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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 so bad that year before 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. So 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 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.

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Copyright 2006 Joke A Whenever

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