The Scrawniest Christmas Tree
is a fictional reflection of my hometown, Parkersburg, Iowa.
It’s in the tradition of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories.
It’s been a quiet week in Parkersburg, Iowa, my hometown. Well, it’s been mostly quiet, except for Wednesday night, when the town library hosted a Christmas tree contest. Businesses, and individuals too, were invited to set up a tree in the library. Each tree was to have a theme and a winner would be declared as to which tree best communicated that theme, the creator of each tree having three minutes to explain the message of their tree to those gathered.
Several business people saw it as an opportunity for some free advertising, the three minute presentation being a variation on an infomercial. There were a dozen or so entries, with most being something less than outstanding, just blatant promotion. There were a few, however, that made the town folk sit up and take notice.
Les, who manages the bank, decorated his tree with dollar bills, taking advantage of his hobby of origami, folding and shaping the bills into stars, camels, angels, etc. He gave new meaning to a “green” tree! To protect his valuable ornaments from theft he hired Frank, his security guard from the bank, to stand next to his tree. Frank wasn’t packing his usual firearm, but in the spirit of the season, decided to bring a bit of jolly to his role and carried a child’s dart gun, a bright red suction cup sticking out of the barrel. Ozzy, a popular football player was there with his girlfriend and was giving Frank a hard time, trying to grab an ornament or two. It was all in jest but apparently Frank got annoyed and fired his weapon, the dart hitting Ozzy on the forehead and sticking. Ozzy didn’t find it as funny as everyone else, but when his girl couldn’t hold back the giggles he gave in and smiled sheepishly. Les got third place with his money Christmas tree.
Sam owns a sewer and septic business and TP’d his tree. He had draped the white toilet paper gracefully around the tree several times, but folks felt it just didn’t work as well as a garland of popcorn, or even a paper chain would have. Sam got second place.
Jake runs the meat market and decided to decorate his tree with bacon strips. He claimed he had done an artistic job of it. Everyone had to take his word for it because the tree never made it to the library. It seems that after decorating the tree in the back of his pickup Jake went into the house to put on some better clothes. His wife Nelly noticed their Saint Bernard Brutus scratching at the back door to be let out, so she let him out. By the time Jake returned to his truck Brutus had consumed at least half of the bacon ornaments and was looking kinda green around the jowls. Instead of his planned trip to the library Jake took Brutus to Dr. Winger, the town vet.
Everyone was surprised Hank had entered a tree. Hank farmed a couple of miles out of town and kept pretty much to himself. In the past year he had lost both his wife Bessy and his dog Baxter. Hank and Baxter were inseparable. In fact, when Hank and Bessy came to town Bessy sat in the back seat while Baxter sat up front with Hank. This always led to some speculation as to who really had first dibs on Hank’s heart.
What else was surprising about Hank entering the Christmas tree contest was the tree he brought. It was barely two feet high and had only a half a dozen scrawny branches. Everyone said it looked much like that famous Christmas tree of a certain comic and cartoon character. Hank’s tree was decorated with but one ornament and a short string of six lights.
When it was his turn to explain his tree Hank slowly walked to the front and stood by his tree, turning to face the gathered crowd in the library. He paused, swallowed nervously, then began.
“I know the tree’s scrawny. I have better trees, but I wanted to decorate the least likely tree that anyone would think should be a Christmas tree. I feel that way about me and God; I don’t deserve His attention, but He’s there for me, nevertheless. The tree was growing in the pasture next to my house. I decorated it last week. When I heard of the contest I decided to cut the scrawny tree down and bring it over here, decorations and all.
“As you know I lost both Bessy and Baxter this year, not a good year. But I’m here to tell you God’s been with me through it all, and is with me still. Christmas means so much to me, and this little tree explains it as well as I can.
“The one ornament represents me, but it can represent you too. There’s six lights.
“The first on the string is clear. God made this world a perfect place, bright and beautiful. God said, after creating everything, ‘Behold, it’s really good.’
“The second bulb is supposed to be black, but it’s hard to find black Christmas lightbulbs, so I messed up a clear one with a black magic marker, symbolizing how sin really messes up this world, and me, and you too.
“The third bulb, the red one, represents Christ who was born so that, some 30 years later, He might die, for us, for our sins. His blood shed for us is represented by the red bulb.
“The white bulb is next, symbolizing our being made clean. Jesus makes this possible, it’s why He came. He cleanses, making us clean, white as snow.
“The green bulb speaks of the new life we can have once we’re squared away with God. I like it when my crops are green. Green stands for life. Jesus said He came to give us life and give it to us abundantly.
“The last bulb is another clear one, representing things being as good as new, and even better, because it represents heaven, our final destination as God’s people.
“That’s the meaning of my little ol’ scrawny Christmas tree. It means a lot to me. I hope its message means something to you too.”
Hank paused, then said, “Merry Christmas,” and sat down. There was nothing but silence in the room for a good long time. As it turned out, Hank got first place. As someone said, “It would be hard to beat the message of the scrawny Christmas tree.”
And that’s the latest from Parkersburg, my hometown.