The Three-Legged Race Champion Becomes An Arborist and An Astronomer All On One Christmas Morning

One of my favorite things to do is to write myself letters using, a site that lets you compose a message and choose a date in the future to send it. I received this one tonight: a short story I wrote on December 23, 2005. [Another great one is from 2007, written in 2003.]


Two weeks before my 8th birthday I spent an entire Saturday using crayons and construction paper and bits of tissue to draw out plans for the World’s Greatest Tree-house. My wish for my 8th birthday was to have my Dad build this tree-house in our backyard and I was hoping that two weeks was enough time to get it done.  The plans were drawn on brown construction paper, as all the other colors were gone (except for black, but without white crayons, black construction paper is ostensibly useless.) Most notably, the plans included a slide for quick get-a-ways (in case of attack by a snooping brother), a catapult for launching oranges into the lake, a wooden box for dress-up clothes that could double as a treasure chest in a pinch, and a telescope for looking at Ursa Major on clear nights.  Bonus items (if Dad had time to build them) would be a cot for sleepovers and a hoisting system to shuttle dolls and sandwiches and books up and down. 

I presented the plan with charisma and confidence and was duly informed that while these plans were beautifully crafted and well thought out, our family backyard did not possess the right kind of trees for such a masterpiece of tree-supported architecture.  As the 2-time, back-to-back champion of The Annual Lakebrook County Fair Three-Legged Race, I was not easily defeated: I set my sights on asking Santa Claus. 

I spent the next several weeks formulating a pitch letter to have Santa bring me a tree like the Angel Oak I had seen the previous summer while on vacation at Johns Island.  A 65-foot, 1,400 year-old-tree (facts which I memorized from the brochure while on the ferry over to the tree and from a historic plaque mounted under its sweeping branches) would be certainly acceptable for a tree-house. 

Christmas Eve arrived with all the fanfare of baking cookies and singing and playing the piano and shaking presents and trying desperately to fall asleep in new, soft, plaid pajamas even though I felt I could probably stay awake for a hundred years.  My ears buzzed with the strain of listening for jingle bells and my heart thumped so loudly I thought it would wake up my brother in the next room (though I knew he, too, was probably awake.)  I wondered if Santa had received the addendum to my original letter, requesting that the tree be placed outside of my window with at least one strong, horizontal branch for a tire swing.  I wondered if he and the elves would see the tiny instructional flags I placed in the grass, marking the Desired Tree Placement and made from plastic forks and post-it-notes I stole from Dad’s desk drawer.  I wondered if Santa would remember to bring a shovel or whether I should leave him one… 

The next morning I awoke to the smell of coffee cake and cinnamon French toast and the hazelnut coffee creamer Mom only used on special occasions that was wafting into my room from downstairs.  I was too nervous to pull back the curtains to see my tree so I hurried down the steps, two at a time, and put to use the speed and footwork I’d learned while training for the 3-legged race. 

After eating a plate of French toast and an apple (to make Mom happy) I grabbed my coat and ear muffs and slid on my boots without pausing for socks or mittens and hurled myself into the backyard.  In the yard, perfectly centered between the handmade fork flags was a freshly planted live oak.  At about 6 feet tall it was 59 short of my request, but it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.  Twinkling lights were draped over its bare branches and a burlap blanket covered the recently disheveled earth around its base.  A note—written on brown construction paper— hung by a red string from one of the branches with my name scrawled across the top. 


Sorry this tree isn’t exactly the right size, but it needed approximately 1399.8 more years to grow and we simply ran out of time.  Until then, take care of this little tree.  Someday it can be home to a magnificent tree-house. 


 I took the note from the branch with my cold, un-mittened hands, folded it into my jacket pocket and returned to the kitchen.  Mom was cleaning up from breakfast and Dad was putting Elvis’ Christmas record on the player.   My face burned as the warmth from the fire met my cold, windblown cheeks.

 Hey Meels, Dad said without looking up from the record player. Come look at what’s under the tree. I think Santa left you a telescope…

I clenched the note in my pocket and wondered if the sky would be clear enough that night to see Ursa Major.