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XXV
JOHNNYwasonefortakingnotions.He'dtakeanotionthatlifewastoomuchforhimandstart
drinkingheaviertoforgetit.Franciegottoknowwhenhewasdrinkingmorethanusual.He
walkedstraightercominghome.Hewalkedcarefullyandslightlysidewise.When.hewasdrunk,
hewasaquietman.Hedidn'tbrawl,hedidn'tsing,hedidn'tgrowsentimental.Hegrew
thoughtful.Peoplewhodidn'tknowhimthoughtthathewasdrunkwhenhewassober,because
sober,hewasfullofsongandexcitement.Whenhewasdrunk,strangerslookedonhimasa
quiet,thoughtfulmanwhomindedhisownbusiness.
Franciedreadedthedrinkingperiods-notonmoralgroundsbutbecausepapawasn'tamanshe
knewthen.Hewouldn'ttalktoherortoanybody.Helookedatherwiththeeyesofastranger.
Whenmamaspoketohim,heturnedhisheadawayfromher.
Whenhegotoveradrinkingtime,he'dtakeanotionthathehadtobeabetterfathertohis
children.Hefeltthathehadtoteachthemthings.He'dstopdrinkingforawhile,takeanotionto
workhardanddevoteallhissparetimetoFrancieandNeeley.Hehadthesameideathat
Katie'smother,MaryRommely,hadabouteducation.Hewantedtoteachhischildrenallthathe
knewsothatatfourteenorfifteen,theywouldknowasmuchasheknewatthirty.Hefigured
theycouldgoonfromtherepickinguptheirownknowledgeandaccordingtohiscalculations
whentheyreachedthirty,theywouldbetwiceassmartashehadbeenatthirty.
Hefeltthattheyneededlessonsin-forwhatpassedinhismind-geography,civicsandsociology.
SohetookthemovertoBushwickAvenue.
BushwickAvenuewasthehigh-tonedboulevardofoldBrooklyn.Itwasawide,tree-shaded
avenueandthehouseswererichandimpressivelybuiltoflargegraniteblockswithlongstone
stoops.Herelivedthebig-timepoliticians,themoniedbreweryfamilies,thewell-to-do
immigrantswhohadbeenabletocomeoverfirst-classinsteadofsteerage.Theyhadtaken
theirmoney,theirstatuaryandtheirgloomyoilpaintingsandhadcometoAmericaandsettled
inBrooklyn.
Automobileswerecomingintousebutmostofthesefamiliesstillclungtotheirhandsome
horsesandmagnificentcarriages.Papapointedoutanddescribedthevariousequipagesto
Francie.Shewatchedinaweastheyrolledby.
Thereweresmalllacquereddaintyoneslinedwithtuftedwhitesatin,withalargefringed
umbrellathatwasusedbyfineanddelicateladies.Therewereadorablewickeroneswitha
benchalongeachsideonwhichluckychildrensatwhiletheywerepulledalongbyaShetland
pony.Shestaredatthecapable-lookinggovernesseswhoaccompaniedthesechildren-women
fromanotherworld,incapesandstarch-stringedbonnetswhosatsidewaysontheseattodrive
thepony.
Franciesawpracticalblacktwo-seatersdrawnbyasinglehigh-steppinghorsecontrolledby
dandifiedyoungmeninkidgloveswithedgesturnedbacktolooklikeinvertedcuffs.
Shesawstaidfamilyvehiclesdrawnbydependablelookingteams.Thesecoachesdidnot
impressFrancieverymuchbecauseeveryundertakerinWilliamburghadastringofthem.
Francielikedthehansomcabsbest.Howmagictheywerewithonlytwowheelsandthatfunny
doorthatclosedby itselfwhenapassengersatbackintheseat!(Franciethoughtinher
innocencethatthedoorsweremeanttoprotectthepassengerfromflyinghorsemanure.)IfI
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wereaman,thoughtFrancie,that'sthejobI'dliketohave,drivingoneofthem.Oh,tosithigh
upinthebackwithabravewhipinasocketclosetohand.Oh,towearsuchagreatcoatwith
largebuttonsandavelvetcollarandasquashed-downhighhatwitharibboncockadeinthe
band!Oh,tohavesuchanexpensive-lookingblanketfoldedoverherknees!Francieimitated
thedrivers'cryunderherbreath.
"Kerridge,sir?Kerridge?"
"Anybody,"saidJohnny,carriedawaybyhispersonaldreamofDemocracy,"canrideinoneof
thosehansomcabs,provided,"hequalified,"theygotthemoney.Soyoucanseewhatafree
countrywegothere."
"What'sfreeaboutitifyouhaveto
pay
?"askedFrancie.
"It'sfreeinthisway:Ifyouhavethemoneyyou'reallowedtorideinthemnomatterwhoyouare.
Intheoldcountries,certainpeoplearen'tfreetorideinthem,eveniftheyhavethemoney."
"Wouldn'titbemoreofafreecountry,"persistedFrancie,"ifwecouldrideinthemfree?"
"No."
"Why?"
"BecausethatwouldbeSocialism,"concludedJohnnytriumphantly,"aridwedon'twantthat
overhere."
"Why?"
"BecausewegotDemocracyandthat'sthebestthingthereis,"clinchedJohnny.
TherewererumorsthatNewYorkCity'snextMayorwouldcomefromBushwickAvenue,
Brooklyn.TheideastirredJohnny."Lookupanddownthisblock,Francie,andshowmewhere
ourfutureMayorlives."
Francielooked,thenhadtohangherheadandsay,"Idon'tknow,Papa."
"There!"announcedJohnnyasthoughhewereblowingatrumpetfanfare."Somedaythat
houseovertherewillhavetwolamppostsatthebottomofthestoop.Andnomatterwhereyou
roaminthisgreatcity,"heorated,"andyoucomeacrossahousewithtwolampposts,you'll
knowthattheMayorofthegreatestCityintheworldlivesthere."
"Whatwillheneedtwolamppostsfor?"Franciewantedtoknow.
"BecausethisisAmericaandinacountrywheresuchthingsare,"concludedJohnnyvaguely
butverypatriotically,"youknowthatthegovernmentisbythepeople,forthepeople,ofthe
peopleandshallnotperishfromthefaceoftheearththewayitdoesintheoldcountries."He
begantosingunderhisbreath.Soonhewascarriedawaybyhisfeelingandstartedtosing
louder.Franciejoinedin.Johnnysang:
You'reagrandoldflag,
You'reahigh-flyingflag,
Andforeverinpeacemayyouwave
...
[1]
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PeoplestaredatJohnnycuriouslyandonekindladythrewhimapenny.
FranciehadanothermemoryaboutBushwickAvenue.Itwastiedupwiththescentofroses.
Therewereroses...roses...BushwickAvenue.Streetsemptiedoftraffic.Crowdsonthe
sidewalk,thepoliceholdingthemback.Alwaysthescentofroses.Thencamethecavalcade:
mountedpolicemenandalargeopenmotorcarinwhichwasseatedagenial,kindly-looking
manwithawreathofrosesaroundhisneck.Somepeoplewereweepingwithjoyasthey
lookedathim.Francieclungtopapa'shand.Sheheardpeoplearoundhertalking:
"Justthink!HewasaBrooklynboy,too."
"
Was?
Youdope,he
still
livesinBrooklyn."
"Yeah?"
"Yeah.AndhelivesrighthereonBushwickAvenue."
"Lookathim!Lookathim!"awomancriedout."Hedidsuchagreatthingandhe'sstillan
ordinarymanlikemyhusbandonlybetterlooking."
"Itmustabeencoldupthere,"saidaman."Itwondersmehedidn'tfreezehiswhatzisoff,"said
abawdyboy.
Acadaverous-lookingmantappedJohnnyontheshoulder."Mac,"heinquired,"doyouactually
believethere'sapoleuptherestickingoutontopoftheworld?"
"Sure,"answeredJohnny."Didn'thegoupthereandturnaroundandhangtheAmericanflag
onit?"
Justthenasmallboyholleredout,"Herehecomes!"
"Aw-w-w-w-w!"
Franciewasthrilledby thesoundofadmirationthatswayedthecrowdwhenthecarcamepast
wheretheywerestanding.Carriedawaybytheexcitement,sheyelledoutshrilly:
"HurrayforDr.Cook!HurrayforBrooklyn!"
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XXVI
MOSTchildrenbroughtupinBrooklynbeforethefirstWorldWarrememberThanksgivingDay
therewithapeculiartenderness.Itwasthedaychildrenwentaroundragamuffin"or"slamming
gates,"wearingcostumestoppedoffbyapennymask.
Franciechosehermaskwithgreatcare.SheboughtayellowChinamanonewithsleazyrope
mandarinmustaches.Neeleyboughtachalk-whitedeathheadwithgrinningblackteeth.Papa
camethroughatthelastminutewithapennytinhornforeach,redforFrancie,greenfor
Neeley.
WhatatimeFranciehadgettingNeeleyintohiscostume!Heworeoneofmama'sdiscarded
dresseshackedoffanklelengthinthefronttoenablehimtowalk.Theuncutbackmadeadirty
draggingtrain.Hestuffedwaddednewspapersinthefronttomakeanenormousbust.His
broken-outbrass-tippedshoesstuckoutinfrontofthedress.Lesthefreeze,heworearagged
sweaterovertheensemble.Withthiscostume,heworethedeathmaskandoneofpapa's
discardedderbiescockedonhishead.Onlyitwastoobigandwouldn'tcockandrestedonhis
ears.
Francieworeoneofmama'syellowwaists,abrightblueskirtandaredsash.Sheheldthe
Chinamanmaskonby aredbandannaoverherheadandtiedunderherchin.Mamamadeher
wearherzitfulcap(Katie'sownnameforawoolstockingcap)overherheadgearbecauseit
wasacoldday.Francieputtwowalnutsfordecoysinherlastyear'sEasterbasketandthe
childrensetout.
Thestreetwasjammedwithmaskedandcostumedchildrenmakingadeafeningdinwiththeir
pennytinhorns.Somekidsweretoopoortobuyapennymask.Theyhadblackenedtheirfaces
withburntcork.Otherchildrenwithmoreprosperousparentshadstorecostumes:sleazyIndian
suits,cowboysuitsandcheeseclothDutchmaidendresses.Afewindifferentonessimply
drapedadirtysheetoverthemselvesandcalleditacostume.
Franciegotpushedinwithacompactgroupofchildrenandwenttheroundswiththem.Some
storekeeperslockedtheirdoorsagainstthembutmostofthemhadsomethingforthechildren.
Thecandy-storemanhadhoardedallbrokenbitsofcandyforweeksandnowpasseditoutin
littlebagsforallwhocamebegging.Hehadtodothisbecausehelivedonthepenniesofthe
youngstersandhedidn'twanttobeboycotted.Thebakerystoresobligedbybakingupbatches
ofsoftdoughycookieswhichtheygaveaway.Childrenwerethemarketersoftheneighborhood
andtheywouldonlypatronizethosestoresthattreatedthemwell.Thebakerypeoplewere
awareofthis.Thegreengrocerobligedwithdecayingbananasandhalf-rottedapples.Some
storeswhichhadnothingtogainfromthechildrenneitherlockedthemoutnorgavethem
anythingsaveaprofanelectureontheevilsofbegging.Thesepeoplewererewardedbyterrific
andrepeatedbangingsofthefrontdoorbythechildren.Hencetheterm,slamminggates.
Bynoon,itwasallover.Franciewastiredofherunwieldycostume.Hermaskhadcrumpled.(It
wasmadeofcheapgauze,heavilystarchedanddriedinshapeoveramold.)Aboyhadtaken
hertinhornandbrokenitintwoacrosshisknee.ShemetNeeleycomingalongwithabloody
nose.Hehadbeeninafightwithanotherboywhowantedtotakehisbasket.Neeleywouldn't
saywhowonbuthehadtheotherboy'sbasketbesideshisown.Theywenthometoagood
Thanksgiving.dinnerofpotroastandhome-madenoodlesandspenttheafternoonlisteningto
papareminiscehowhehadgonearoundThanksgivingDayasaboy.
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ItwasataThanksgivingtimethatFrancietoldherfirstorganizedlie,wasfoundoutand
determinedtobecomeawriter.
ThedaybeforeThanksgiving;therewereexercisesinFrancie'sroom.Eachoffourchosengirls
recitedaThanksgivingpoemandheldinherhandasymboloftheday.Oneheldanearof
dried-upcorn,anotheraturkey'sfoot,meanttostandforthewholeturkey.Athirdgirlhelda
basketofapplesandthefourthheldafive-centpumpkinpiewhichwasthesizeofasmall
saucer.
Aftertheexercises,theturkeyfootandcornwerethrownintothewastebasket.Teacherset
asidetheapplestotakehome.Sheaskedifanyonewantedthelittlepumpkinpie.Thirty
mouthswatered;thirtyhandsitchedtogoupintotheairbutnoonemoved.Somewerepoor,
manywerehungryandallweretooproudtoacceptcharitablefood.Whennooneresponded,
Teacherorderedthepiethrownaway.
Franciecouldn'tstandit;thatbeautifulpiethrownawayandshehadnevertastedpumpkinpie.
Toheritwasthefoodofcoveredwagonpeople,ofIndianfighters.Shewasdyingtotasteit.In
aflashsheinventedalieandupwentherhand.
"I'mgladsomeonewantsit,"saidTeacher.
"Idon'twantitformyself,"liedFrancieproudly."IknowaverypoorfamilyI'dliketogiveitto."
"Good,"saidTeacher."That'stherealThanksgivingspirit."
Francieatethepiewhilewalkinghomethatafternoon.Whetheritwasherconscienceorthe
unfamiliarflavor,shedidn'tenjoythepie.Ittastedlikesoap.TheMondayfollowing,Teacher
sawherinthehallbeforeclassandaskedherhowthepoorfamilyhadenjoyedthepie.
"Theylikeditawholelot,"Francietoldher.ThenwhenshesawTeachertherelookingso
interested,sheembellishedthestory."Thisfamilyhastwolittlegirlswithgoldencurlsandbig
blueeyes."
"And?"promptedTeacher.
"And...and...they'retwins."
"Howinteresting."
Franciewasinspired."OneofthemhasthenamePamelaandtheotherCamilla."(Thesewere
namesthatFranciehadoncechosenforhernon-existentdolls.)
"Andtheyarevery,verypoor,"suggestedTeacher."Oh,verypoor.Theydidn'thaveanythingto
eatforthreedaysandjustwouldhavediedthedoctorsaid,ifIdidn'tbringthemthatpie."
"Thatwassuchatinypie,"commentedTeachergently,"tosavetwolives."
Francieknewthen,thatshehadgonetoofar.Shehatedwhateverthatthingwasinsideherthat
madeherinventsuchwhoppers.TeacherbentdownandputherarmsaroundFrancie.Francie
sawthatthereweretearsinhereyes.Franciewenttopiecesandremorseroseinherlikebitter
floodwaters.
"That'sallabiglie,"sheconfessed."Iatethepiemyself."
"Iknowyoudid."
"Don'tsendaletterhome,"beggedFrancie,thinkingoftheaddressshedidn'town."I'llstay
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afterschooleverydayfor..."
"I'llnotpunishyouforhavinganimagination."
Gently,Teacherexplainedthedifferencebetweenalieandastory.Aliewassomethingyou
toldbecauseyouweremeanoracoward.Astorywassomethingyoumadeupoutof
somethingthatmighthavehappened.Onlyyoudidn'ttellitlikeitwas;youtolditlikeyou
thoughtitshouldhavebeen.
AsTeachertalked,agreattroubleleftFrancie.Lately,shehadbeenOventoexaggerating
things.Shedidnotreporthappeningstruthfully,butgavethemcolor,excitementanddramatic
twists.KatiewasannoyedatthistendencyandkeptwarningFrancietotelltheplaintruthandto
stopromancing.ButFranciejustcouldn'ttelltheplainundecoratedtruth.Shehadtoput
somethingtoit.
AlthoughKatiehadthissameflairforcoloringanincidentandJohnnyhimselflivedina
half-dreamworld,yettheytriedtosquelchthesethingsintheirchild.Maybetheyhadagood
reason.Maybetheyknewtheirowngiftofimaginationcoloredtoorosilythepovertyand
brutalityoftheirlivesandmadethemabletoendureit.PerhapsKatiethoughtthatiftheydidnot
havethisfaculty,theywouldbeclearer-minded;seethingsastheyreallywere,andseeing
themloathethemandsomehowfindawaytomakethembetter.
Franciealwaysrememberedwhatthatkindteachertoldher."Youknow,Francie,alotofpeople
wouldthinkthatthesestoriesthatyou'remakingupallthetimewereterribleliesbecausethey
arenotthetruthaspeopleseethetruth.Inthefuture,whensomethingcomesup,you
tell
exactlyhowithappenedbut
writedownforyourselfthewayyouthinkitshouldhavehappened
.
Tell
thetruthand
write
thestory.Thenyouwon'tgetmixedup."
ItwasthebestadviceFrancieevergot.Truthandfancyweresomixedupinhermind-asthey
areinthemindofeverylonelychild-thatshedidn'tknowwhichwaswhich.ButTeachermade
thesetwothingscleartoher.Fromthattimeon,shewrotelittlestoriesaboutthingsshesaw
andfeltanddid.Intime,shegotsothatshewasabletospeakthetruthwithbutaslightand
instinctivecoloringofthefacts.
Franciewastenyearsoldwhenshefirstfoundanoutletinwriting.Whatshewrotewasoflittle
consequence.Whatwasimportantwasthattheattempttowritestorieskeptherstraightonthe
dividinglinebetweentruthandfiction.
Ifshehadnotfoundthisoutletinwriting,shemighthavegrownuptobeatremendousliar.
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XXVII
CHRISTMASwasacharmedtimeinBrooklyn.Itwasintheair,longbeforeitcame.Thefirst
hintofitwasMr.MortongoingaroundtheschoolsteachingChristmascarols,butthefirstsure
signwasthestorewindows.
Youhavetobeachildtoknowhowwonderfulisastorewindowfilledwithdollsandsledsand
othertoys.AndthiswondercamefreetoFrancie.Itwasnearlyasgoodasactuallyhavingthe
toystobepermittedtolookatthemthroughtheglasswindow.
Oh,whatathrilltherewasforFranciewhensheturnedastreetcornerandsawanotherstoreall
fixedupforChristmas!Ah,thecleanshiningwindowwithcottonbattingsprinkledwithstardust
foracarpet!Therewereflaxen-haireddollsandotherswhichFrancielikedbetterwhohadhair
thecolorofgoodcoffeewithlotsofcreaminit.Theirfaceswereperfectlytintedandtheywore
clothesthelikeofwhichFranciehadneverseenonearth.Thedollsstooduprightinflimsy
cardboardboxes.Theystoodwiththehelpofabitoftapepassedaroundtheneckandankles
andthroughholesatthebackofthebox.Oh,thedeepblueeyesframedbythicklashesthat
staredstraightintoalittlegirl'sheartandtheperfectminiaturehamsextended,appealingly
asking,"Please,won'tyoubemymama?"AndFranciehadneverhadadollexceptatwo-inch
onethatcostanickel.
Andthesleds!(Or,astheWilliamsburgchildrencalledthem,thesleighs.)Therewasachild's
dreamofheavencometrue!Anewsledwithaflowersomeonehaddreameduppaintedonit-a
deepblueflowerwithbrightgreenleaves-theebony-blackpaintedrunners,thesmoothsteering
barmadeofhardwoodandgleamingvarnishoverAll!Andthenamespaintedonthem!
"Rosebud!""Magnolia!""SnowKing!""TheFlyer!"ThoughtFrancie,"IfIcouldonlyhaveoneof
those,I'dneveraskGodforanotherthingaslongasIlive."
Therewererollerskatesmadeofshiningnickelwithstrapsofgoodbrownleatherandsilvered
nervouswheels,tensedforrolling,needingbutabreathtostartthemturning,astheylay
crossedoneovertheother,sprinkledwithmicasnowonabedofcloud-likecotton.
Therewereothermarvelousthings.Franciecouldn'ttakethemallin.Herheadspunandshe
wasdizzywiththeimpactofalltheseeingandallthemakingupofstoriesaboutthetoysinthe
shopwindows.
ThesprucetreesbegancomingintotheneighborhoodtheweekbeforeChristmas.Their
brancheswerecordedtoholdbackthegloryoftheirspreadingandprobablytomakeshipping
easier.Vendorsrentedspaceonthecurbbeforeastoreandstretchedaropefrompoletopole
andleanedthetreesagainstit.Alldaytheywalkedupanddownthisone-sidedavenueof
aromaticleaningtrees,blowingonstiffunglovedfingersandlookingwithbleakhopeatthose
peoplewhopaused.Afeworderedatreesetasidefortheday;othersstoppedtoprice,inspect
andconjecture.Butmostcamejusttotouchtheboughsandsurreptitiouslypinchafingerfulof
spruceneedlestogethertoreleasethefragrance.Andtheairwascoldandstill,andfullofthe
pinesmellandthesmelloftangerineswhichappearedinthestoresonlyatChristmastimeand
themeanstreetwastrulywonderfulforalittlewhile.
Therewasacruelcustomintheneighborhood.Itwasaboutthetreesstillunsoldwhenmidnight
ofChristmasEveapproached.Therewasasayingthatifyouwaiteduntilthen,youwouldn't
havetobuyatree;that"they'dchuck'ematyou."Thiswasliterallytrue.
AtmidnightontheEveofourdearSaviour'sbirth,thekidsgatheredwheretherewereunsold
trees.Themanthreweachtreeinturn,startingwiththebiggest.Kidsvolunteeredtostandup
againstthethrowing.Ifaboydidn'tfalldownundertheimpact,thetreewashis.Ifhefell,he
forfeitedhischanceatwinningatree.Onlytheroughestboysandsomeoftheyoungmen
electedtobehitby thebigtrees.Theotherswaitedshrewdlyuntilatreecameupthatthey
couldstandagainst.Thelittlekidswaitedforthetiny,foot-hightreesandshriekedindelight
whentheywonone.
OntheChristmasEvewhenFranciewastenandNeeleynine,mamaconsentedto'letthemgo
downandhavetheirfirsttryforatree.Franciehadpickedouthertreeearlierintheday.She
hadstoodnearitallafternoonandeveningprayingthatnoonewouldbuyit.Toherjoy,itwas
stillthereatmidnight.Itwasthebiggesttreeintheneighborhoodanditspricewassohighthat
noonecouldaffordtobuyit.Itwastenfeethigh.Itsbrancheswereboundwithnewwhiterope
anditcametoasurepurepointatthetop.
Themantookthistreeoutfirst.BeforeFranciecouldspeakup,aneighborhoodbully,aboyof
eighteenknownasPunkyPerkins,steppedforwardandorderedthemantochuckthetreeat
him.ThemanhatedthewayPunkywassoconfident.Helookedaroundandasked;
"Anybodyelsewannatakeachanceonit?"
Franciesteppedforward."Me,Mister."
Aspurtofderisivelaughtercamefromthetreeman.Thekidssnickered.Afewadultswhohad
gatheredtowatchthefun,guffawed.
"Awg'wan.You'retoolittle,"thetreemanobjected.
"Meandmybrother-we'renottoolittletogether."
ShepulledNeeleyforward.Themanlookedatthemathingirloftenwithstarvelinghollowsin
hercheeksbutwiththechinstillbaby-round.Helookedatthelittleboywithhisfairhairand
roundblue-eyes-NeeleyNolan,allinnocenceandtrust.
"Twoain'tfair,"yelpedPunky.
"Shutyourlousytrap,"advisedthemanwhoheldallpowerinthathour."Theseherekidsisgot
nerve.Standback,therestofyous.Thesekidsisgoin'tohaveashowatthistree."
Theothersmadeawaveringlane.FrancieandNeeleystoodatoneendofitandthebigman
withthebigtreeattheother.ItwasahumanfunnelwithFrancieandherbrothermakingthe
smallendofit.Themanflexedhisgreatarmstothrowthegreattree.Henoticedhowtinythe
childrenlookedattheendoftheshortlane.Forthesplitpartofamoment,thetreethrowerwent
throughakindofGethsemane.
"Oh,JesusChrist,"hissoulagonized,"whydon'tIjustgive'emthetree,sayMerryChristmas
andlet'emgo?What'sthetreetome?Ican'tsellitnomorethisyearanditwon'tkeeptillnext
year."Thekidswatchedhimsolemnlyashestoodthereinhismomentofthought."Butthen,"
herationalized,"ifIdidthat,alltheotherswouldexpecttoget'emhandedto'em.Andnextyear
nobodya-tallwouldbuyatreeoffofme.They'dallwaittoget'emhandedto'emonasilver
plate.Iain'tabigenoughmantogivethistreeawayfornothin'.No,Iain'tbigenough.Iain'tbig
enoughtodoathinglikethat.Igottathinkofmyselfandmyownkids."Hefinallycametohis
conclusion."Oh,whatthehell!Themtwokidsisgottaliveinthisworld.They
got
togetusedtoit.
Theygottolearntogiveandtotakepunishment.Andby Jesus,itain'tgivebut
take,take,take
allthetimeinthisGod-damnedworld."Ashethrewthetreewithallhisstrength,hisheart
wailedout,"It'saGod-damned,rotten,lousyworld!"
Franciesawthetreeleavehishands.Therewasasplitbitofbeingwhentimeandspacehad
nomeaning.Thewholeworldstoodstillassomethingdarkandmonstrouscamethroughtheair.
Thetreecametowardsherblottingoutallmemoryofhereverhavinglived.Therewas
nothing-nothingbutpungentdarknessandsomethingthatgrewandgrewasitrushedather.
Shestaggeredasthetreehitthem.Neeleywenttohiskneesbutshepulledhimupfiercely
beforehecouldgodown.Therewasamightyswishingsoundasthetreesettled.Everything
wasdark,greenandprickly.Thenshefeltasharppainatthesideofherheadwherethetrunk
ofthetreehadhither.ShefeltNeeleytrembling.
Whensomeoftheolderboyspulledthetreeaway,theyfoundFrancieandherbrotherstanding
upright,handinhand.BloodwascomingfromscratchesonNeeley'sface.Helookedmorelike
ababythaneverwithhisbewilderedblueeyesandthefairnessofhisskinmademore
noticeablebecauseoftheclearredblood.Buttheyweresmiling.Hadtheynotwonthebiggest
treeintheneighborhood?Someoftheboyshollered"Horray!"Afewadultsclapped.Thetree
maneulogizedthemby screaming,
"Andnowgetthehelloutofherewithyourtree,youlousybastards."
Franciehadheardswearingsinceshehadheardwords.Obscenityandprofanityhadno
meaningassuchamongthosepeople.Theywereemotionalexpressionsofinarticulatepeople
withsmallvocabularies;theymadeakindofdialect.Thephrasescouldmeanmanythings
accordingtotheexpressionandtoneusedinsayingthem.Sonow,whenFrancieheard
themselvescalledlousybastards,shesmiledtremulouslyatthekindman.Sheknewthathe
wasreallysaying,"Goodbye-Godblessyou."
Itwasn'teasydraggingthattreehome.Theyhadtopullitinchbyinch.Theywerehandicapped
byaboywhoranalongsideyelping,"Freeride!Allaboard!"who'djumponandmakethemdrag
himalong.Buthegotsickofthegameeventuallyandwentaway.
Inaway,itwasgoodthatittookthemsolongtogetthetreehome.Itmadetheirtriumphmore
drawnout.Francieglowedwhensheheardaladysay,"Ineversawsuchabigtree!"Aman
calledafterthem,"Youkidsmustarobbedabanktobuysuchabigtree."Thecopontheir
cornerstoppedthem,examinedthetree,andsolemnlyofferedtobuyitfortencents-fifteen
centsifthey'ddeliveredittohishome.Francienearlyburstwithpridealthoughsheknewhe
wasjoking.Shesaidshewouldn'tsellitforadollar,even.Heshookhisheadandsaidshewas
foolishnottograbtheoffer.HewentuptoaquarterbutFranciekeptsmilingandshakingher
head,"no."
ItwaslikeactinginaChristmasplaywherethesettingwasastreetcornerandthetime,afrosty
ChristmasEveandthecharacters,akindcop,herbrotherandherself.Francieknewallthe
dialogue.ThecopgavehislinesrightandFranciepickeduphercueshappilyandthestage
directionswerethesmilesbetweenthespokenlines.
Theyhadtocalluptopapatohelpthemgetthetreeupthenarrowstairs.Papacamerunning
down.ToFrancie'srelief,herandownstraightandnotsidewisewhichprovedthathewasstill
sober.
Papa'samazementatthesizeofthetreewasflattering.Hepretendedtobelievethatitwasn't
theirs.Franciehadalotoffunconvincinghimalthoughsheknewallthewhilethatthewhole
thingwasmakebelieve.PapapulledinfrontandFrancieandNeeleypushedinbackandthey
beganforcingthebigtreeupthethreenarrowflightsofstairs.Johnnywassoexcitedthathe
startedsinging,notcaringthatitwasratherlateatnight.Hesang"HolyNight."Thenarrow
wallstookuphisclearsweetvoice,helditforabreathandgaveitbackwithdoubledsweetness.
Doorscreakedopenandfamiliesgatheredonthelandings,pleasedandamazedatthe
somethingunexpectedbeingaddedtothatmomentoftheirlives.
FranciesawtheTynmoregirlsstandingtogetherintheirdoorway,theirgrayhairincrimpers,
andruffled,starchednightgownsshowingundertheirvoluminouswrappers.Theyaddedtheir
thinpoignantvoicestoJohnny's.FlossGaddis,hermotherandherbrother,Henny,whowas
dyingofconsumption,stoodintheirdoorway.HennywascryingandwhenJohnnysawhim,he
letthesongtrailoff;hethoughtmaybeitmadeHennytoosad.
Flossiewasincostumewaitingforanescorttotakehertoamasqueradeballwhichstarted
soonaftermidnight.ShestoodthereinherKlondike-dance-hall-girlcostumewithsheerblack
silkstockings,spool-heeledslippers,oneredgarterfastenedunderakneeandswinginga
blackmaskinherhand.ShesmiledintoJohnny'seyes.Sheputherhandonherhipandleaned
seductively-orsoshethought-againstthedoorjamb.MoretomakeHennysmilethananything
else,Johnnysaid,
"Floss,wegotnoangelforthetopofthisChristmastree.Howaboutyouobliging?"
Flosswasallreadytomakeadirtyreplyaboutthewindblowingherdrawersoffifshewasup
thathigh.Butshechangedhermind.Therewassomethingaboutthebigproudtree,nowso
humbleinitsbeingdragged;somethingaboutthebeamingchildren;somethingabouttherare
goodwilloftheneighborsandthewaythelightslookedturnedlowinthehalls,thatmadeher
ashamedofherunspokenreply.Allshesaidwas:
"Gee,ain'tyouthekidder,JohnnyNolan."
Katiestoodaloneonthetopofthelastflightofstepswithherhandsclaspedbeforeher.She
listenedtothesinging.Shelookeddownandwatchedtheirslowprogressupthestairs.She
wasthinkingdeeply.
"Theythinkthisissogood,"shethought."Theythinkit'sgood-thetreetheygotfornothingand
theirfatherplayinguptothemandthesingingandthewaytheneighborsarehappy.Theythink
they'remightyluckythatthey'relivingandthatit'sChristmasagain.Theycan'tseethatwelive
onadirtystreetinadirtyhouseamongpeoplewhoaren'tmuchgood.Johnnyandthechildren
can'tseehowpitifulitisthatourneighborshavetomakehappinessoutofthisfilthanddirt.My
childrenmustgetoutofthis.TheymustcometomorethanJohnnyormeorallthesepeople
aroundus.Buthowisthistocomeabout?Readingapagefromthosebookseverydayand
savingpenniesinthetin-canbankisn'tenough.Money!Wouldthatmakeitbetterforthem?
Yes,itwouldmakeiteasy.Butno,themoneywouldn'tbeenough.McGarrityownsthesaloon
standingonthecornerandhehasalotofmoney.Hiswifewearsdiamondearrings.Buther
childrenarenotasgoodandsmartasmychildren.Theyaremeanandgreedytowardsothers
becausetheyhavethethingstotauntpoorchildrenwith.IhaveseentheMcGarritygirleating
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