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
were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It
from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not
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 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. 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
read scriptures. But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled
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
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
one's feet when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put
boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a
smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up,
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
going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick little job. I could
We never hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big
Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly
beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy.
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
sideboards," he said. "Here, help me." The high
sideboards! It had
a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on,
whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high
sideboards on. When we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into
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.
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
before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight.
Sure, I'd been by, but so what? "Yeah," I said,
"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was
out digging around
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 woodshed
for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the
that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it.
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
me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was
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
around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I
children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without
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. f 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
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
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.
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
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket
around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and
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
the lamp. "We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said
and set down
sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed
that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the
out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each
children---sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last.
I watched her carefully. She bit her lower
lip to keep it from
and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks.
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,
then he turned to
me and said, "Matt, go bring enough in to last for awhile.
that fire up to size and heat this place up." I wasn't the
when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat
and, much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too.
mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and
their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks and so
much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak. My heart
within me and a joy filled my soul that I'd never known before. I
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
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
long time. She finally turned to us. "God bless you,"
she said. "I know
the Lord himself has sent you. The children and I have been praying that
he would send one of his children to spare us." In spite of
lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again.
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, save One.
I started remembering all the times he had gone out
of his way for Ma
me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.
insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed
they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get.
guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would
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
They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they
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.
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
get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones
again. Matt here, hasn't been little for quite a spell."
I was the
youngest. My two older brothers and two older sisters were all
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
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
"Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been
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
little money from years back came by to make things square. Your
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
little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in
those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. So, Son, I spent
money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears
again. I understood
well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Just then the rifle seemed very
low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He
me the look on Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three
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
felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much
rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life