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The lonely little Christmas tree

Rick Ryckeley's picture

The black bird soared high over the house and over the empty pasture before dropping a single seed. It was a pasture that once teamed with cows, chickens, and pigs, but no longer. Hard times had befallen the family of four that lived in the small clapboard house. Once painted bright, cheery yellow, the house had taken on a dirty brown appearance in recent years.

As paint peeled on the outside, life on the inside also started to fall into disrepair. Overcome by loss of employment and unexpected medical expenses from their youngest, the occupants took whatever odd jobs came their way. Their suffering was done in silence, not wanting others to know of their plight.

Due to a constant layer of dust from the dirt road a mere 10 feet from its front door, the house and its occupants were judged by all who passed. For years they struggled to hold onto what had been in their family for generations. Too embarrassed to ask for a handout, they simply did without.

The seed also struggled. Dropped at the far edge of the pasture into hard clay and wedged in between rocks, somehow it too survived against all odds. Over the years the tree grew as tall as it could. The lone tree weathered many a storm, finally reaching a height of seven feet, but it could go no higher. To casual observers, it utterly failed at being a useful tree. They were wrong — it was to become much more than just a tree.

During the spring, it was a home to a family of robins. During the summer, it provided much needed shade to a family of long-eared rabbits. In the fall, it yielded pine cones, the seeds of which sprouted much healthier trees all around the pasture. Over the coming years, they grew into a thick forest.

With limbs too weak for climbing and now lost in the shadows of giants, the tree was left alone by the two children of the clapboard house. Still, the tree had lessons to teach.

When the oldest child reached 15, the dad wandered through the forest extremely depressed. It was to be their last Christmas in the family homestead. The coming year would bring foreclosure and uncertainty.

Worried about where they would live and how mounting medical bills could ever be paid, the dad thought himself a failure, and was ready to give up. Then he came upon the little tree. It had been so long, he’d forgotten.

The tree once was the first one in the pasture and stood the tallest, but not anymore. He remembered its rocky start and now looked in wonder at the twisted trunk and misshapen branches. Not an easy life the tree had, but somehow the tree had survived. Its offspring now stood as mighty as any forest.

That year, the tree provided renewed hope to the family of four. Ornaments were hung by little hands. Lights were strung by the loving parents, gifts were placed underneath and a star was placed on top.

And the lesson of the little tree was explained to the children. It’s a story that has been passed on for generations and now can be passed on by you.

No matter how stormy life is, never give up. Good things can come out of even the most difficult of times. Just hang on. Even if you struggle all your life just to survive, you’ll be amazed at what wonderful things will sprout up around you. The least of us can do great things, even if you are just one small tree standing in the shadows of giants.

And what about the family of four, you may ask? Despite losing the family farm the next year, they found something more important instead – a renewed strength that grew from the love they had for each other.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, is in his third decade as a firefighter and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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