When Tulie woke up Christmas morning the first thing she did was pull up her window shade and see if it had snowed during the night. The sun hadn't yet inched its way very far over the Ohio hills, but in the soft lavender early morning light she could see snow everywhere. The prettiest kind of snow was wet and that is just the kind it was. Snow stuck to every little branch of the bare trees and bushes. It balanced on the wires between the telegraph poles. As she looked up and down Butternut Street, Tulie thought it looked just like a Christmas card and she sighed. Perfect, it was just perfect.
“Merry Christmas, world,” she whispered to herself as she pulled on her bathrobe and stepped into her furry slippers.
Breakfast was perfect, too. Tulie's mind was on the presents they would open later, but she chatted on about the paper doll play of 'Little Women,' explaining to Mom and Gran how she had to cut out some of her favorite parts of the book.
“I decided not to do the part where the four March sisters take their Christmas breakfast to that poor family, the Hummels,” she said, her mouth full of French toast sticky with syrup. “I don't think we have any families that poor in Garfield, do we?” she asked.
Mom shook her head. Gran thought a minute. Then she said, “Well, there are different kinds of poverty, you know. It's not just a nice breakfast that people need at Christmastime. It's love. It's having their family all safe and sound around them. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some folks right here in Garfield, Ohio that are being short-changed on love this morning.”
Tulie stopped chewing. She knew somebody in town who wasn't surrounded by her family this Christmas morning. She knew what Josephine March would have done about that and she decided then and there what she, Tulip Mae O'Brien, would do.
* * *
There was too much snow to ride her bike, and the sidewalks were icy even though the noon sun was shining. So Tulie had to walk through the sparkling winter wonderland that Garfield had become overnight. Down the hill she went, across the old railroad tracks and then up through the town. All the buildings on Main Street were shut tight. After all, it was Christmas day. She turned the corner into Parkwood Drive and kept walking. It was so cold Tulie could see her breath. But she was warmly bundled up with two pairs of thick socks inside her snow boots, her muffler masking half her face and the new striped stocking cap that Gran had knitted for her was pulled way down to her eyes. Tulie imagined she looked like an Eskimo or maybe a lady explorer on her way to the South Pole. Then she started remembering one of her favorite books, “Julie of the Wolves.” She was so swept up in her imaginary world that she nearly missed the turning into Bannister Crescent.
There was a tall Christmas tree in the big semi-circle of a front yard. It was trimmed all in gold. There were Christmas wreaths at every window, each one flaunting a huge gold bow. The front door of the house had been covered with gold paper and tied up with a fat gold ribbon so it looked like a present.
Tulie certainly had to give the Bannister's credit for dressing their house up nicely for the holidays. She reached up and banged the lion's head knocker. She was prepared to greet Mrs. Lloyd, the housekeeper. Instead, to her surprise, when the door swung open, she was face to face with a very surprised looking Katherine Bannister wearing a furry bathrobe over white pajamas.
“Tulie!” was all she said.
“Merry Christmas, Katherine. Can I please come in?”
Katherine nodded and stepped back. Tulie stomped the snow off her boots on the mat in front of the door and went inside. She saw a huge Christmas tree in the foyer. It went all the way up to the ceiling. It did not look like the O'Brien's tree, loaded with lots of old ornaments and tinsel and lights every color of the rainbow. This tree was trimmed all in gold with tiny white lights, just like the tree outside. Instead of presents underneath, there were dozens of pots of white poinsettias.
“I like your tree, “Tulie said, being polite. But honestly, she didn't think it looked very Christmasy. A tree could be too perfect, she realized.
“We have more. There's one in the living room and then there's my tree upstairs in the playroom and another one in the media room.”
“Wow,” was all Tulie said, and she tried to sound enthusiastic. She didn't know what else to say. So she asked, “Where's Mrs. Lloyd?”
“Oh, she's home with her grandchildren. They came to visit from Pittsburg. She'll come around later. I told her I could take care of my own breakfast and lunch today. She left my Christmas dinner in the refrigerator to micro-wave tonight.”
Tulie knew then that she had done exactly the right thing by coming this morning.
“I came to invite you to come and spend Christmas with us at our house,” she announced.
“Oh, but I couldn't. IÉIÉ,” Katherine stammered. “I'd be intruding. I've never even been to your house. Are you sure it would be okay with your mother? I mean, I'm not sureÉ”
“Oh, stuff and nonsense,” said Tulie, sounding a lot like Jo March. “Here, I brought you a present.” She held out the box she had hastily wrapped this morning, using paper and ribbon that had been on one of her own presents.
Katherine smiled. “Why, thank you, Tulie. What is it?”
“Open it and see for yourself.”
Katherine untied the red bow and slowly, neatly unfolded the paper from around the box that this morning had held Tulie's new knitted stocking cap. Katherine's eyes grew big and her mouth turned into a really big smile. “It's a paper doll! A beautiful vintage paper doll. And there are clothes, too, lots of clothes!”
“Some of the clothes are old, but there are some new clothes in the box, too. Clothes Freddie drew and Brenda colored and Winsome cut out. They're the costumes for our play of 'Little Women.' I'm going to be Jo and Brenda's going to be Amy and Winsome wants to be Beth. But we don't have a Meg, yet.”
“Freddie?” asked Katherine.
“I don't think so,” said Tulie with a little laugh and Katherine laughed too. “Well, do you want to be in it? You'd have to join our 'Cut-Out Club,' too. Only club members are allowed to play.”
“Oh yes! I'd love to. I'd really love to!”
“Well, get yourself dressed and put on your coat and stuff and let's go. It's a long walk and it's real cold out, so you better be sure to dress nice and warm.”
“Okay, but first, I have to get something, something important. Don't go away,” Katherine said, rushing to the stairs. “I'll be right down, stay right there!” she called over her shoulder as she raced up the stairs, two at a time.
Tulie didn't stay right there. She crept to the living room to peek at the tree in there. It was also trimmed in gold. Piled around it were lots and lots of presents. All wrapped in white with gold ribbon. None of them had been opened yet. Tulie guessed that it would not be much fun to open presents alone, especially if you knew what was inside every one of them. She heard a door bang upstairs and moved back to the front door as Katherine came running down the stairs. She had changed into a sweater with reindeer on it and plaid skirt. It was a pretty outfit, but Tulie hardly noticed. She only had eyes for what Katherine was carrying.
The doll in the pale blue gown. The beautiful red-haired doll in the velvet gown with silver stars on it and the little white fur stole and the tiara, too.
She held it out to Tulie. “Here's a present for you. I'm sorry it's not wrapped.”
“But it's your doll, Katherine.”
“Oh, I know it's not new, but that's okay, isn't it? It's a collectible and that means it doesn't have to be new.”
“I couldn't take itÉ”
“I thought you liked it so much when you came to the sleepover.”
“I do like it. In fact, I love it.”
“Well, then, Merry Christmas, Tulie!” Katherine said as she leaned over and kissed Tulie on the cheek. “Now I'll get my coat and things. I'll be right back!” And Katherine skipped away.
Tulie looked down at the doll in her arms. She smoothed its red hair and adjusted its little tiara. It was hers at last. Why wasn't she as excited as she thought she should be? She hoped Katherine hurried because there were still a few little things Tulie had to do. She was anxious to get ready for tonight's meeting of 'The Cut-Out Club' and their dress rehearsal. It was going to be so much fun.
“I'm back!” Katherine exclaimed. She was bundled in a white ski parka with fur around the hood. “Let's go!”
The two girls went out the front door, down the steps, and as they walked down the long curved driveway, Tulie said, “Let's sing! It will make the walk go faster and it'll keep us warm, too.”
It started to snow again, big soft flakes, as they walked arm in arm down Bannister Crescent, turned into Parkwood Drive and then down the hill past the stores, over the tracks and into Butternut Street. Their voices rang out in the cold, cold air.
“Jingle bells! Jingle bells! Jingle all the way! Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh-hey!”