Her name was Angie, but everyone called her Angel. It wasn’t just because she was a sweet 12-year-old girl, you could blame her older sister for the nickname. When Angie was born her sister Allison, who was only three at the time, couldn’t pronounce her name, so it kept coming out “Angel.” After that, it just stuck. Who knew what an Angel she would turn out to be for an entire community.
It was a bitterly cold December morning when the sixth-grade teacher noticed Angel staring out the window. She was sad but hadn’t told a soul why. The class had just been given an opportunity to earn extra credit and Angel was staring at the trees that rose up behind the school. All the leaves were gone. She thought to herself; it’s too bad some things have to go away.
“You OK hon?”, the teacher asked. Angel turned her eyes away from the window and got a pensive look. “When you say extra credit, does it have to be a paper or reading an extra book? What if I did something else that helped people, could that count as extra credit?” Her teacher wasn’t sure where Angel was going with this, but she said, “Sure if you take on a project that helps people, that counts too.” Angel threw everything in her backpack and said, “Then I’m going to need some blank paper and 20 envelopes.”
Angel lived in the city, but it was something terrible that happened out in the country that was weighing heavy on her heart. Her parents always had the evening news on and a few weeks earlier Angel was playing on the floor with her dog Scooter when she heard her mom start crying. She looked up to see the man on TV talking about a terrible crash on a terrible road that claimed 20 lives.
In the days that followed stories came out about the innocent victims and Angel couldn’t help but notice they looked a lot like people in her neighborhood. It felt like her friends were gone. Right after the crash, there was talk of helping the families of the victims and Angel was happy to see so many people pitching in. Still, as the holidays approached, she kept thinking about those families and how hard it was going to be to get through Christmas. People giving you money is nice, she thought, but it couldn’t touch the pain they must be feeling.
Then she found herself staring at the trees at school that day and Angel got an idea. She sat at the kitchen table and started typing a short letter. When it was done she printed up 20 copies and put them in envelopes. She didn’t address them because she wasn’t sure where they should go; not yet.
With her sister Allison’s help they typed the words “trees,” “plants,” and “nursery” into the search box, along with their town, and hit enter. Soon they had a long list of businesses that sold flowers, shrubs, and trees. She carefully wrote out each address, used her allowance to buy a book of stamps, kissed the letters gently and put them in the mail.
Angel went back to school and told her teacher what she did. When the teacher asked what she wrote in those 20 letters, she swallowed hard and looked away from the class trying to hide her tears. She then said to Angel, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but I want you to know I’m so proud of you. That is a wonderful thing you did.”
December rolled on as slowly it always does when you’re a child waiting for Christmas. Angel’s parents kept asking what she wanted for presents, and she told them nothing this year; her heart and hope was in those letters. The problem was she had no way of knowing if the people who got them would understand and help. After all, they didn’t know Angel, and she was asking for a big favor.
Christmas Eve finally arrived and when darkness fell her parents turned on the evening news, and she saw it. Out in the country on that terrible road where the terrible thing happened a little girl got her wish. Twenty beautiful Christmas trees all lit up and decorated differently, all perfect in their own way. Soon cars were driving from far and wide to see them, including the families of the 20 people killed. They stopped and prayed, and for the first time since it happened, they smiled.
Pinned to one of the trees, like an ornament, was a little girl’s letter. It read: “Dear Nursery People, my name is Angel, and I need a really big favor. I’m wondering if you could take one of your nice pine trees out to the place where the crash happened, decorate it pretty and plant it in the ground on Christmas Eve? I’m asking 20 nurseries to do this, one for each victim, so if everyone helps me, I think it will look nice for the families. Thanks and Merry Christmas, Angel.”