A Star for Poppy
A Christmas story by Patti Gustafson, California

It was a lovely tree, hung all about with be-ribboned milkbone ornaments and apples, and swathed with garlands of kibbles and carrot bits. The corgis were all very proud of it. It lacked but one thing to make it perfect...a star to make it glow. In true corgi fashion, it was the youngest who was sent and charged with the task of bringing back the star. The others, with raucous cheer and festive spirits, would remain within and finish the holiday decorating.

Poppy reluctantly donned her woolly muffler, and departed in search of a star. She had no clear idea of where to look, but secure in the perfect trust of youth, was certain she'd succeed, outside, the air was heavy and thick, with an icy bite to it. Poppy was glad for her warm neck scarf. The leaden sky hung low and menacingly, and the frosty ground beneath her feet was cold and brittle, jarring her feet as she walked. White puffs of her own breath preceded her. All about her was a bleak, stark winter landscape untouched by the concealing grace and softness of snow. But somewhere out there lay a glorious star for the tree, if she could just find it.

A short way off the front path, busily pecking at a frozen bird bath, was a blue jay. She would ask him for help. Balancing her front paws carefully on the edge of the bird bath, Poppy stretched her head up even with the jay's, and addresses him politely (for she had been nicely taught).

"Excuse me, sir," she said, "do you know where I might find a star for my Christmas tree?"

The jay looked up from the fracture he had just hammered in the ice, cocked his head and eyed her shrewdly, then he replied, "Stars? What do I know of stars? I must spend all my time just trying to get a little drink of water. And what sort of fool wants a tree with stars? it's a tree with a little fruit we could all use now!"

"Our tree has fruit," was Poppy's polite reply, "and you are welcome to come back and share it with us. But what our tree doesn't have is a star to make it glow, and I am sent to find one."

The jay thanked her for her kind invitation, said he didn't mind if he did, and assured her that with his help they'd quickly find a star to complete her fruit bedecked tree. He then perched himself on her back and directed her into the fields outside the fence.

In the field the grass, sharp, dry and brown, nearly swallowed them, it hissed at them and stung them as they shouldered their way through. It did not look promising for finding a star. The jay, taking advantage of the extra height, surveyed the field from atop Poppy's head. Not a star to be seen! But from the corner of his eye, the jay caught a movement, and over they went to investigate.

There, hiding still and breathless in the grass was a small, brown bunny...the only sign of movement now was from his twitching little nose. Poppy plopped down cozily nose to nose with the rabbit, and politely introduced both herself and the jay.

"We're searching for a star for my Christmas tree," Poppy stated, "and we wonder if you know where we could find one."

For several more moments the rabbit's nose twitched furiously, which was a trifle discourteous, then at last he replied. "I'm sorry," he said rather shyly, "I've spent every minute just looking for something to eat and have had no time to notice stars. I do wish you luck, though, in finding one."

Poppy thanked him for his kind words, and mentioning that there would be plenty of food at her house, invited him to come and share it. The bunny's eyes lit up and the nose, momentarily, stopped twitching. "Oh, thank you," he replied. "How very nice of you. I shall."

And with that, the three of them set off. The bunny suggested that, as he had spent all morning in the field without once stumbling across a star, they try the little patch of woods that lay beyond the field.

In the woods, dark leafless branches loomed over them frighteningly, pointing sharp, bony fingers at them, and mocking them. They trod on cautiously. Suddenly from above them came a terrified little wail, a forlorn mewing.

Looking up, they discovered a small frightened kitten trapped in the tree, "Oh, we must help him," exclaimed Poppy, "but how?"

"Excuse me," said the bunny, "but I rather think if you were to take off your scarf, and the jay were to take one end tip where the kitten is and hook it to the branch, and you were to take the other end in your teeth and stretch it taut, the kitten could climb down the scarf."

"That's the very thing!" said Poppy. "How clever you are!" And she drew off her scarf, giving one end to the jay and taking the other in her teeth. The jay did his part and secured the scarf to the branch, while down below Poppy braced her front legs and, backing away, her rear end pointing skyward, pulled the scarf very taut. Instructed by the jay and encouraged by the bunny, the kitten clambered down the scarf, tumbling at the end onto Poppy's nose.

Poppy licked the kitten's face gently, and pronounced that a saucer of milk and a warm basket would fix the little one up in no time. The jay released the scarf, now sporting a small, ragged hole and a few snags, from the tree, and they bundled up the kitten and set off for home...without a star!

If she thought of her failure to find a star, Poppy gave no outward sign of it. Her thoughts were directed solely on the bedraggled little kitten beside her.

The sky lightened and snow began to fall as they trudged along, and those things that were ugly and a bit frightening before, now appeared softened, brightened and enchanting. It cheered them on. Soon, through the soft, fat, drifting flakes that curtained them, they could see the comforting glow from the windows of home.

If the corgis at home were surprised at Poppy's return with three strangers in tow, but no star, they wisely said nothing, but welcomed them all and made them comfortable. (Corgis are noted for their courtesy and graciousness, after all.)

And the truest marvel of that day was that although the tree had no star, it glowed as though from the light of a hundred stars! It glowed that day from the joy, warmth and goodwill that form the true spirit of Christmas. Just ask Poppy.

And late that same night when the snow had ceased falling and the air was still and clear, over the entire hamlet, indeed over the entire world, there shone a single bright and glorious Christmas star. And I know it smiled as its golden light squeezed through the break in the bedroom curtains and fell on the face of a slumbering Poppy...fell on the little form tucked up in her bed with the bunny and kitten asleep at her feet, and the jay, his head beneath his wing, perched on the headboard. I saw it smile, and I heard it say, "I am Poppy's star.

Reproduced from the PWCAA Newsletter December 1996 with the kind permission of the author.

Illustrations: ©Béatrice Quinio