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The Memory Tree
Bilbo’s residence had got rather cluttered up with things in the course of his long life. It was a tendency of hobbit-holes to get cluttered up: for which the custom of giving so many birthday-presents was largely responsible. Not, of course, that the birthday-presents were always new, there were one or two old mathoms of forgotten uses that had circulated all around the district; but Bilbo had usually given new presents, and kept those that he received.
‘A Long-expected Party’, The Fellowship of the Ring
“Happy Yule, Bilbo!” Frodo exclaimed as he set two mugs on the table. “I asked Gandalf to keep track of the days for me, although I can’t imagine how he does it.”
Bilbo, deeply moved, came to embrace Frodo. Then he sniffed the air appreciatively.
“I know how much you used to love Yule cake, so I got up early,” Frodo said with a smile. “There’s also fresh cider from the basket of apples Legolas left for us.”
As Bilbo took his seat, he laughed with delight to see a bright blue paper star nestled in the branches of Frodo’s improvised little tree.
“You remembered!” he exclaimed joyfully.
“Of course I did,” Frodo assured him. He set the still-warm Yule cake, plump with apples, nuts, and raisins, on the table, poured a mugful of cider for each of them, and sat down. “Yule at Bag End was different than I was used to, but you made it wonderful in so many ways. After that first year, I never wanted to celebrate any other way.”
Bilbo smiled gently. How long ago it seemed, and yet the memories were still crystal clear...
It was mid-December, and a light snow was falling. Uncle Bilbo was sleeping late this morning, and Frodo sat enjoying a simple breakfast of eggs, cranberry muffins, and tea as he listened to the excited squeals of the youngest Gamgee children capering about in the lane. He knew that nine-year-old Sam would be coming by soon before starting his chores to see if there was anything they needed. May usually looked after little Mari while doing the wash, and big-girl Daisy, 17, would help Bell with the baking and perhaps take the others down to the market later.
“Good morning, Frodo,” came Bilbo’s voice from the doorway. “Should we make another batch of muffins today?”
Frodo turned to Bilbo with a grin. “How about several batches?”
“That will be a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon.” Bilbo came into the kitchen, and Frodo saw that he was carrying a stack of papers dyed in different colors. “And I suppose it’s time we talked about Yule, as well.”
Frodo smiled hopefully. “I didn’t know if Yule was a happy time for you, Bilbo. You hardly ever visited Buckland at Yuletide, and I wondered if you were alone here with no one to help you celebrate.”
“You have a good-heart, my boy,” Bilbo said. “I certainly do celebrate, and have been far from alone.” He took down a teacup for himself. “What do you think of the Gamgees, now that you’ve gotten to know them better?”
“They’ve become dear to me,” Frodo said. “They all seem genuinely fond of you, and everyone has been so welcoming.”
“They’re fine people and good friends, and I try to do everything I can for them. It isn’t easy to gift them as I’d like, seeing as how proud and stubborn Hamfast and Bell can be, but Yule is a special time, and they go along with my charade for the sake of the children.”
“What charade?” Frodo asked curiously.
Bilbo laughed. “I make it a point to moan and groan to them all year about all the mathoms cluttering up the place, and how much I appreciate getting to distribute some of them on birthdays... and especially at Yule. But just between you and me...” Bilbo looked slyly at Frodo. “I tend to keep most of what’s given to me and purchase new things to give away. It helps the shopkeepers, who need coin especially at this time of year, and I enjoy choosing exactly what I think the children might like. Everything works out well for everyone.”
Frodo smiled and said nothing. He was well aware of the storeroom stuffed with decades of his uncle’s mathoms. As a child, it had been a favorite place of his to play when his parents brought him for visits to Bag End.
Bilbo held up several sheets from the stack of colored paper. “I choose a color for each person, then wrap gifts for him or her in that color. Then I hide the gifts in the parlor, as well as small coins and wrapped fruits, in various nooks and crannies. I always invite everyone up for a small Yule party, and after refreshments, and we’ve sung and told stories, there’s a treasure hunt of sorts until all the presents are found.”
“How do they know what gifts belong to them?” Frodo asked.
“Aha!” Bilbo said. “A good question. I cut out a star in each of the colors, and hang them on a little tree. I hand out to each person the star that corresponds to the colored wrapping of their gifts. It’s quite exciting for the children, although the parlor is rather turned upside down. You can help me prepare this year, Frodo lad, and I hope you enjoy your Yule at Bag End as much as in Buckland.”
“You have such wonderful ideas, Bilbo,” Frodo said admiringly. “Let’s get started right away.”
“Splendid,” Bilbo said happily. “We don’t have to find a tree until just before Yule, but it’s not too early to plan the rest of the party.” He retrieved a long sheet of writing paper and a pen from his study, and sat down next to Frodo.
“Daisy is starting to help with the baking,” Frodo offered. “Perhaps she’d like packets of spices just for her. Cinnamon and vanilla are expensive, so they would be a special treat.”
“That’s a marvelous notion,” Bilbo said, beginning to write. “Now, what do you suppose Bell would like? I gave her several lovely bolts of cloth last year, but there are never enough threads and needles in a family that large. And a bit of lace, perhaps? If Samwise could sneak a look at her hairbrush to see how it’s holding up...”
“Bilbo, did you hear me?” came Frodo’s voice. Adrift in warm memories from decades past, Bilbo slowly came back to the present. With a smile, he fingered the small blue star and looked about the kitchen. Suddenly he saw a package wrapped in blue paper, resting on a shelf next to a stack of plates.
“There it is!” he cried out happily. “Can you reach that for me?”
Frodo retrieved the package and handed it to his uncle. Bilbo untied the string and unwrapped several folds of paper. There, nestled in a thick cloth, were...
“My spoons!” Bilbo cried out in suprise. “Are these the ones I left at Bag End for you? The very ones? I couldn’t let Lobelia have them all, of course.”
“I’ve always kept them for you, Uncle,” Frodo said. “I carried them with me to the house at Crickhollow, then retrieved them from Fatty Bolger when I moved back to Bag End. Because you treasured them so, I couldn’t bear to leave them behind when we sailed. I stowed them in my pack alongside… well, a few other things.” As Sam had surprised him with small, comforting items on the long journey South, so he planned to surprise Bilbo with well-loved items at future birthdays and Yuletide.
“You’re such a dear lad,” Bilbo said fondly.
“You took me in, Bilbo,” Frodo said softly, “and I’m grateful for everything you did for me. The Gamgee children loved you a great deal as well.”
“Do you suppose they’re still continuing my Yule tradition?” Bilbo asked curiously.
“Of course,” Frodo said confidently. “Sam and Rosie will have so many youngsters...” He smiled, imagining the many years of happy Yules and birthdays to come at Bag End.
Bilbo reached for another slice of cake with one hand, and fumbled in his pocket with the other. “The cake is delicious, Frodo. Why don’t we have our tea. Is there any honey left?”
Frodo left the table to heat water and bring over the honey pot, and when he took his seat again, he was surprised to see that a slightly rumpled green paper star had appeared next to his plate.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Bilbo said with a grin. “Did you suppose that you were the only one who talked with Gandalf recently?”
“Bilbo, you rascal!” Frodo said with a laugh. With childlike excitement, he began to search the kitchen for his own package.
By the time Gandalf arrived to wish his friends a joyous Yule and enjoy a cup of spiced cider, two more cakes had been baked and a thick soup was simmering on the stove. The hobbits had also chosen a gift for him, and wrapped it in silver paper. They hid it behind the teapot, and when Frodo spotted Gandalf coming up the walk, he hung a bright silver star on a slender string just inside the kitchen door, where their beloved friend would be sure to see it.
** END **
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