It was Christmas in rural Indiana.
My children were excited as Christmas day drew near. My three-year-old son wanted a red riding tractor. My seven-year-old daughter wanted a ballerina doll.
We were a long way from our family and the place we called home in Southeast Missouri. But this holiday there was no money for a trip back home. Nor could my husband get leave from the military base where he was stationed. So we tried to make the best of it.
Unaccustomed to the severe Indiana winters, we huddled in front of our old living room fireplace. Our two-bedroom rented cottage was surrounded by woodlands in a sparsely populated area. The cottage was the only available housing we could find when my husband was transferred to Indiana.
In wintertime a narrow creek that ran behind the cottage would freeze over and the neighborhood children would glide their snow sleds across its smooth hard surface.
That Christmas when I told the children that their daddy was going to go beyond the creek into the woods to look for our Christmas tree, they could hardly wait.
It was fiercely cold as my husband bundled up in his hooded parka and insulated boots and trudged out into a heavy snow.
The children watched from a window as their daddy disappeared into the woods. After a long time, he returned with a scrubby tree thrown over one shoulder.
"Best I could do," he said, shaking snow from his parka and stomping his boots.
He stood the tree up for my inspection.
I hid my disappointment and told him the tree would do. Maybe the decorations, meager as they are, will fill the gaps," I thought.
"It looks fine," I assured my husband. It was too bitter cold to search for another one anyway.
The children held hands and danced, thrilled at the prospects of helping decorate the tree after supper.
My daughter hung each silver icicle, strand by strand, while my son hung a few shiny ornaments on the lowest branches. I added a single strand of sparkling garland and the only string of lights we had.
Then we stepped back to inspect our handiwork.
It certainly looked some better but not like the eight-foot wonders I'd seen for sale in town.
Our scrawny tree was definitely lacking.
As I searched in a cardboard box that held a few remaining Christmas ornaments, I found a small box of angel hair, left unopened from the previous year.
Maybe the fine glass fibers would fill in the empty gaps where branches should have been, but were missing.
Soon the little tree was encased in a shimmery silken cloud.
That done, I placed the star on the very top of the tree. There was nothing more I could do.
I told the children to sit on the floor in front of the tree and I would show them something magical.
They sat cross-legged on the rug, hands folded, waiting.
I switched off the overhead light and plugged in the strand of tree lights.
When the angel hair caught the light from the multicolored bulbs, a mystical transformation took place. Spiraling translucent gossamer webs created a fairyland.
"Mama," my daughter whispered in awe, "look at the beautiful spider webs."
"Do you like it," I asked.
"Oh, yes, Mama. It's so beautiful."
They clapped their hands in glee at the miracle before them.
Last Christmas while I decorated the white artificial tree in my Arkansas home, my thoughts returned to that long ago Christmas in rural Indiana.
I remembered, too, something my now-grown daughter said after she spent hours decorating a magnificient tree that touched the ceiling in her home.
"Mom," she said, " do you remember that little tree we had in Indiana by the creek, the one with spider webs?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Well," she said, "that wasn't the prettiest tree we ever had, but I really loved it. Somehow, it was special, wasn't it?"
"Yes, daughter, it was very special."