From far away came the sound of the last Christmas carols of the evening. The laughter of families gathered for the holidays drifted into the silence of the falling snow.
The holiday sounds added warmth to the cold night air as a burly man with a black beard stood behind a rusty barrel warming his hands over the fire leaping from inside. He rubbed his hands briskly together and looked over the vacant lot that had been transformed for a few short weeks into a center of holiday cheer: a place to buy Christmas trees.
Bark-covered slabs of wood clung together to form a make-shift corral around the trees. Around the rough frame, a string of colored lights shone gaily. It was a cold and snowy Christmas Eve, and there were only three trees left who had not found a home for Christmas.
A white car rolled onto the corner lot and stopped. From the car stepped a mother and father and two young children. Frosty laughter spilled out of their furry coats. Crackling over the freezing snow, they hurried into the tree corral. Moving from one to another, they began to compare the few remaining trees.
Little Green, the smallest of the trees, crossed his twigs and made a wish. His heart pounded with anticipation. This little evergreen had arrived on the lot weeks before along with hundreds of others from Christmas-tree farms far away. Among the haughty blue spruces, the aloof firs, and the fancy white pines, he had felt lost and alone.
Day after day, as shoppers picked over the trees, Little Green had arched his trunk and stood as tall and straight as he could. He blushed with shame when children said, “Don’t take this tree, Daddy. It’s ugly and crooked. We don’t want this poor tree in our house.”
It hurt to be left behind time after time. But he was a courageous little tree. He never failed to look cheerful and gay for every family. Even now, after so many disappointments, Little Green listened carefully to what this family was saying.
“What do you think, Henry? Do we want a big tree or a small one?”
“You and the kids decide, Laurel. No matter what you want, it looks like pretty slim pickings.”
The man with the beard grabbed the few trees and stood them roughly against the slab boards at the edge of the corral. All three were poised on their wobbly trunks. Little Green flexed his needles and tried to appear strong and tall.
Beside him, a crusty old spruce slumped with boredom. He was resigned. He was sure it was the trash heap for him for Christmas.
On the other side prissed a frilly white pine, trimmed and sculptured into a perfect cone. Her nose in the air, the pine harrumphed, “Another family with absolutely no taste!”
“We’ll take this one,” said Laurel, pointing to the white pine.
The white pine acted nonchalant. She didn’t want the others to know that she was bursting with joy. During the past few days, she had begun to wonder if she was as beautiful as she imagined herself to be. Now, her pride was intact. By Christmas morning, who would know whether she was chosen last or first?
Little Green let his little green arms slouch, and his little heart sank.
Moments later, a rusted red pickup truck crunched to a stop beside the tree lot. A young man in cowboy boots leaped from the cab. Hastily, he reached over the top board and grabbed the surprised old spruce from the enclosure. He rushed up to the bearded man and shoved some bills into an outstretched hand.
In a shower of flying ice, the young man gunned his engine and raced into the night. The crusty old spruce peeped over the tailgate and waved a tiny goodbye with a fluttering branch.
Little Green smiled. He was happy for his friend.
The wind picked up. The traffic died down. Fewer people passed. Soon, there were none.
The man with the black beard began to count the money he had received during the day. Looking at Little Green, he thought, “Only one tree. Not bad. I’m not staying any longer for just one little tree. I doubt anyone will want that one, anyway.”
He rubbed his beard to free it of icicles. After turning out the colored lights that hung around the lot, he got into his car and drove away. Light from the cold winter moon was all that remained.
Little Green huddled in the darkness. His proud heart wilted. A tiny teardrop fell on a quivering branch. A snowflake formed in the cold air.
There was no more traffic; no one anywhere. Everyone is home, Little Green thought, decorating happy trees and wrapping presents and preparing for the most perfect day of the year. Maybe next year, he thought hopefully. He closed his eyes and wrapped his little green arms around himself to stay warm.
A gust of wind swirled his snowflake tears around his pointy top. Looking up, Little Green saw a figure moving quietly down the sidewalk. It was a lady in a bulky brown coat that hid a white nurse’s uniform. She wore freshly polished white shoes that became soiled and wet with each careful step as she tried to avoid the murky puddles of slush and ice.
The nurse passed in front of the lot and paused briefly to glance toward the corral. A soft light from the winter moon reflected off Little Green’s snowflake tears. She continued on her way.
Halfway down the block, she stopped and stood for several seconds. She then turned and walked with short strides back to the corral. Reaching it, she gently lifted Little Green from his lonesome corner spot.
The nurse moved briskly up the sidewalk. Pulling Little Green behind her, she made her way across the street. Coming to a huge building, she pushed open a side door and entered beneath a sign that read, “Ashleigh-Byrd Children’s Hospital.”
Clinging to the tree, the nurse pushed a button on the wall. An elevator door opened and the nurse stepped in and stood Little Green in the corner of the elevator. The door closed, and the elevator hummed its way upward.
The elevator opened on a wide white hallway. The nursed turned to her right and walked quietly but purposefully down the hall with Little Green coming along excitedly behind her.
In the last room at the end of the hall, a small boy lay in a hospital bed that sat sturdily in the middle of the room. A tube of clear liquid was suspended on a metal hanger. A faint buzz came from a small machine beside the bed.
There were no colored ribbons or bright packages in the room. There were no Christmas candles in the window. The boy was alone on Christmas Eve. Maybe next year, he thought hopefully. Crying softly, he closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself to stay warm. Holding Little Green by the trunk, the nurse backed into the little boy’s room. Standing next to his bed, she smiled down at him and showed him the little green Christmas tree. The little boy’s eyes opened wide.
Little Green arched his trunk and stood tall and proud. He knew, suddenly, why he had been chosen to be the last Christmas tree.
– – – written by Phillip E. Lewis