The Tree Cutting Committee

The Tree Cutting Committee

By Shaina Thompson

Morning snow falls heavily, and the once green pastures outside our old farmhouse lie barren and cold under a vast sheet of white. The chill slips through the single-paned windows in ill-fitted wooden frames. Two extra pairs of cold feet climb into my bed and beneath my comforter while we three sisters wait for our mom to kindle a new fire in the wood stove.

“How many days till Santa comes, Hailey?” Lena asks, her long amber hair peeking out.

“Two.” My voice comes hoarse and I clear my throat.

“We still need to get everything ready,” Brooke says. “Find a tree, decorate the house, come up with a gift for Mom…”

She’s always been a planner. Only nine, she could manage her own business. Lena and I tend to go where the wind takes us, and that wind’s name is Brooke, though I’m almost twice her age.
I climb out of bed with Lena hanging on my back like a monkey. Downstairs, our mom is reading her Bible in her rocking chair beside the stove. “There you girls are! I was beginning to wonder if Santa had chosen the three of you to be his special helpers this year.”

Lena slides off my back and jumps into her arms. “Mommy!” she says, drawing out the last syllable as if she’s just heard something absurd.

After breakfast, I grab the sled and a small handsaw and the three of us girls venture out beyond the pasture into the forest. Cutting down a Christmas tree has always been reserved for our dad, but he was deployed eight months ago. Last week he called from a world away to appoint us girls this year’s Tree Cutting Committee. We all wished he’d been there, but we would do our best.

Each tree we pass, Lena shouts, “That one, please!” and Brooke says it’s too small or too tall or not fluffy enough.

After fifteen minutes, my feet ache in rubber barn boots with too-thin socks, and Lena’s nose is bright red with a continuous drip her knit gloves can’t keep up with. Brooke’s teeth chatter, but she’s too stubborn to head back empty-handed.

“I can’t go one more step,” Lena huffs, trudging through snow almost up to her knees. She plops onto the sled and sticks out her tongue to catch a fat snowflake. Icy crystals dance across her face like little ballerinas, delicate and transcendent until they morph into unadorned droplets.

“Perfect!” Brooke shouts, a few yards ahead. She’s found a magnificent tree at least seven feet tall with heavy-laden emerald branches.

Pulling the tree-heavy sled up the hill takes all three of us, and we get it in the house on the sled with Brooke holding the trunk to keep the branches from getting caught in the door. Dad would have been proud.

By evening we’ve decorated the tree with ornaments, candy canes, lights, and ribbons galore, and Mom has pulled the second batch of cookies out of the oven. Lena and Brooke are ready with piping bags, plump with green and red buttercream frosting, and an assortment of sprinkles Lena has been sampling.

I’m assembling the nativity scene when a knock comes at the door. Mom asks me to get it. “It’s Uncle Steve,” she says. “There’s a few dollars in my purse for the milk.”

I set baby Jesus in the manger and find the money. “Hi, Unc—”

But the smell of warm sandalwood and sage stops me. The brown eyes from beneath his wool cap reveal the truth. “Dad!” My voice breaks.

He grabs me and pulls me in as Lena and Brooke come squealing through the living room with Mom on their heels. “My girls,” Dad says with a laugh. “Merry Christmas!”

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