"'Why don't folks leave you be? I've heard them talking in the town. I've heard their meanness." "It's the Christmas tree," said Jim. "Didn't you know...that it's wrong to keep Christmas all year round?"
— Davis Grubb, A Tree Full of Stars
This is Christmas story of a family whose tree lived on in their home forever. After the Dance family wakes one Christmas morning to find their gifts missing from under the tree, they decide to keep the spirit of the season and embrace under its evergreen boughs, thankful for the love of one another.
Later in January, when time comes to take down the tree though, young Toby and the housemaid Jewel find, strangely, that the ornaments won't come off. Even more, the tree has rooted through the floor into the foundation of the house. Even their father's saw won't cut through the magical tree's trunk. The Dances, they surmise, have somehow unlocked the true power of Christmas—by loving one another with full hearts despite the Hard Times in the Land—and so it is Christmas every day for them.
Faring less-well spiritually are the folks of Elizabethtown. They look at the Dance family's miracle with curiosity, then disbelief and suspicion, and eventually, resentment. Toby, Marya, Nell, and Jim Dance are forced, tragically, to leave their home and the Christmas tree that spring. As they take to the road though, each recommit to holding fast to their Christmas cheer and carry into the "round world...the wise, hard-earned knowing... Perhaps," the author writes, "you will come upon them someday in your town—on your street."
A Tree Full of Stars is 158 short pages and written with a delightfully lyrical directness, but towers to evergreen, mythic status with its exploration of the hearts and hearths of little Elizabethtown. If you're looking to add a bit more of the Christmas spirit to your own holiday, or better yet, to everyday after, Davis Grubb's story is the perfect stocking-stuffer size and quick fireside read. [JG]
Davis Grubb (1919-1980) is perhaps best known for his first novel The Night of the Hunter (1953), a dark fairy tale set in the Depression-era West Virginia. (It's one of my favorite novels of all time.) Two years later it was adapted for the screen by actor Charles Laughton's first and only directorial project, which stars Robert Mitchum as Preacher.
Davis Grubb went on to write nine other novels and three short story collections, most of which take place in small midwest towns similar to his home of Moundsville, West Virginia. "My earliest literary influences were the tales of the old men in my river town," Grubb said, citing the 200-year-lineage of his family in the Ohio Valley, but many of his stories also include fantastical and mystical elements, matched with a uniquely lyrical style. I've read A Tree Full of Stars, Twelve Tales of Suspense, and The Nighter of the Hunter now, and am looking forward in particular to reading his second novel, A Dream of Kings, as it follows a young boy's experience of the American Civil War in West Virginia.