This week I give you an excerpt from Penelope and The Christmas Spirit. This one is where Penelope and her family get their first Christmas tree.
When she reached him, he was standing with his eyes lifted toward the sky, staring at a fir tree that loomed ahead. “There it is. Our Christmas tree.”
She tilted her head to take in its peak. “It’s big. Maybe too big.”
“Time to get started.” Father dropped the saw as he surveyed the tree. With the coil of rope still slung over his shoulder, he vanished into its abundant foliage. A quiver moved up the branches. As he went higher, she caught glimpses of his red plaid coat and green Cossack hat. Near the top, he peeked out and waved.
“If you fall and kill yourself,” she shouted, “Mother will be mad at you.”
“No need to worry about me. Take the end of the rope.” He tossed it to her and secured the other end to the top of the tree.
Branches bounced and jostled as he climbed back down. He reappeared at its base. “I want you to pull on the rope when I say.” He took the saw and plunged back into the greenery.
A rasping sound filled the air. Creak-whoosh-creak-whoosh. “Drats!”
“Are you OK?” Penelope craned her neck to see through the branches.
“It’s the saw. Too much rust. I should have sharpened and oiled it. Just remember to pull on my command.”
“I will.” Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the rope.
“Almost there.” he shouted. Creak-whoosh-creak-whoosh. “Pull, Penelope.”
With the rope wrapped around her hands, she tugged with her body’s weight. “I’m pulling, Father.”
“Well, pull harder.” Creak-whoosh-creak-whoosh. The saw’s rhythm intensified, and Father grunted with each push of the blade.
“Are you pulling, dear?” he asked, out of breath.
“I don’t understand. It should be falling by now. Keep the rope taut.” He resumed sawing.
Her feet dug in the thick of the forest floor. Her body listed forty-five degrees, supported only by the stretched rope.
“I just don’t understand,” he said.
The line slackened, and she nearly lost her footing.
“Pull,” Father shouted.
She strained against the rope as he scurried from the tree and to her side. He grabbed the loose end. “Together now.”
The tree finally surrendered, and the rope went completely slack.
“Run, Penelope, run,” he said as he sprinted away.
Years of avoiding her parents’ advice left her watching the tree’s progress. Its dark image silhouetted against the crisp morning sky rushed toward her, whooshing around her as she dove to the ground. She closed her eyes and wondered what death was like.
The air was devoid of sound. The pungent odor of tree permeated her senses. For the moment, it was a most pleasant experience. She must be in heaven, and it was pine scented.
“Penelope?” Father’s voice was firm and calm. “Why didn’t you run?”
Her heart raced as she recalled the moment. The thought of nearly being killed by a mammoth Christmas tree had taken her life to a new height, if for a brief moment. She had stood her ground, or rather lay on it, and survived.
She composed an answer for Father. “The artistic moment of the tree framed against the sky was too inspiring. It reminded me of something Henry Thoreau, the philosopher, had once said, but that moment passed, and I don’t remember what he said now.”
“If you are finished being inspired, would you mind coming out of there.”
She surveyed the surroundings. Every branch and limb had missed her, some by only inches. Pine needles stuck out everywhere on her coat. She ran her fingers over her head, finding more of the green slivers attached to her stocking hat.
Orienting herself on her hands and knees, she began the process of crawling out, which was difficult because of the coat’s length. As she weaved between the tree limbs and pine verdure, she spied jagged edges of light and Father’s legs.
He made a small sigh as she left her woodland shelter. “You should have followed me.”
“You won’t tell Mother, will you?”
“Under the circumstances, it is best for us both that she does not know.”