Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas Tale

Pa and The Rifle
 
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 Iwas 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 knewwe 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 manwho 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 Jensen's, 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.
~by Rian B. Anderson~

16 comments:

  1. Wow.  -  Barbara

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  2. Very nice story!

    Just wanted to pop in and wish you a Merry Christmas. Hope you guys are enjoying the day!
    http://journals.aol.com/astaryth/AdventuresofanEclecticMind
    http://adventuresofaneclecticmind.blogspot.com/

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  3. Merry Christmas. -Dawn-

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  4. What a heart warming story to share for Christmas. Thank you. rich

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  5. nice story to share

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  6. My mom & her parents were very much like that. I also remember my mom saying that if you liked something in my Aunt Lena's home, she would just give it to you!
    The spirit of Christmas is with people like that every day of their lives.  ~~Mary

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  7. Thank you for that beautiful story Celeste! I hope you and your family had a good Christmas Day !
    Merry Christmas!!!!
    love ya,
    carlene

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  8. Thank you for this story-I sent it on to Rene, who, like the boy's father, is always doing things for others. Hope your Christmas was joyful. Margo

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  9. What a story!  What a wonderful story!  JaE

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  10. awww that was a sweet story....Hugs...Ora

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  11. Oh how I love that story!

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  12. Wonderful story. Good reminder for us. Paula

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  13. What a great story! Thinks for shareing.
    Terrie

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  14. Oh, this made me cry.....thank you for sharing it,,,

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  15. What a sweet story!  Brings back the farm days!

    Have a Happy Healthy New Year!

    Darlene


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  16. thank you for the story...reminded me to keep my slight grievances in check and take a look at the bigger picture.

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