Yesterday's Magazette

5 – Johnny’s Christmas Tree

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By NED BURKE

Johnny never had a Christmas tree.

His mother could not afford one. She worked in a dress factory for $80 a week. His father was some man he never knew.

Things were tough for Johnny in those days. He had to get up each morning at five o’clock to deliver his paper route before he went to school. Days when snow fell waist-high and no one would venture outside, Johnny would brave the elements and fulfill his morning responsibility.

His little tasseled cap could be seen bobbing up and down behind waves of drifting snow and his weather-beaten scarf would hang half in and half out of his tattered jacket as he trudged from house to house. But through it all, Johnny remained optimistic.

“Next year,” he’d say to his friends, “we’re going to put up a real Christmas tree, the most beautiful tree you ever did see!”

But the years ticked by and never once did Johnny’s home smell of pine or spruce during the holiday season. There were a couple of holidays when his mother managed to save a few dollars for a tree, but each time some more important necessity of life had to be purchased instead.

The same story repeated itself year after year and by the time Johnny was thirteen he had given up talking about a having a Christmas tree. But to himself, he would say: “Maybe next year … maybe next year.”

Johnny was fifteen when he first smoked pot. Then he began hanging around other disillusioned youths who introduced him to harder drugs. It was his way of easing the pain and depression he felt, especially during the holiday seasons. When he tried to stop, his new friends told him, “Don’t worry, you can handle it.”

“Sure,” Johnny reasoned, “why not?” And so, the once optimistic lad who wanted nothing more than a Christmas tree began his downhill slide into hopelessness.

Three years later on Christmas Eve Johnny’s mother opened her front door to find two police officers on the other side. They solemnly told her that Johnny had taken an “overdose” and that he was in the hospital.

“Ya better get down there quick,” one burly policeman advised her.

She arrived at the hospital just as they were wheeling Johnny’s lifeless body from the emergency room.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor told her. “There was nothing we could do.”

Johnny’s mother slumped into a chair and a nurse came by and handed her Johnny’s belongings. “Oh,” the nurse said, “there was something else your son had with him. I’ll get it for you.” The nurse then went through the swinging doors and emerged with a drab-looking, three-foot high plastic tree with a single broken ornament on it. “Your son kept saying that this was the most beautiful Christmas tree he had ever seen. Do you want it?”

Johnny’s mom nodded and took the tree home.

Three days later, she knelt beside her son’s plain tombstone and placed the withering fern on her son’s grave. The lowly ornament still clung to a brittle broken branch … but then the wind picked up and the ornament fell to the cold ground.

Johnny’s mom sobbed.

Finally her son had a Christmas tree of his very own.

Copyright © 2007 Yesterday’s Magazette

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