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Subj: A Christmas To Remember (S569)
      From: rfslick on 12/12/2007
Picture from Art.com

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 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 gunnysacks 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, and

then we took the meat and flour

and shoes to the door.  We

knocked. The door opened a crack

Picture from HayInArt.com
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 every one'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 gunnysacks

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.