By Karen Treharne
According to my father, Dale, it was Christmas Eve, 1892, and his dad, Edward, was a ten-year-old boy who was feeling mighty sorry for himself because there had been no money again this year for his parents to buy him his own hunting rifle.
All the chores had been done early that night, so after supper Eddie took his boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace, waiting for his father to read from the Bible. He wasn’t actually in a mood for scripture, but he didn’t voice his feelings.
His dad surprised him, though, when instead of taking the Book from the shelf, he bundled up and went outside. About 20 minutes later, when he came back in, there was ice on his beard. "Come on Eddie," he said, "Get your coat and hat on. It’s cold out tonight."
Ed was rather upset. Not only wasn’t he getting a gun for Christmas, now his Pa was taking him out in the cold.
In front of the house, the work team stood hitched to the big sled. Eddie knew something was up.
His father asked him to help set the high sideboards in place, then went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood.
"Pa, what are you doing?"
"Well, Son, I rode by the Widow Patterson’s place today, and little Billy was out digging in the woodpile trying to find a few chips." He paused and stared at his son. "They’re out of wood, Son."
That was all he said as he returned for another stack. Ed followed after him and by the time the sled was loaded, it was a wonder the horses were able to pull it.
Then his father, John, brought a big ham and a side of bacon from the shed. He handed them to his son and told him to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned, he was carrying a sack of flour over his left shoulder and a smaller sack of something else in his right hand.
"What’s in the sack, Pa?" the boy asked.
"Shoes. Billy had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when I saw him this morning." He placed some sticks of candy on the seat between them as he climbed up beside his son.
Eddie was trying to understand. His family certainly didn’t have much by worldly standards They did have a big woodpile (although not as big as it had been) and enough meat and flour to spare. Even so, he knew there were neighbors who lived closer to the Patterson’s who should be the ones to help, instead of his family.
After they had traveled the two miles to the Patterson’s house, my great-grandfather, John, and his son, Ed, quietly unloaded the wood. Then they took the meat, flour and shoes to the door. When they knocked, a small, timid voice asked, "Who’s there?"
"John Stephens, Ma’am, and my son, Ed. Could we come in for a spell?"
The widow opened the door. A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders, and her three children were huddled close together in front of the fireplace whose small fire barely gave off any heat at all.
"We brought you a few things, Ma’am," Eddie’s Pa said, setting down the sack of flour. The boy put the meat on the table while his father gave the woman the sack of shoes. She slowly opened it and took them out one at a time. There were four pair, one for her and one each for her children. She bit her trembling lower lip and her eyes filled with tears. She looked at John as if to say something, but no words came out.
"We brought a load of wood, too, Ma’am. Let’s get that fire going so we can heat this place up."
Ed had a lump in his throat as he looked at those three cold kids and Mrs. Patterson, unable to speak because of her gratitude. His own heart swelled with pride at how his father had blessed this needy family.
When the fire was blazing and spirits were soaring, his Pa handed each of the children a piece of candy, and Mrs. Patterson turned to him and said, "God bless you. I know the Lord himself sent you, because we have been praying that He would send one of his angels to us."
Ed had never thought of his father as an angel before.
John insisted that everyone try on their shoes, and they all fit perfectly. Ed just figured that since his Pa was on the Lord’s mission, the Lord would have made sure that he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down the Widow’s face again when they stood up to leave. His Pa gave each of the kids a hug which they seemed reluctant to end. Ed could see that they missed their own dad who had died just a little over a year ago, and he was thankful that he still had his.
At the door, John invited Mrs. Patterson and her family to Christmas dinner. "We’ll be over to pick you up around eleven," he said. "It will be nice to have some little ones around again."
After they had ridden a piece, John turned to his son. "You know Eddie, the money I spent on the shoes and candy was supposed to be for your rifle." He watched as his son digested his words. "We’ve been putting that money away all year. But on the way to town this morning, when I saw Billy scratching in the woodpile with no shoes on his feet, I knew what I had to do. I hope you understand."
Ed understood well enough. He was glad that his Pa did what he had done. That rifle was real low on his list of priorities at the moment, as he realized that his father had given him so much more. He had been given the opportunity to see the look on Widow Patterson’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children. And those memories brought joy to his heart every time he told the story or thought about that night.
His father had given him the best Christmas of his life, and because Ed’s son had passed the story on to me and my brother, we also never forgot the true meaning of the celebration of the birth of Christ – that giving to those less fortunate than ourselves is worth more than receiving any gift.
Karen Treharne is a published writer who loves to write about the Lord and what He has done in her life and others. You can write to Karen through the Letters page of this magazine.