I never lived in a coal camp, but I know someone who did. The name of that coal camp is Crichton, West Virginia. The name of the person I know is Larry, my husband. I've heard 39 years of stories from Crichton, and this is my favorite Christmas story.
Larry grew up in a company house that his father bought in the fifties. All the houses along the street were the same, small and covered with white clapboard. At the time there were four children in the family, and I'm sure that those four were a houseful. Christmas was a particularly active time of year with the four Estep children on pins and needles, scanning the Christmas catalogues while stoking up on RC Colas and homemade Christmas candy.
One day Jim and Helen went to Rainelle. I'm guessing that they had some "private" Christmas shopping to do, but whatever the reason they left the children at home by themselves. As luck would have it, while Jim and Helen were gone, a man came through the coal camp selling Christmas trees from the back of a pick-up truck. The Estep clan decided to take advantage of this opportunity to surprise their parents; they gathered enough coins to buy the tree. It was a group decision, and they picked the best tree they could buy with the money they had.
Since I didn't see the tree, and there are no pictures, I can only imagine that the tree bore a striking resemblance to poor Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. At the best, the Estep tree was an irregular form of fir tree.
The Esteps were industrious children. They put the tree up in the stand in a corner of the living room and turned the bare side to the wall. They gathered the ornaments from the closet where they were stored. They put on the lights, the ornaments, the star on the top. As sister, Becky, put the last ornament on the front of the tree, the weight from that delicate glass ornament was just enough weight to pull that one-sided tree smashing to the floor. The children stood staring at the mess of Christmas lying in the floor.
Larry, being an inventive child, jumped into action. He got a hammer and a nail and a piece of rope. All important items in Christmas decorating. He tied the rope around the tree and pulled it up to a standing position. Then he nailed the rope to the wall behind the tree. Problem solved! The decorated tree stood straight, a bright and shining beacon of Christmas in the little house in Crichton.
I've often wondered what Helen did when she came home. Did she laugh? Did she cry? Did she do both? Christmas is enjoyed most by children, and this was their tree, probably one of the most beautiful they ever had.