sounded like a dream.
‘When I was a girl,’ Mrs Anderson had said as she hung the stockings she’d knitted on the fireplace, ‘we’d make so much food that the family would still be eating it in the new year. Not like now on the ration.’
‘And the decorations,’ Mr Anderson had added, ‘were certainly a fair bit more substantial than sprigs of holly dotted about the place. There’d be tinsel and glitter everywhere.’
Looking around, Tommy thought the place looked perfectly festive. Along with the holly and the stockings were the Christmas cards dotted all around the house and there was an old string of silver bells draped loosely over the mirror on the fireplace wall. There was no Christmas tree this year, though.
‘There’s a shortage,’ Mr Anderson had tried to explain.
‘But we’ve always had a Christmas tree,’ Tommy had replied. And it was true. Ever since he could remember, there had been a tree placed in front of the bay windows in the living room on Christmas Eve. Admittedly, with each year that passed, they had gotten smaller and smaller, but they had always had one.
Suddenly, it struck Tommy: how was Santa supposed to leave him a present if there was no tree to place it under?
‘Dad,’ Said Tommy when Mr Anderson entered the kitchen a little later carrying a brass coal bucket, ‘uncle Arthur said that Santa might leave a special present for me.’
‘Hmm, yes, I heard,’ Mr Anderson replied tossing a few lumps of coal into the range, ‘that’s no doubt down to your good behaviour this whole year.’
‘But we’ve no tree!’ Tommy said, pointing through the small kitchen archway to the living room window.
‘We couldn’t afford one this year, son. There aren’t many around these days in any case due to most of the tree farmers going off to fight in the war, and the available ones are just too expensive. We’ll have one next year, though.’
‘But where will Santa Claus leave my present if not under the tree?’
Mr Anderson put his coal bucket down on the black and white tiles and ruffled Tommy’s hair.
‘You don’t need a tree for Santa to visit. He knows you’ve been good.’
But Tommy wasn’t at all convinced.
‘Couldn’t we just go out into the woods, find our own tree and chop it down ourselves?’ he asked.
‘No,’ Mr Anderson replied, ‘we can’t just take something that doesn’t belong to us.’
‘I know,’ said Mr Anderson after a few moments’ thought, ‘if you insist that we must have a Christmas tree, then we shall just have to make our own.’
‘Make our own?!’ Tommy was incredulous, ‘but how?’
‘I’m sure we can find what we need around this old place,’ said Mr Anderson, ‘let’s have a look and see what we can find. First of all, we’ll need something sturdy to use as a trunk.’
With that, the two of them set about searching for everything they’d need to make a Christmas tree.
‘Mum, can I use this to make a Christmas tree?’ Tommy asked, running in from the yard with the prop for the washing line.
‘No, you certainly can not!’ Mrs Anderson cried and marched it back outside.
A few moments later, Mr Anderson walked Into the kitchen with the old yard brush.
‘Now, he said, ‘this’ll do the trick,’ and with that, he proceeded to shimmy the bristly end off.
‘But, now it’s just a stick,’ said Tommy, ‘trees are supposed to have branches.’
‘He’s not wrong you know,’ Mrs Anderson said as she began to peel the potatoes at the kitchen sink for Christmas dinner.
‘I’m not finished yet,’ Mr Anderson smiled. He winked at Tommy and then, turning to his wife, he said, ‘I’m just going to pop next door to the bakery for a few minutes to gather some supplies.’ Then he was gone.
‘Mum,’ said Tommy, as he watched her make a start on the carrots, ‘do you think Santa will know where to find uncle Arthur?’
‘Oh, I’m certain of it. Santa knows where everyone is. He is magic, after all.’ She put down her scraper and then took a seat next to Tommy at the kitchen table. ‘Don’t you be worryin’ about your uncle Arthur, he’s going to be just fine, and he’ll be back working in the bakery with your dad and me before you know it.’ Her smile seemed to brighten at the idea. ‘Just you watch!’ she added.
A little while later, Mr Anderson arrived back with a paper bag whose contents he promptly emptied on the kitchen table.
‘What are they for?’ Tommy asked, picking at the collection of metal biscuit cutters that were now strewn about.
‘Wait and see,’ said Mr Anderson, then in an instant he was gone again, back out the door – this time to the little wooden shed at the bottom of the garden.
‘I wonder what he’s looking for in there,’ Mrs Anderson mused.
Returning a very short time later, Mr Anderson emptied his trouser pockets. His finds included two packets of pipe cleaners and a bradawl – a tool for making holes in wood.
For the rest of the afternoon, while Mrs Anderson continued the preparations for the following day’s dinner, Mr Anderson and Tommy got to work on the construction of their Christmas tree.
‘First of all,’ Mr Anderson said, ‘we need to make some holes all over the pole, and while I do that, you can get to work on those pipe cleaners.’ He emptied the packets onto the table and, picking up two or three, he twisted them together creating a sort of furry, stick-like bundle.
Tommy copied what his father had shown him, and before long, the table was covered in makeshift branches.
‘Now,’ Mr Anderson said, ‘we need to stick these pipe cleaners in all these little holes.’
Over the next hour, Mr Anderson dabbed a smidgen of glue into each tiny borehole, while Tommy carefully twisted the pipe cleaner branches in enough that they would hold. By suppertime, they had created a masterpiece.
‘You’ll need something to stand it in,’ said Mrs Anderson as she marvelled at their creativity, ‘and I think I have just the thing!’
She disappeared into the garden, returning moments later with a mid-sized clay plant pot full of soil. ‘Now, this is just a borrow,’ she told Tommy, but you can stand your tree in here temporarily.’
Together, Tommy and his father placed the wooden pole – or the trunk of the tree – into the pot.
‘Now we need to decorate it,’ said Mr Anderson and he picked up a few of the biscuit cutters and began to hang them from the pipe cleaner branches.
‘Well, look at that,’ Mrs Anderson exclaimed just as they were just running out of cutters, ‘it looks wonderful!’
‘It certainly does,’ said Mr Anderson, ‘what do you think, Tommy?’
Tommy stepped back and admired the tree in its entirety. It did look rather marvellous. His father’s gleaming biscuit cutters were catching the light just right, but there was still something missing.
‘There aren’t any Christmas lights on it,’ said Tommy.
‘Although,’ added Mr Anderson, ‘the church has been told they can put candles in the stained glass windows for midnight mass this year.’
He examined the tree, walking around it whilst tapping his chin thoughtfully. ‘I’ll tell you what, little Tommy, we’ll put a bit of brainpower into this and see what we can come up with for the big day tomorrow.’
The rest of Christmas Eve went by in a flurry of activity as Mrs Anderson continued to work tirelessly preparing all the food while Mr Anderson went out in the bakery van for his final bread delivery before Christmas.
When it was time for bed, Tommy took one final look at his tree before heading upstairs. At least Santa would have somewhere to put his present now.
The next morning, Tommy sprang out of bed full of excitement. He couldn’t wait to see what Santa had left for him.
Sprinting from his room, he took the stairs two at a time coming to a standstill by the tree in front of the living room window. It looked incredible.
The pipe cleaner branches still stuck out of the yard brush trunk, and they were still adorned with the shiny metal biscuit cutters – but now, in the wintry morning sunlight streaming in from outside, the tree almost looked like it was glowing.
As Tommy stared at it, for the first time, he noticed the extra bits that had been added since he’d gone to bed.
At the very top, there now sat a large star made from a sheet of folded newspaper which had been painted yellow. Also in place of tinsel, strings of wool in all colours stretched across each branch – an addition his mother had obviously made. His father, he knew, had probably crafted the new chains hanging from the ceiling made from cut up and painted strips of newspaper. The living room looked very festive, indeed.
Best of all, though, was the small cluster of gifts sitting beneath the tree wrapped in brown paper like the kind his father used to cover the bread in the bakery.
Just as his mother and father entered the room, he spotted the gift with his name written on it in large capital letters.
‘Can I open it?’ He cried, already reaching for it.
‘Yes, go ahead,’ said Mrs Anderson, as she tied the ribbons of her crisp white apron behind her back, and he all but tore the brown paper away in a single motion.
‘An aeroplane, and it’s a beauty!’ Tommy beamed as he turned the model Hawker Tempest over in his hands. It was magnificent. ‘It’s just what I wanted!’ He said.
‘And,’ said a voice from behind him, ‘thanks to you and your Christmas tree, Santa Claus knew just where to put everyone’s presents!’
Tommy spun round in time to see his uncle Arthur entering from the kitchen dressed in his RAF uniform.
‘Merry Christmas, Tommy,’ he said, and they all cheered.
As always, thank you so much for reading my words, it really does mean a lot!
Until next time,
© 2020 GLT