written by M. C. Arvanitis
Illustrated by Mary Lou Beaulieu
Reggie Cardinal watched the old man walk up the path from his house in the forest
to the mailbox. The old man carried a bag in one hand and his cane in the other. With a happy smile, he stopped at the mailbox, pulled out a letter and shoved it into his pocket.
knew that the old man lived alone and waited all year for the letter that told him when his family would arrive for their Christmas visit. Reggie also knew that even on the coldest days of winter the old man brought food to the birds of the forest.
When he heard the old man whistle for the birds to come for their treat, he joined the other birds on the ground. Bluejays grabbed the larger seeds and flew to the near by branches to enjoy their
tidbit. Tiny brown juncos and yellow finches bravely flew among the bigger birds to get their share.
The old man smiled as he watched the birds eat. He sat on the rock and read
his letter. This time, however, instead of smiling at the news, tears came to his eyes. He folded it and placed it back in his pocket. He spoke to the birds as he often did, “My family can’t come to spend Christmas with me this year,”
he said sadly. “They have made other plans.”
Reggie watched him walk back toward the cabin, leaning heavily on his cane. The old man did not come to the mailbox bringing
food for the birds after that. No colored ornaments decorated the little fir tree by his cabin. There was no wreath on the door or candles in the windows. Reggie called the other birds together. "The old man is sad,” he told them. “His family is
not going to visit him for Christmas. We should try to cheer him.”
“We cannot. We must be on our way before it gets to cold for us here,” said the yellow finches. They
We cannot,” said the juncos. We are too small to help a human person.” They flew away.
said the jays. We are cold. We must find a cedar tree with thick branches to protect us from the winter wind.” They flew away.
“We cannot,” said the woodpeckers. “If
the old man isn’t going to feed us we must spend our time looking for insects under the bark of the evergreen trees.” They too flew away.
Only the cardinals stayed. “How
can we help?” they asked.
"We can not bring the old man’s family to him,” answered Reggie, “but maybe we can cheer him up with our songs.”
The red birds perched themselves upon the little fir tree by the cabin door. More cardinals appeared. Soon red birds covered the tree from top to bottom singing their sweet song.
When the old man heard them he came out of his house. He smiled for the first time since he received the letter. “Well now, I have been feeling so sorry for myself that I neglected my forest friends. But even when I don’t feed you, you cheer me
up with your songs. We’ll have Christmas after all."
He hung a wreath on the door and placed the candles in the windows. Next he brought out his fiddle and played all the Christmas songs he knew.
A loud horn blast sounded above the music. A station wagon drove down the lane with waving children hanging out the window. When the car stopped his grandchildren tumbled out.
“The oldest child shouted as she rushed to hug him. “We couldn’t spend our Christmas without our Gramps.”
A woman, helping the youngest
child from the car, called to him. “We changed our plans, Dad,” We decided that it is not Christmas unless we can be together with you.”
Tears of joy came to the old man’s
eyes. Reggie watched as the old man led his family into the cabin. He knew there would be no feast at the mailbox until they left but he didn’t care. He was glad to see the old man happy again.
This story is free to copy off and use in your classroom but is copyrited to M. C. Arvanitis. So it can not be shared elsewhere in print or electrontically.