Ten-year-old Addie lives in Clear River, Nebraska, population fifteen hundred, with her stoic but loving father and quirky grandmother. Carla Mae is her neighbor and best friend in the fifth grade. Carla Mae’s house is different than Addie’s—she has five siblings and another on the way, while Addie is an only child.
It’s the week before Christmas, and shopping lists are at the front of the girls’ minds. Addie’s house doesn’t have a tree—her dad says they are a waste of money, and they’ll be opening presents at Uncle Will’s anyway. Uncle Will has a tree, but to Addie, it doesn’t feel like Christmas without a tree of their own. Then she comes up with the perfect plan. Will it make this the best Christmas they’ve ever had, or will her father never forgive her?
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The House Without A Christmas Tree
The Addie Mills Stories, Book One
By Gail Rock
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Gail Rock
All rights reserved.
Carla Mae and I were sitting in our little kitchen at the old wooden table, with our spoons poised in mid-air. In front of each of us was a hard-boiled egg perched in an egg cup. We both stared intently at the faces we had drawn on our eggs. The longer the stare, the better the hex.
"Who's yours today?" she asked.
"Billy Wild," I said, making a face. "Who's yours?"
"Mine's Delmer Doakes," she answered, still staring at her egg.
"Ready?" I whispered.
"Ready!" said Carla Mae, and we both smashed our spoons down in unison on the poor eggheads. I crunched Billy a good one, but at the last second Carla Mae hesitated, and only gave Delmer's pointy head a firm tap.
"You chickened out!" I said. "You're supposed to smack him!"
Carla Mae blushed. "Well, I just like to do it all over in little bitty cracks, like he has wrinkles," and she daintily tapped all around the sides of her egg until Delmer looked 107 years old.
"Oh, you just don't want to smash Delmer because you like him," I said disgustedly, and gave my egg another smash, knocking the top right off.
"Yeah, well, you like Billy Wild too," Carla Mae said in her ickiest voice. "You're always looking at him in class."
"I am not! I just look at him to stick out my tongue. I think he's a rotten creep!"
"Adelaide!" said my Grandmother from across the kitchen. "Such talk!"
Carla Mae and I giggled, and dug into our eggs. Carla Mae was ten years old too, and my best friend in the fifth grade. Her family had moved in next door to us two years ago, in 1944, and now we were inseparable. We always walked to and from school together, and often ate lunch with each other.
Carla Mae's family had opened up a whole new world to me. I was an only child, but she had five younger brothers and sisters and another on the way. I learned about diapers and bottles, and that mothers shouldn't climb ladders when they are pregnant, and about eating horrible things for lunch like ketchup and mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread, and how to fight off five other people if you wanted to play with the electric train set, and that if you had a big family, someone always walked in on you when you were in the bathroom and that it didn't matter.
I loved the uproar, and I always felt lonely when I went home to our quiet house. Carla Mae already liked boys, and I pretended to share her enthusiasm, though I really thought it was kind of dumb. She taught me to swear, and I helped her with arithmetic.
She liked coming to my house because it was the opposite of hers. It was small, only a four-room bungalow, and almost threadbare, but it was quiet and orderly, and my grandmother always fixed a hot lunch for us. She was especially fond of feeding us eggs, which she thought were good for what ailed you, and which we didn't much like. The face-drawing was intended to make egg-eating more interesting, and like a lot of Grandma's eccentric ideas, it worked very well.
When we were at Carla Mae's house we made our own lunch from whatever we could find in the refrigerator. We would fix Dagwood sandwiches dripping with sardines and peanut butter and cheese and brown sugar and pickled shrimp and every other thing we could find—horrible, delicious combinations. Her mother was too busy changing diapers and warming bottles to notice.
But this particular December day we were having lunch at my house because we needed to have a serious discussion about Christmas shopping. It was only a week before Christmas, and Friday would be our last day of school before vacation. That was the big day when we exchanged presents in our class, and we each had to buy a present for the person whose name we had drawn.
The names were to be kept secret, but Carla Mae and I always told each other everything, so I knew she had drawn Jerry Walsh, and she knew I had drawn Tanya Smithers. Jerry was an OK boy, so she was going to buy him a green plastic pencil box we had seen at the dimestore, but I was stumped about Tanya.
"We have to get them today," said Carla Mae, "so we'll have time to wrap them tonight."
"I can't think of anything horrible enough for Tanya Smithers," I said. We couldn't stand Tanya. She was very snobbish and was always taking dancing lessons and showing off.
"Addie," said Grandma. "I want you to buy her something nice now, no funny business." She came over from the stove and poured bowls of alphabet soup for us.
All conversation stopped while we frantically stirred through our soup to see who could fish out the letters of her name first. It was bad luck if you couldn't find all the letters of your own name in the first bowl.
"I'm first!" shouted Carla Mae, and I looked over at her plate, where she had spelled out C-A-R-L-A in wet alphabet noodles.
"That's only half your name!" I said, and hurried to finish my A-D-D-I-E. I hated my nickname worse than my whole name, Adelaide, but it was a lot easier to spell in a hurry.
"You can't use your nickname!" said Carla Mae.
"I can if you can use half your name!"
"Mae is my middle name," she said, looking very smug.
"You're both right," Grandma interrupted. "Now finish up or you're going to be late getting back to school."
"I think I'll get Tanya some gloves," I said to Carla Mae.
"Ick. Who wants gloves?"
"That's why I'm getting them, dodo. Really dumb ones. Like dark brown wool—old lady gloves with no designs on them."
"Yack ..." said Carla Mae, grabbing her throat as if she were going to be ill. We both giggled. Tanya would hate dark brown gloves.
"Addie," said Grandma, disapprovingly. "I don't know what gets into you!"
"Well," I said. "You can't get anything neat for a fifty cent limit. Besides, Tanya is my worst friend in the fifth grade."
Grandma shook her head and sank down in her chair.
"Oh, yo," she sighed. She often said that, and we never did know what it meant. It seemed to be an all-purpose phrase that even she couldn't quite explain.
Grandma was in her seventies, short and shapeless and always slightly disheveled, but full of vigor. She had lived with my father and me since my mother died shortly after I was born. Grandma always wore a strange conglomeration of clothes that were either homemade or handed down from my aunts. She was always running up things on her treadle sewing machine, and some of her clothes were pieced together from remnants—eye-popping combinations of color and design. She was particularly expert at whittling down the worn edges of a garment and making it into something smaller. When one of her flowered cotton housedresses began to wear out, she would hack out the collar and sleeves, and it would suddenly be a slip. When that started to go, it became a bib apron and then a smaller apron, and then a dust cap for her hair and then a quilted pot holder (which she called a "hot pad") and in its final incarnation, the tiny remaining scrap would go into a patchwork quilt or a braided rag rug. Any piece of fabric that found its way into our house wouldn't get out again for a good fifty years if Grandma got her hands on it.
To complete her costume of housedress, apron and dust cap, she always wore hand-me-down nylons with runs in them, usually with Indian moccasins. She was only five-feet-two and weighed only a shade over 100 pounds, but she stomped when she walked, and the moccasins enhanced her pile-driver style. The whole house shook when she pounded around in a hurry. She felt that she was too old to bother about how she looked around the house, and that it was wasteful for her to wear good clothes. I was sometimes embarrassed to have other people see the way she dressed, but Carla Mae was used to her by now.
Carla Mae was sliding other letters around on her plate, trying to see if she could spell out the rest of her name.
"What are you getting for Christmas?" she asked me.
"I want a microscope set and some cowboy boots," I said loudly, looking quickly to see if Grandma had heard, "but I always get a dumb blouse or something."
"Cowboy boots!" screamed Carla Mae triumphantly. "You just want cowboy boots because Billy Wild has them. I knew it! You like him!"
Grandma looked up at us, trying to hide a smile, and I blushed furiously.
"I do not!" I shouted back. "I like the kind of boots Roy Rogers and Dale Evans wear. That's where I saw them!"
Before that discussion could go any further, I gulped down the rest of my soup and lunged out of my chair.
"Come on, we'll be late!" I said to Carla Mae, and we headed for the living room to struggle back into our heavy coats and boots.
"How come you haven't got your Christmas tree up yet?" Carla Mae asked.
"Oh," I said, trying not to show embarrassment. "We don't want one."
"How come?" she asked, sounding surprised.
"They're just a waste of money," I said, parroting the argument my father had given me. "Besides, we're going to Uncle Will's to open presents, and he has a tree." I could tell the reasoning wasn't going over any better with Carla Mae than it had with me. We didn't have a tree the Christmas before either, but we had been in Des Moines visiting my aunt, so I didn't have to answer any questions then.
"My dad wouldn't dream of not having a tree," she said. "Mom says he acts just like a little boy at Christmas time."
"Well," I said huffily, "My dad's grown up and he acts grown up."
"Where are you going to put your presents?" she asked.
"Oh, we pile them all up on the writing desk," I said lamely.
"I bet you're the only person in town without a tree," said Carla Mae.
"Jesus didn't have a Christmas tree," I replied.
"He didn't?" she said, surprised.
"Of course not, dodo!"
"Would your Dad buy you a tree if you wanted one?" she asked.
"Sure," I said, trying to sound confident.
I was sure Grandma was listening from the kitchen, because she suddenly became very quiet. I didn't want to go on with my explanations to Carla Mae, so I pretended to have problems fastening the buckles on my galoshes.
I knew that asking my father to buy a Christmas tree had become a forbidden subject in our house. Of course that wouldn't stop me from asking him again, because I was always bringing up forbidden subjects, but I just hadn't figured out how to approach it this year. He had never let us have a Christmas tree as far back as I could remember. I would ask every Christmas, and he would say no, and Grandma would look at him as though she were displeased, but she never interfered beyond that. He would say it was a waste of money because we were going to Uncle Will's house, but I knew we were hardly that poor, and that there was something more to it than the cost. I would keep trying, and he would keep getting angry.
That seemed to happen a lot to my father and me. I could never figure out just what the trouble was. As far as I could tell, I talked in plain sentences. I was, after all, the smartest person in the fifth grade, and I was very good in English. But my father seldom understood what I meant. And he seemed to have the same trouble getting his ideas across to me. It was as if our words to each other passed through some mysterious spy code machine that made them come out all scrambled at the other end.
Sometimes I would look through the family photograph album and see pictures of him and my mother together in the ten years before I was born. They would be fishing or sitting in an old roadster or having a picnic, and there was even a funny picture of him all dressed up as the bride in a mock wedding. They seemed to have had fun then, but he was not like that when I knew him. I always wondered why he was so different to me than he seemed in those photographs.
As I finished buckling my big, black galoshes, I noticed Grandma standing in the doorway watching. She had that expression that always seemed to be half suspicion, half amusement. That was the way she looked when she knew I was up to something.
"You get something nice for Tanya, now," she said.
I nodded my head, but made a face, and Carla Mae and I raced out the door.
The school was only two blocks away, but it took us a long time to get there. It had snowed in Clear River the night before, and the snowplow had pushed big ridges of snow up along both sides of the streets. We had to climb up on the highest piles and have a shoving contest to see who could stay on top longest. Soon some of the other kids walking back to school came by, and we had a full-scale King of the Mountain game going, with one person trying to stay on top of the pile and shove everyone else down. Only the King on top was allowed to use the snow clods for ammunition, but it was perilous to bend over and pick one up, because you were liable to a sneak attack of pushing from behind.
By the time the school bell rang, we were exhausted and sweating from the exertion, and we ran gasping toward the schoolhouse door, taking in great gulps of lung-searing, cold air. There was a long, narrow, dark cloakroom outside our classroom, and at this time of the day, all twenty-seven of us in the fifth grade seemed to be in there at once, giggling and shoving and struggling out of our snow-caked galoshes and wet wool, smelling like a steaming herd of goats.
If any fights were going to break out during the day, they almost always started here. There was something about that dank, crowded space that brought out the devil in everyone. Someone was always getting punched or kicked or bopped over the head with a book, and I was always getting my pigtails pulled, especially by Billy Wild.
I was standing on one leg like a stork, trying to pull off my left boot without pulling off my shoe and sock too, when Jerry Walsh gave Billy a big shove and pushed him right into me. I went sprawling on the floor, getting the seat of my blue jeans wet in the puddles of melting snow, and Jerry giggled and shouted, "Billy's beating up Addie!"
"You got me all wet, you dodo!" I shouted, and threw my boot at the two of them. Suddenly we heard Miss Thompson's high heels clicking across the varnished floor of the classroom in our direction. She was always on guard for fights in the cloakroom, and I quickly retrieved my boot and we all stood up and looked very busy at neatly hanging our coats on the hooks along the wall. Miss Thompson gave us a little smile that said she knew better, and we all filed quickly into the classroom.
Our class Christmas tree was in the corner by Miss Thompson's desk. It was over seven feet tall and loaded down with all the ornaments that we had been making in art class for the last month. It had colored paper chains; strings of cranberries and popcorn; stars, bells and candles of colored construction paper trimmed with glitter and silver foil we had saved from gum wrappers and our fathers' cigarette packages; lacy white snow-flakes cut from folded paper and even a string of lights Miss Thompson had brought from home. Underneath were most of the presents that we would open that Friday.
I thought it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen and would have been happy with one half that size. I started thinking then about some dramatic approach to use on Dad that night.CHAPTER 2
Miss Thompson called us to order as the afternoon bell rang and reminded us that our presents for the class present exchange must be under the tree by Friday morning. I had been elected to the committee to buy Miss Thompson a gift, and we planned to shop for it the next day.
We all adored Miss Thompson, and she adored us right back. At least we thought she did. She was tall and pretty, with dark hair worn in a style just like Betty Grable's, the famous movie star. Of course Betty was blonde, and Miss Thompson was a brunette, but we didn't think the comparison was strained.
All Miss Thompson's suits and dresses had fashionable padded shoulders, and the seams of her stockings were always straight. She wore Evening in Paris cologne and always had nice corsages of artificial flowers on her lapels. Miss Thompson tried not to play favorites with any of us, but I was pretty sure she especially liked me, and I spent a lot of time after school helping clean up and smacking blackboard erasers together out on the fire escape.
"We don't want anyone to be left out of the gift exchange," Miss Thompson was saying, "So remember that Santa Claus will be here Friday."
We all giggled, thinking it very funny to have a Santa Claus at our age. In fact, Santa would be played by Delmer Doakes, who was the chubbiest boy in the class, and Carla Mae's true love.
"Remember," Miss Thompson reminded us, "the maximum you can spend for the person whose name you drew is fifty cents."
Excerpted from The House Without A Christmas Tree by Gail Rock. Copyright © 1974 Gail Rock. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book growing up. This a a great book with Addie being a strong female character - boys like the story, too. I had to order a used copy since it is no longer in print. Read The Thanksgiving Treasure and A Dream for Addie of you are able to find them.
I use to watch this movie every year as a kid. I am nearly 40 and would love to see it again and my children see it also. I recently got the book in a book order (I teach 4th grade) and read it to my class. I search for the movie to no avail. In the materialistic world we live, every child of the appropriate age should read this. What a great feeling of true small town and love I get when I read this book. Gail Rock has another book written about Addie at Easter time, however I can't remember the title.
I READ THIS BOOK WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG, I'M NEARLY 40 NOW. I USED TO WATCH THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL EVERY YEAR,I AM VERY DISTURBED BY THE FACT NONE OF THE STATIONS CARRY IT ANYMORE. NOT TO MENTION THAT THE BOOK IS OUT OF PRINT. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS WORLD? THIS IS ONE OF THE FINEST STORIES EVER WRITTEN, AND IT ISN'T BEING ENJOYED BY THIS GENERATION. THAT IS VERY SAD. I AM GOING TO BUY A USED COPY SO I CAN READ IT AGAIN.
by Gail Rock. Gail Rock grew up in Valley, Nebraska, a small town not unlike the Clear River of this book. She has written free lance articles for newspapers and magazines and has written scripts for television. Published by Dell Co. 1974. 5 out of 5 star rating. This is a wonderful Children’s Christmas book. It brought back memories for me of my time with my grandmother. Addie lives with her father at her Grandma’s house. She gos to a small school across the street. Addie is getting ready to be an angel in her Christmas pageant. Her grandma is sewing a sheet for her gown. Addie receives a heart shaped necklace from a boy she likes named Billy. She enjoys making some gingerbread cookies with her grandma. Addie’s father refuses to put up a tree in their house though Addie doesn’t know why. Addie wins a raffle at her school and brings home the class Christmas tree for her family. Will her father let her keep the tree? Will Addie have a good Christmas with her family? I watched this as a Children’s Christmas special movie on TV when I grew up. I still have the DVD of it and also I just read the book. Excellent story
I was first shown the movie version of this book as a child by my father. To this day, at the age of 53, I watch it every Christmas. I still love it, and it never gets old for me. It gives me fond memories. For those of you looking for the movie, Amazon does have the movie for sale.
I loved this story as a child, I read the book every year at Christmas time. I have been looking for it in book form but then decided to get it for my NOOK. very adorable lovely story.
This novel, based on a 1972 holiday teleplay, concerns Addie Mills, a 10-year old girl who longs for a Christmas tree. Set in 1946 Nebraska, Addie lives with her widowed father and grandmother. Christmas is nigh and, for as long as she can remember, Addie has pestered her father for a Christmas tree and every year he has refused. Addie uses every arguement and scheme to get him to comply, with no luck. When her father callously tells Addie he will buy her a tree if she drinks a glass full of water, then points out to her that she didn't drink it full, she drank the glass empty, Addie's resolve is steeled. The last day of school, she wins the classroom Christmas tree (using a trick her father taught her!)and brings it home. Her father predictably explodes, prompting Addie to secretly drag the cast-out tree to the home of an impoverished family and leave it on their porch.The story ends with Addie and her father coming to a new appreciation of each other. With poignancy and humor, author Gail Rock details Addie's confusion over her father's ramrod refusals, Addie's relationship with her feisty and warm-hearted grandmother, and the schemes Addie dreams up to get her tree. Small-town life at mid-twentieth century is lovingly evoked, from Addie's admiration for her pretty schoolteacher to her admitting that Tanya, the richest girl in school, is her worst friend because the town is too small to cultivate enemies! Great holiday story.