HDT Historian posthumous
NOTE: The following story has appeared in the Hibbing Daily Tribune for several years as a yuletide special.
Irma M. Walker was the reference librarian at the North Hibbing Library. She liked to write articles about daily living in story form.
The following story is slightly condensed from the original.
It was nearing Christmas-tide: the children of the mining town of Red Dump were beginning to expect something more of their library than the mere handing out of the poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
In the adjoining Catalog Room, the staff was also discussing the tree. Miss Referencia’s thoughts flew to her beloved forests and lakes. She frowned. It took years to grow a tree — it took only days to reduce it to an ignominious pile upon the ash heap. Couldn’t someone suggest a substitute for a tree. Miss Juvenilia did not frown. She bristled. The kiddies should have their Christmas tree if it meant cutting the last balsam left growing north of Lake Superior! Miss Executive, as usual, sought the middle course. She knew a man who was clearing a swamp land — the trees were doomed anyway. She would order one from him.
It was a bitter winter’s day when the tree was delivered. The wind whistled through the building as the janitors and truckmen dragged it up to the landing and through the doors. Its branches catching protestingly at every projection, and throwing sprays of snow into the air.
The janitor rummaged in the attic for last year’s trimmings, while Juvenilia skipped out to buy new ones. The furnace man hammered at its base to make it solid, then the men eased the tree upward until it stood alone.
A magnificent tree it was — so tall that its gilt-spiked tip reached into the dome. Its branches spread out like graciously-giving hands, still dropping frost particles from the forest.
“Now let it thaw awhile,” said the janitor.
And so it stood, slowly letting down its limbs as the rigors of the frost gave way and released its balsam breath upon the air.
“Now for the trimmings!”
The janitor stood on the top-most rung of a ladder, and at the peril of his life, hung on its top the gilt balls which the staff handed up to him. Juvenilia and Referencia threw up a sleet storm of silver icicles, while Desk Anna strung the lights of ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Miss Executive, the practical, caused unseemly shouts to arise by reversing the vacuum cleaner and shooting up the tinsel by compressed air.
At last it stood, that swampland tree, decked like a queen, dripping silver and jewels. They gathered about, paying it homage.
All day the library patrons sniffed appreciatively when they came into the room. They asked the girls if they took an airplane to put the balls on the top of the tree. The women commented on its beauty and sighed at the mess their own trees would cost them.
Skating and church programs diminished evening attendance, still there was the inevitable group of small children to send home at eight o’clock. Just before closing time there came a jingling of skates in the hallway, thwacking of hockey sticks on the stairs, fisticuffs and dull thuds on the landing. Evidently a struggle was overcome. In defiance of juvenile early hour regulations, a dozen or more small boys of the class known as “toughies” swaggered into the room.
They ignored Juvenilia’s petrifaction at the breach of her pet rule. With solemn mien, the boys grouped themselves around the tree, and turned their faces up to its top-most gleaming light. A hockey stick thumped three times, evidently a signal.
“Now what,” thought Juvenilia. She was prepared for anything from cabbages to dead cats.
And then it happened. Miss Executive heard it from her office, but she did not believe it until she came running to see. True, clear, it rang through the archways of the building like a “Christmas bell.
“It came upon a midnight clear, That glorious song of old —”
They were singing — those little toughies were singing! Mischief, misery and vice they might know, but innocent, childish, their voices rose to the heaven-pointed pine. Not even the cherubs sang more tenderly to the Little One in the manger.
On impulse, Juvenilia, hands out, ran toward the group. Instinctively, the boys broke for the door and clattered into the street. Jarred into everyday-ness, they sent back defensive cat-calls.
“Si-yi-lent Night! Ho-o-ly Ni-yi-ight!” they bawled.
But their raucousness echoed like sweet music to the library staff. Myriads of diamonds sparked from the frost-encrusted trees. “The light streaming from their own windows flushed the snow into oblong rosy patches. From above, streamed the lights of the tree, scarlet, green and blue — sapphire blue like the shepherd’s star.
Juvenilia danced upon snow so cold that it squeaked.
“Wish your tree were still in the woods?” she asked Referencia.
Referencia shook her head “no.”