When I was growing up, we had all we needed, food, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads. We lived in the era where you got one item for Christmas and that item normally was gloves, boots, a shirt, or something that was useful. If the crops were good that year and no droughts, storms, or other unforeseen crisis we would get a special gift. We also cut and split firewood all spring and summer to sell during the winter to get through the lean months. This had been a good year, I was excited because this meant I might be getting an extra gift this year. I was the youngest of three and my siblings had moved a couple fields over and had families of their own now. I had turned 16 over the summer and I had a hunting rifle I had been hunting with since I was 7 years old.
I had been wanting a pistol to take with me when we were mending the fences in case I ran into a wild animal, snake, or you never knew what you might need it for. A couple of my friends already had one and my heart was set on it. About a week before Christmas I overheard my parents talking, they should be able to get the pistol I wanted. I was on cloud nine the entire week. Two days before Christmas dad had took a load of firewood to a customer one county over. By the time he came back I had finished up the chores and was getting washed up for dinner. Dads face when he came through the door was bleak. Mom noticed immediately and asked what was wrong? Dad just shook his head and washed his hands and sat down to eat.
We ate in silence and half way through the meal he told us what was bothering him; On the way back from delivering the wood he had went by the farm where a widow lived with her small four children. The dad had died that summer in a freak logging accident, and the kids all under 10 was outside digging in the snow for limbs to burn for the fire. He said he had five pieces of wood left on his trailer that had been pushed back under some straw and dropped it off to them for the night. He told the widow he be back tomorrow with more. But the part that bothered him most was one kid had on their dads boots that both feet could fit in one, and two of the others had socks on with burlap wrapped around them, where they had no shoes.
The kids had on their dad’s old shirts that went to the ground. No coats. Dad looked at mom and said we should’ve checked on them sooner. I went to bed that night and couldn’t get them off my mind. The next morning, I saw dad getting ready to go into town. I hollered and asked if I could go. Dad nodded and I grabbed my coat. Dad and I rode into town in silence. When we got to the General Store we went in and when we came out, I was smiling bigger than I had ever smiled before. I couldn’t wait to get home and show mom. Dad looked at me on the way home and smiled a crooked smile. I felt he was disappointed over the pistol. We arrived home and I showed mom with a smile. Mom looked at dad, then looked at me and hugged me and told me she was so proud with tears running down her face. There on the table was coats, boots, gloves, and a small toy for each child.
Dad put four pieces of licorice on the table and smile and said what’s Christmas without candy?! I told mom she needed to get to wrapping while we go load the trailer with wood. Dad smiled and shook his head and said you heard your son. When we came back in, mom had everything wrapped in brown paper and we saw one with the widow’s name on it. She smiled and said she had extra scarf and a dress she didn’t need. When we got there you could see the kids watching out the window. They had been anticipating our visit. We started unloading the wood next to the house to make it easy for them to bring in. When we were finished, we took an armload inside for them and I froze. The house was barely warmer than outside. There were only a few embers burning.
Dad walked over and started to pile wood on the fire and the room was warm in minutes. I had brought the bag of goodies in but had stood shocked at what I saw. The kids were wrapped in blankets trying to stay warm. The kids went to my dad and wrapped their arms around his waist and was smiling like he was their hero. I looked at the mother and she had tears running down her face. Dad looked at me and said, “son it’s your turn.” I handed out the clothes, toys, and candy. We got ready to leave and I looked at the kids sitting by the fire eating their licorice and playing with their small toy smiling. Dad had gone outside and came back in with an armload of ham, potatoes, flour and eggs. The mother started crying harder. She went straight to the stove and started preparing a meal for the kids. That’s when the tears flowed down my face. We made it a point to visit once a week after that with wood, groceries, and when we could a surprise for the kids. That Christmas was the best Christmas ever and the Christmas I became a man with compassion.