12/4/07

Christmas 04: The Crooked Christmas Tree

Guschti was a farmer high up in the Swiss Alps. He had a hard life and money was always scarce, which is why he worked at many things to feed his wife and five children.

It was December when people in the nearby town wanted Christmas trees and Guschti could earn extra money for presents to give his children. So early one morning he hitched his horse Blitz to a sleigh and headed for the forest. Blitz means lightening in German but the horse was getting old and could only plod along the path.

They stopped on the edge of a clearing where young trees grew. Blitz shook his head and the bells on his harness jingled. Guschti climbed down from the sleigh and pulled out an axe from under the seat. He trudged through the glittering snow to the first tree, a tall fir with even branches that would fetch a good price. He raised the axe and felled it with a few quick strokes, brushed away the snowflakes that had fallen on his cap and bushy beard and went to the next tree. It was a medium-sized one with a firm trunk that could bear the weight of many candles and ornaments.

When he had cut down ten trees, he dragged them to the sleigh and loaded them into the back. Blitz turned his head, steam curling from his nostrils, and watched him. Guschti was about to climb back onto the seat when he noticed a small tree on the edge of the forest. He strode over to it. Its branches were crooked and he thought that it would never grow well next to all the big ones surrounding it. Perhaps he could sell it. He lifted his axe and with one stroke cut it down. He tossed it on top of the others and returned to the farm.

Anna, his wife, was shoveling snow from the walkway leading to the house.

“Why did you chop down such a crooked tree?” she asked when she saw his morning’s work.

“It wouldn’t have grown anyway,” he said. “If I can’t sell it, we’ll use it as kindling wood.”

The next day Guschti drove the sleigh to the nearby town. He unloaded the trees in the square, hammered together ten wooden crosses and nailed them onto the trunk of each of the trees which he lined up in a neat row. Then he sat on a stool and waited. Soon the town’s banker came along and bought the tallest tree, then the butcher, the barber, the baker, the candlestick-maker, the blacksmith – each took one smaller in size. [awkward] Flurina, the flower girl, picked one exactly her height.

An hour later the mayor crossed the square and stopped in front of Guschti. When he saw the three remaining trees, he said in a loud voice, “Is that all there is? For my position I need a big tree.”

“You’ll have to settle for this one,” Guschti said. “It’s not as tall as the others I sold but its branches are broad.” He wanted to say, “broad as your mouth”, but decided to hold his tongue.

The mayor reached into his pocket.

“Here,” he said as he dropped a coin into Guschti’s gnarled hand. “It’s not worth more.”

Now there were only two trees left, a short sturdy one and the runt with the crooked branches.

The shoemaker stuck his head out of the shop door. “Gruezi, Guschti. Do you have a tree for me?” he shouted. “I need one to put in my window.”

“This one is just right for you.” Guschti held up the short sturdy tree.

The shoemaker shuffled over to him. “It’s perfect!” he said. “I’m going to decorate it with tiny red shoes and white ribbon laces.”

Guschti’s pockets jangled with coins and he thought about what presents he could buy his wife and children. He rubbed his hands together. It was getting colder. If it weren’t for that last tree, he would go home. Would anyone want to buy it? At the corner Blitz pawed the cobblestones and shook his head, making the harness bells jingle.

Some people passed and asked if he had more trees and Guschti had to say he was sorry that was the only one.

Finally he decided to leave. He picked up his stool and hammer and was about to walk away when a little girl came up to him. It was Sophie whose father had even more children to feed than Guschti. [how does he know her?]

“What can I do for you, my dear?”

“I’d like a Christmas tree,” Sophie said as she tugged on her patched coat, “but I don’t have any money.”

“Well, take this one,” Guschti said as he picked up the little tree. “Its branches are not straight, but the trunk is strong and it has a beautiful tip.”

Sophie stretched out her arms and the tree just about filled them.

“Oh thank you,” she said. “I’ll make an angel of straw to put on the tip and hang rosehip berries on the branches.”

“And chocolate bells,” Guschti said.

Sophie stopped smiling. “But I can’t afford chocolate bells.”

“Yes, you can,” Guschti said as he reached into his pocket and handed her two silvery coins. “This will buy you six chocolate bells for your six years. Merry Christmas, Sophie!”

“And Merry Christmas to you!” Sophie cried as she ran off to the bakery, holding high the little tree that no longer looked quite so crooked. [not sure she could run while carrying the tree]

You have great imagery. Well written. The story of a free Christmas tree is done a little too often, but I still like this version of it. Perhaps because of the Swiss/German slant to it. (It was a little confusing—you mention the Alps, then the German reindeer name.) I'd like to see a little more of the culture woven into the details of the story.

What I liked best: The simple language used to tell a simple, but very touching story.

Magazine ready? Yes! But I don't see it as a story in a magazine. I see it as a Christmas picture book. The simplicity of the language works for me and as I read it, I could hear myself reading it to a child. I could also picture in my mind illustrations to go with it. This story was very real for me.

1 comment:

wordpaintervs said...

This was very nice. In this writing, the tree chopper had such a warm heart and loving manner, and surely displayed the love that brought the Christ child to the manger in the first place. Good for the author. Thanks.