Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve - 1881

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who
squandered their means and then never had enough for the
necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his
heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I
learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old
and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there
just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that
I'd wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that
night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little
extra time so we could read in the Bible.

After supper was over I took my boots off and
stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to
get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for
myself and, to be honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to
read Scriptures. But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he
bundled up again and went outside. I couldn't figure it
out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't
worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in
self-pity. Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night
out and there was ice in his beard.

Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out
I was really upset then. Not only wasn't
I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me
out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.
We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't
think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on
a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at
one dragging one's feet when he'd told them to do
something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my
cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I
opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I
didn't know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in
front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the
big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't
going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We
never hitched up this sled unl ess we were going to haul a
big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I
reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already
biting at me. I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled
the sled around the house and stopped in front of the
woodshed. He got off and I followed. "I think
we'll put on the high sideboards," he said.
"Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had
been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low
sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would
be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.

After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into
the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood - the
wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain,
and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he

Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?"
"You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow
Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had
died a year or so before and left her with three children, the
oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what?
Yeah," I said, "Why?"

"I rode by just today," Pa said.
"Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile
trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood,
Matt." That was all he said and then he turned and
went back into the woodshed for an other armload of wood. I
followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to
wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa
called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke
house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He
handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and
off he went. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over
his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his
left hand.

"What's in the little sack?" I asked.
"Shoes, they're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks
wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile
this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn't
be Christmas without a little candy."

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty
much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was
doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of
course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was
left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to
saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also
had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we
didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes
and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow
Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have
been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house
and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took
the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The
door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is

"Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?"
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She
had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children
were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the
fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat
at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit
the lamp.

"We brought you a few things, Ma'am,"
Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on
the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes
in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one
pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each
of the children - sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would
last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to
keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and
started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like
she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.

"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said. He turned
to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's
get that fire up to size and heat this place up." I wasn't the
same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had
a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there
were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those
three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother
standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so
much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I'd
never known before, filled my soul. I had given at
Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so
much difference. I could see we were literally saving the
lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared. The
kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of
candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably
hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us.
"God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you. The
children and I have been praying that he would send one of
his angels to spare us."

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears
welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those
exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I
could see that it was probably true.

I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the
earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out
of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed
endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was
amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known
what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand
for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face
again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids
in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and
didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed
their Pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said,
"The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over
for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than
the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if
he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to
get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little
ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for
quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two brothers
and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles.
I don't have to say , May the Lord bless you, I know for
certain that He will."

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep
within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had
gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want
you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a
little money away here and there all year so we could buy
that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough.
Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years
back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were
real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle,
and I started into town this morning to do just that, but on
the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile
with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I
had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little
candy for those children. I hope you understand."

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again.
I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it.
Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa
had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow
Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the
Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and
remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home
beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle
that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

God bless you!

--author unknown