Walking nearly a hundred yards behind his brother and sister, fourth grader David Boggs shivered and held back tears as he tried to think of what to tell his mother when he got home from school. The ten-degree temperature lowered by the brisk North Dakota wind on that December 20th, 1945, cut through his hand me down, one size too large, black and red, wool mackinaw. Any tears would have been frozen to his face like the moisture from his breath if he had allowed himself the relief.
Daniel Junior, in seventh grade, was larger and faster than his eighth grade twin sister Doris. She struggled to keep up with him even though he was breaking a trail in the fresh, wind driven snow as he purposely increased the distance between himself and his siblings. Both twins would certainly get home ahead of David but he knew they wouldn’t say anything. They seldom said anything about what happened to them or David at school.
Five school days before, David’s teacher had said to her combined classes at Oatville Consolidated School, “It would be nice if our four, five, six crew won the Christmas tree decorating contest again this year. I will bring my favorite, new decorations and each of you should bring yours. I am sending a note inviting your parents and telling them that the decorations will be sent home with you after the Christmas program. You may start bringing them tomorrow but we won’t decorate our tree on the stage until the last hour of school on Thursday. Decorating it then will keep other classes from getting ideas from our tree.”
Some students brought decorations the very next day but David did not give his mother the note until the third day after he took it home. She asked her twins if their combined school room was also going to decorate a tree. Daniel told his mother that he didn’t know and said just loud enough for David to hear, “And I don’t care.”
Doris told her that they were, but said that she thought it was a dumb idea because Creed’s room wins every year anyway. Their mother told David that she would have decorations to send with him the morning of the 20th when the tree was to be decorated.
Elizabeth Boggs had tried to keep the last three Christmases as cheerful as possible after her husband died at work nearly four years before. His labor union was still in litigation for her to get benefits, but she had exhausted all of their limited savings within the first two years. Even buying an ornament or a garland with what was left from their relief check would mean less to eat for her and the three kids.
She knew it was important to David to be part of Creed’s crew as the teacher called her classes. He had found some early favor with Creed by immersing himself in school work and subsequently getting good grades. He even discovered doing extra small jobs to keep the classroom and bookshelves picked up and orderly gave him what he thought were extra privileges and attention.
A gift box of wrapped fruit from her West Coast brother-in-law had been sitting unopened on the enclosed back porch of the house they had nearly rent free from her mother-in-law. It was there so the fruit would stay cool and not spoil before Christmas like it had the year before. Two evenings before David was to take his decorations to school, she opened the box and removed the red, amber and green cellophane wrappers from the apples, oranges and pears.
She put the sheets between the pages of her dictionary to flatten as many wrinkles as possible. The next evening, she painstakingly cut each sheet into one-eighth inch wide strips and laid them alternately in a gift box she had received years before. Where the stocking brand name and store name were on the box cover, she carefully cut Christmas tree shaped openings and glued clear cellophane on the inside so the multicolored strips would show through.
She thought: David won’t know and the other kids won’t realize these tree tinsels were not bought at a store. After they take them off the classroom tree, we will use them on ours.
David was excited when his mother carefully placed the tree decorations box inside a paper sack and then into his lunchbox. He told his mother, “Those will be as nice as any that the other kids bring in.”
As one might expect, each child in the classroom anticipated the time they would decorate the tree and carry on the tradition of Creed’s crew’s winning the classroom prize from the principal and school board. Not only would each get a box of chocolate covered cherries along with the small size candy bar given to every student, they would get a movie with popcorn on the first Friday after the Christmas break.
Before leaving the classroom for the gymnasium stage, Miss Creed asked everyone to put their decorations into a large wicker basket. She reminded them to take their reading books and coats with them because they would not return to the classroom after decorating the tree and that the next day would be only a half day.
As anxious as David was to participate in the decorating, he still busied himself with a little extra straightening while others talked and looked through the basket of decorations. One of the girls assigned to carry the basket picked up David’s contribution and he overheard her say to the other, “I’ve never seen decorations like this; I wonder where they were bought. I’m going to ask Mother if we can get some.”
As expected, the other trees were already decorated when Creed’s crew arrived on the stage. While the boys and girls put their coats and books near the door, Miss Creed looked at the other trees and commented to them, “I so do love the Abby Fruit Cake I’ll get as my prize and your chocolate covered cherries and movie day are assured.”
She stood by their tree and called the tallest sixth grade boy and girl to her. “I’ll call names, each of you will bring your decoration, and George and Rachael will alternately put them on the tree as I direct.”
She placed a star on the top, took a slip of paper from a sack, and called a name. Rachael put the first decoration on the tree and then the teacher repeated the process. Each student cooperated and followed directions exactly. Everyone knew the accolades they would get from their parents by being winners and all anticipated the extra prizes each would get. All except David had been called when the dismissal bell rang. Miss Creed said, “You may all leave except David.”
He smiled and thought: George and Rachael have left too. She used my sack for the names so she must want to put mine on the tree herself.
“David,” she said, “your decorations are not store bought and would not match those on this tree. We did not plan a homemade tree so I cannot use them but when we win, you will still get your share of the prizes. Take them home and next time pay attention to my directions.”
David stuffed the unopened box of red, amber and green tinsel back inside the sack and then put the sack inside his shirt. He met his brother and sister outside the school building thinking: When Mom goes to the program she’ll probably think I forgot to give the decorations to the Miss Creed. I don’t know what to tell her.
As was his habit, David told his sister and brother what happened.
Daniel simply said, “Now you know why I don’t care about nothing at school.”
Once home, David shared his disappointment with his siblings again. “I know Mom will be sad if she asks Miss Creed about her decorations not being on the tree. Or, she might just think I forgot to take them in. After she worked so hard, what can I do?”
Daniel replied, “I have an idea; I learned something in scouts. Hide the tinsel under your bed and I’ll tell you in the morning.”
Just before they left the house for the program, Daniel gave David a spoon full of oil of ipecac. They were only a few steps outside the door when David started the predicted vomiting. David and his mother returned inside and the twins went on to the program.
After returning home from the program, Daniel and Doris found and purposely crinkled the tinsel so it looked like it had been used. When the twins gave the box to their mother, she thought they had picked it up at school.
That night, Daniel topped their little tree with a star and the family cheerfully put on the colored tinsel.