A Maverick Christmas
Momma had died the year before, so they skipped Christmas completely. This year Bart was six years old and his brother Bret was determined that another December twenty-fifth would not come and go with no acknowledgment of what day it was.
Pappy could care less, and had made his feelings known to his oldest son. "It ain't Christmas without yer mother, and that's that," he announced. Bart couldn't understand why they couldn't even put up a little Christmas tree and, quite frankly, neither could Bret. They weren't asking for presents, or fantastic decorations, or anything of any great significance, just a small Christmas tree. Pappy was adamant; there would be no tree that he brought into their house.
Bret was a smart boy. He distinctly heard Pappy say, "I'll bring no Christmas tree into this house" and Bret took him at his word. That didn't mean they couldn't have one, however, just that Pappy wouldn't bring one in. That left it up to him and Bart, which meant the responsibility was his.
They were on their way home from school on the last Friday before Christmas when Bret stopped his brother and cousin Beau. "Let's go get a Christmas tree," he told his two best friends.
"Pappy said no," Bart reminded him.
"Why did he do that?" Beau asked.
"Because of Momma," Bret explained to Beau. Then he turned back to Bart. "Pappy didn't say we couldn't have one. He said he wouldn't bring a tree into the house. He didn't say we couldn't bring one in."
"That's a techni . . . . . techni . . . . . " Bart tried.
"Technicality," Bret finished for him. "It may be a technicality, but it's the truth. He didn't say we couldn't bring one in."
"Won't he get mad at you?" Beau asked again.
"It'll be too late," Bret answered. "If it's already there and decorated Pappy won't get rid of it." He'd given that careful consideration, and he was sure he was right. Especially if the tree was already decorated with all of the ornaments Momma and Pappy had so lovingly made. Bret looked from his brother to his cousin and back to Bart again, who finally nodded his approval. "Will you help us?" Bret asked his cousin.
"You know I will," Beau answered determinedly. "What's the plan?"
"We'll wait until Pappy and Uncle Ben ride into town tonight for poker, and then we'll go out and get one."
"How?" Beau always had so many questions, but this time Bret was prepared with an answer. "We got an ax in the barn. We can chop a tree down with that and carry it back home. You in?"
Beau nodded. "Course I'm in. I'm a Maverick, ain't I? So what if I tell Pa that I'm gonna sleep over at your house tonight? He can bring me with him when he comes to get Uncle Beauregard. That way we won't waste time meetin' somewhere."
"Good idea, Beau. You do think once in a while."
Beau beamed. That was as close to a compliment as he'd gotten for a while. "So it's all set?"
Bret nodded. "Yep. Soon as they leave we can get dressed and go out to get one."
Bret and Bart turned for home; Beau went the other way, to his house. Pappy fixed supper and the three of them ate almost in silence, and when the meal was through Bret went out to do his chores while Bart ran around with him and tried his six-year-old best to help. The evening seemed to drag on endlessly until the boys finally heard Beauregard begin his meticulous preparations for going into town to play poker. Bret was trying hard to act nonchalant about everything, but Bart was so excited at the prospect of a tree that he could barely contain himself. They were both in bed waiting for Pappy to come in and tell them goodnight when they heard Uncle Ben and Beau's horses ride up.
"Oh boy, Beau's here!" Bart squealed excitedly.
"Shhhhh, Bart, calm down," Bret whispered. About that time Beau came running into the bedroom, and Bart got out of bed and scooted over to Bret's bed. They always shared when Beau slept over.
"You ready?" Beau whispered in a conspiratorial voice.
"In a minute," Bret replied, and had to lean over and tell his little brother to 'quiet down.'
"Alright, you three, settle down and go to sleep. We'll be back in the mornin'. Bret, you're in charge. Bart and Beau, you listen to him. And do what he says."
"Yes, sir," said Beau.
"Yes, Pappy," said Bart.
"Good poker, Pappy," Bret chimed in.
Ben laughed and Beauregard pleaded, "Your mouth to God's ears." The two fathers' headed back through the main room and Ben walked outside first, Beauregard closing the door behind them. "Lord knows what kind of trouble they'll get into with us gone," Pappy told his younger brother.
"Ah, its's good for 'em to spend time together," Ben concluded. "They're as close as brothers, anyway."
"That they are," Beauregard agreed. "As long as they don't burn the house down or run away."
"Small chance of either one," Ben finished.
And the two elder Mavericks rode towards Little Bend, Texas, for a night of poker.
As soon as the horses could no longer be heard the three boys were out of bed, and within minutes they were dressed.
"Where we goin'?" Bart asked his brother.
"I figured down to the river," Bret answered. "There's some Virginia Pines down there. We oughta be able to get one a those."
"Don't forget the ax," Beau advised.
"I know, I know, I'm gettin' it." And Bret headed outside, straight for the barn. Bart and Beau followed at a leisurely pace. By the time they got to the corral Bret had already rejoined them, ax carried carefully over his shoulder.
They headed for the river, about a fifteen-minute walk. This was a favorite spot, no matter the time of year, and they soon set out to find the perfect tree. Bart found one too small, and Bret found another with a good shape to it, but the tree was too tall for the spot where they wanted to put it. They kept looking and after another half hour Beau finally located one that all three boys agreed on. Now came the hard part.
"Do I get to help?" Bart questioned.
"Sure you do, Bart. You stand right there and make sure that the tree don't fall the wrong way."
Bart didn't think this was a very good idea and grumbled about it, but even he had to admit he wasn't big or strong enough to swing the ax. Bret and Beau took turns with the ax so that neither would get too tired out. Even so, it took them the better part of the night to be successful felling the tree. When at last it was down they had to get it back to the house, and that was no small feat. It took them over an hour to make the fifteen-minute walk, and it was almost daylight by the time they finally returned.
Bret and Beau got the tree through the door and into the house, and Bart helped them clear the corner they'd decided to put it in. Pappy had constructed a little stand to hold the tree the last year they'd had one before Momma died, and it was just big enough to hold this years.
"We better hurry," Beau told them unnecessarily, all three of them knowing full well that their fathers would be home shortly.
"Where's Momma's ornanents?" Bart asked.
"They're called ornaments," Bret corrected him, "and they're in her trunk. Go get 'em, would ya Bart?"
"That's in Pappy's bedroom," Bart reminded his brother.
"So?" Bret asked.
"I'm not goin' in Pappy's bedroom," Bart declared.
"It's just a bedroom," Bret reminded him.
"It's PAPPY'S," Bart answered. "That's enough. You get 'em."
Bret shook his head. Sometimes his six-year-old brother acted like he was three. "It won't bite you, Brother Bart."
Bart stubbornly shook his head. "It might."
"Fine. I'LL go get 'em," and Bret set off. He was glad the space was around a corner in the house and his brother and cousin couldn't see the way he nervously approached his father's room. He'd only been in there twice since Momma died, and both times it was to wake his father when Beauregard overslept. He opened the door apprehensively, not quite sure what he expected to find. The room looked exactly as it had the last time he was in here, no cleaner or messier than it had been then. Momma's trunk was in the same spot as before, with a lace runner on the top of it that Momma had made herself, and Bret touched it reverently. He was almost in a trance as he fingered the cloth and whispered "Momma," but came back to himself quickly when he heard Bart's voice yelling "Bret!"
"Sorry, Momma," he murmured as he removed the lace and folded it, setting it on Pappy's bed so that he could get the ornaments. He'd have to make two trips, there were too many to carry all at once. He gently lifted an armful and moved them to the main room, putting them down in front of the tree and going back for a second load. Each ornament had a small loop of yarn around the end so that it would stay on the branch. The three boys kept busy for the next few minutes placing the decorations everywhere on the tree, then stepped back to admire their handiwork.
"It's missin' somethin'," Beau remarked, and he was right. Bret studied the tree for a minute and had an idea. He went and got the deck of cards that he and Bart played with every night, the precious deck that Pappy had brought back for them from his trip to San Antonio, and he started placing the cards on the branches one at a time where there was no ornament. Soon Bart and Beau were helping him, and this time when they finished they stopped to examine the end result. And they were pleased.
Before they had too much time to think about it, they heard the approaching horses and scurried into the bedroom, quickly pulling off their clothes and jumping into bed – Bret and Bart into Bret's bed and Beau into the other one. They heard the horses whinny as they were tied up outside and everyone closed their eyes, pretending to be asleep.
Pappy and Uncle Ben could be heard opening the door and walking into the house, talking quietly. "So then I told her, 'Just put the coffee in the cup, sugar, and everything'll be alright'!" The footsteps stopped, and the three boys held their breath.
"What the hell is that?" Beau asked angrily.
"Why, I do believe it's a Virginia Pine, Brother Beauregard," Ben laughed. "What's wrong?"
"I told them no Christmas tree as long as their Momma . . . . . well, as long as Belle ain't here it ain't Christmas."
"Looks like you got one anyway, and a rather unique one at that."
"What the hell did they put on it?" Beauregard walked closer and took a good look at the decorated tree. "Cards. They put their cards on it." His tone of voice had softened considerably. "And Belle's ornaments." He shook his head slowly. "They used Belle's ornaments."
The three conspirators heard a sound that they couldn't identify, but Ben recognized it immediately. It was a strangled sob and emanated from Beauregard. He choked it off quickly and stood there scrutinizing the raggedy tree that had taken on its own distinctive identity.
Ben moved to his brother's side and put his arm around the older Maverick's shoulders. "Quite creative, ain't they?"
Beauregard nodded, still too emotional to say anything. The brothers stood like that, studying the little tree, for almost five full minutes. Then suddenly Beauregard thought of something and strode back to his bedroom and Momma's trunk. All three boys were terrified at first that Pappy was coming in to whip the tar out of them, but when the footsteps went past their bedroom, they all breathed a big sigh of relief.
In the bottom of Belle's trunk, wrapped up in a clean cloth, lay the angel that Belle and Beauregard had made their first Christmas together. Pappy unwrapped the angel slowly, carefully, lest he disturb it in some way. Then he carried her, with dignity and respect, back to the Christmas tree and placed her on top, where she belonged. When he was done he turned back to Ben with tears in his eyes and said, "There. Now it's perfect."
The boys could stand it no more and finally came creeping out from the bedroom. Bret was the first to speak, asking his father, "Pappy, are you mad at us?"
Beauregard quickly brushed the tears from his eyes and asked in his sternest voice, "Didn't I tell you no Christmas tree?"
Bret looked down at the floor and shook his head. "No, sir, you said 'I'll bring no Christmas tree into this house,' and you didn't bring it in. We did."
Ben had picked his son up and wrapped him in his arms as he turned to his older brother. "He's got ya there, Beauregard."
Beau squatted down on his heels until he was eye to eye with his oldest son. Bart hid behind his brother, just in case Pappy was mad at them. "You're exactly right, Bret. I didn't bring it in. And a right fine job you boys did, too."
"Does that mean it can stay, Pappy?" Bret ventured the question.
"Yes. Yes, it can stay, son. And I put Momma's Angel on top, where she belongs."
Bret, unused to displays of affection from his father, took the opportunity to wrap his arms around Pappy's neck. Bart ran to the other side of Beauregard and did the same thing. Pappy encircled both boys in his embrace and pulled them in close. "Merry Christmas, boys. And Merry Christmas to Momma, too."