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A Christmas Story



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 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,


That was all he said and then he turned and went

back into the wood- shed 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 the 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? The

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?"

The Widow Jensen opened the door to 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. The 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 the 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 the 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


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


Tears were running down the 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 the 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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Isn't that what Christmas is about?


I sure hope I've taught our kids that it's about the giving - that Santa teaches that we should give without expecting any return. Hey, that's what he does.


I sure can't match that father. But, every Christmas, our kids each picked out the present they wanted most - and gave it to the local orphanage. Some years, they got the same themselves. But not always. And they were always happy. And are incredible volunteers now that they are adults.

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