An Early Christmas Story (Author Unknown)

Pa never had such 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 receiving.

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 tonight.” 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 unless 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 sideboards 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 doing?

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  another 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 wait.

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 it?” “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.

“Love is not getting, but giving . . . .  It is goodness and honor and peace and pure living  . . .  the best thing in the world and the thing that lives the longest.”  ~Henry Van Dyke

“And let us consider one another  to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,  as the manner of some is ;  but exhorting one another : and so much the more,  as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:24-25

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