The Best Trade: A Christmas Tree for a Basket of Jelly  


My stories come from the Louisiana Pineywoods.


The Best Trade: A Christmas Tree for a Basket of Jelly
This story from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank, is still a favorite of readers of all ages. I hope you enjoy it.
Merry Christmas to all of my friends.
Christmas jelly is probably my favorite holiday gift. Yearly, I receive this present from a special lady in my life.
Eleanor Andrews is my neighbor in Dry Creek. She lives along Highway 113. It’s easy to spot her place: It’s the prettiest yard in our community, a testament to her love of gardening and flowers.
Mrs. Andrews is more than just my neighbor and a lover of flowers. She is also my all-time favorite teacher. She taught fifth grade at Dry Creek School and East Beauregard High. Every Dry Creek pupil for generations sat in one of her wooden desks.

Before I started fifth grade, I was scared of her. The boys on the school bus had educated me about her gruff manner and rigid classroom environment. Eleanor Andrews was from the “Old School” and took no lip from any student in her kingdom-classroom.
Her best weapon wasn’t a paddle but an infamous stare that would stop a charging grizzly bear in its proverbial tracks.
I entered her classroom on day one with trepidation as an 11-year-old fifth-grader. She was just as strict as the older kids had described her.
But I also detected something else: warm, smiling eyes beneath that gruff exterior. She loved watching students learn and leading them to new knowledge.
During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. And now, thirty years later, she still is.
Let me get back to Christmas jelly.
Eleanor Andrews is retired and much frailer than when she ruled the fifth grade at East Beauregard. Because of her health, she doesn’t venture out. She lives alone in her house, surrounded by her flowers and memories of a life filled with teaching and touching lives.
Yearly, a few weeks before Christmas, I receive a phone call from her. “Curt, drop by the house when you get a chance.”
It’s time for the best present: Christmas Jelly is ready.
Mrs. Andrews and I have a bartering system. I cut a Christmas tree from my farm and trade it for her jelly,
I tagged her tree weeks earlier, carefully choosing one that meets her exacting standards.
After loading this tree in my truck, I drive to her house hoping she will approve of the tree.
Once again, I’m in the fifth grade, waiting to hand in a book report.
Eleanor Andrews greets me with the warm smile I’ve loved over the years. She always makes me feel as if I’m the most important person in the world, and that’s may be why she’ll always my favorite teacher.
Mrs. Andrews hands me a basket of homemade jelly with all of my favorites: muscadine, mayhall, crabapple, and several jars of hot pepper jelly.
I look at this assortment of homemade jelly, and my mouth waters at the thought of the hot biscuits it will top off.
The delicious joys of homemade jelly.
Mrs. Andrews happily examines her Christmas tree, pulls out her purse, and insists on paying for it.
I laugh. “No way, the best deal I make is trading a tree for the best homemade jelly in Dry Creek.”
She makes me a cup of coffee, and we visit. When I leave with my armload of jelly jars, we wave in the way dear friends do.
Before driving away, I think about the art of giving. The best gifts are truly handmade. They come from the heart.
Emerson said it well: “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.”
Looking at the colorful, decorated jelly jars, I’m reminded of what Christmas is truly about. It is all about giving.
I’m so glad to live in Dry Creek. A place where gifts like Christmas Jelly still abound.
The words of the Apostle Paul still ring true: “Remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” *
*The Apostle Paul quoting Jesus in Acts 20:35
Curt Iles
Alexandria, LA/Dry Creek, LA


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