His 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, and it was from him he learned that the greatest joy of life comes from giving, not from receiving. It was Christmas Eve 1881 and the young 15 year old lad was feeling like the world had caved in on him because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy him the rifle that he wanted so much.
They did the chores early that night for some reason, and the boy figured it was because his Pa wanted a little extra time so they could all read the bible. After supper was over he took off his boots and stretched out in front of the fireplace, then waited for his father to join them. He was still feeling sorry for himself, and to be honest, he wasn’t really in much of a mood to read the scriptures, but on that evening Pa didn’t get the bible, but instead bundled up and went back outside. His son couldn’t figure that out because they had already done all the chores, but he didn’t worry about it very much because he was still wallowing in self-pity. Soon his father came back in with ice in his beard, then uttered “Come on Matt, and bundle up good, because it’s a bitterly cold night.
The boy was really upset then because not only he wasn’t getting his rifle for Christmas, now his father was dragging him out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that he could see. As the chores were already done, he couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially on a night like this, but knowing that his Pa was not very patient at one lagging behind, he got up, put his boots back on, and got his cap and mittens. At that moment his Ma gave him a mysterious smile as he headed out the door, then he knew something was up, but didn’t know what. Once outside Matt became even more dismayed, as there in front of their small but comfy log house was the work team, already hitched up to the big sled. Whatever it was they were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick little trip, because they never hitched up that sled unless they were going for a big load.
Pa was already up on the seat with reins in hand, and his son reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at him and he wasn’t a happy boy, just puzzled when his father pulled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. As he hopped off and followed, his Pa insisted that he help him put the high sideboards on the wagon, which was a bigger job than the young man really wanted to do, but there must obviously be a good reason for all that hard work. After the sideboards had been exchanged, Pa went into the woodshed and came back out with an armload of wood, the same wood that they had spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting.
His curiosity finally got the best of him, so he asked his father, “What are we doing?” after which his Pa asked, “Have you been to the Widow Jensen’s lately?” The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road and her husband had died a year or so before leaving her with three children, the oldest only 8. Still rather disgruntled, Matt explained that sure, he had been by the Jensen’s house, but so what? “I rode by there just yesterday”, his Pa firmly replied. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips, but I discovered son that they are out of wood,” his father said as he quickly turned and went back to the shed for another armload of wood, and his son followed with renewed enthusiasm.
Together they loaded the sled so high that Matt began to wonder if the horses would ever be able to pull, then finally his father called a halt to the task and went back to the smoke house and took down a big ham and side of bacon. He handed them to his son, told him to load them onto the sled, and then returned carrying a big sack of flour over his right shoulder, and a small sack of something in his left hand. When he asked his father what was in the sack he quietly replied. “Shoes, they are out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the wood pile this morning. I also got the children a little candy too, because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”
They rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. Matt tried to think through what his Pa was doing, realizing that his family didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, they always had a big woodpile, although most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that would have to be sawn into blocks and split before they could use it. They also had meat and flour, so they could spare that, but he also knew that they didn’t have any money, so wondered why his father was buying shoes and candy for the Jensen’s. Really, why was his father doing any of this? The Widow Jensen had closer neighbours than us, so it shouldn’t have really been of our concern. They came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded all that wood as quietly as possible, and then took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. They knocked on the door, and as the door opened just a crack a timid voice asked, “Who is it?” He quietly replied, “Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son Matt, could we come in for a bit?” Widow Jensen opened the door and let them in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, while the children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace with a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. She fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp. “We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Pa said, then set down the sack of flour, while Matt put the meat on the table.
Then his Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it, which she opened hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and a pair for the children, and they were sturdy shoes, the best, that would last for a long time. As the young lad watched Widow Jensen carefully, she bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling, and as tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks and as she looked up at Pa, it looked like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.
“We brought you a load of wood too, Ma’am,” Pa said, then turned to Matt and asked if he would go out and fetch in enough that would last for a while. “Let’s get that fire up to a grand size and heat this place up the way it should be.” Matt wasn’t the same person when he went back out to bring in the wood, had a big lump in his throat, and as much as he hated to admit it, also had tears in his eyes too. In his mind, he kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks, and with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak. His heart swelled within him and a joy that he’d never known before filled his soul. He had given at Christmas so many times before, but never when it made so much difference, and where he could so vividly see that they were saving the lives of these people. They soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared, and when the kids started giggling Pa handed them each a piece of candy, the Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long long time.
When she finally turned to them, she quietly uttered “God bless you. I know the Lord has sent you, and the children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”
In spite of himself and the surrounding joy, the lump returned to Matt’s throat, and the tears swelled up in his eyes once more. He had never thought of his father in those exact terms before, but after the Widow Jensen mentioned it, he could see that it was probably so very true. He was so sure that a better man than his Pa had never walked the earth, and then started remembering all those times that he had gone out of his way for his son, his mother, and so many others. The list seemed endless as he thought back over all the years they had spent out there on their farm. Pa then insisted that everyone try on the shoes before they left, and Matt was amazed that when they all fit, and then wondered how his Pa had known what sizes to get. Then he quietly guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord, then he would make sure that they all fit that little family.
Tears were running down the Widow Jensen’s face once again when the visitors stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug, and they clung to him and didn’t want us to go. Matt could then see that they missed their Pa very much, and was so very glad that he still had his. 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, insisting that the turkey would be more than the three of them could eat, and that a man can get cantankerous if he was to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be real nice to have some little ones around the house again, and Matt here hasn’t been little for quite a spell. Matt was the youngest of our family, and after a while his two brothers and two sisters all married and moved away.” Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Mr. Miles. ‘I don’t have to say, May the Lord bless you, and I know for certain that he will.”
Out on the sled, Matt felt warmth that came from deep within, and he didn’t even realize the bitter cold. When they had gone away, his Pa turned to him and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your Ma and I have been tucking away a little money here and there all year so that we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t quite have 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, and I hope that you understand.” He understood with all his heart, was so glad at what his father had done, and then his eyes became wet with tears once again. At this point that much wished for rifle seemed very low on his list of priorities, as today his Pa had given him so much more, and the look on Widow Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children was the best gift he could ever receive. For the rest of his life, whenever he saw any of the Jensen family, or split a big block of wood, Matt would remember that night, and those cherished memories would always bring back the same joy that he felt as he rode home with his Pa on that very cold night. His father may not have presented him with his first rifle way back then, but instead had given him the very best Christmas of his life.
Merry Christmas, and may God bless you all.