It was Christmas Eve, 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle thatI'd wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that night. 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." Not only wasn't I getting the rifle, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold for no earthly reason. 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.There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. It wasn't going to be ashort, 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. I wasn't happy. When I was on,Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in frontof 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, what we were goingto do would be a lot bigger with the high side-boards on.After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went in to the woodshed and came out with an arm load of wood – the wood I'd spent all summer hauling downfrom the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting."Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?"“You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" heasked. 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?"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the wood pile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt." That was all he saidand then he turned and went back into the woodshed foranother armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded thesled so high that I began to wonder if the horses wouldbe able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading,then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down abig ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me andtold me to put them in the sled and wait. When hereturned he was carrying a sack of flour and a smallersack of something."What's in the little sack?" I asked.“Shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrappedaround his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It wouldn'tbe Christmas without candy.”We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's prettymuch in silence. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big wood pile,though most of what was left now was still in the formof logs that I would have to saw and split before wecould use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so whywas Pa buying them shoes and candy? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern.We unloaded the wood as quietly as possible then we took the meat, 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 wecome in for a bit?"Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting infront of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with amatch 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 init. 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 wouldlast. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling andthen tears filled her eyes and started running down hercheeks."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. Therewere 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 shecouldn'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 livesof 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 Widow Jensen looked on witha smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time.She turned to us. "God bless you," she said. “We have been praying that God would send one of His angels."In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throatand the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those exact terms before. I was sure thata better man than Pa had never walked the earth. Istarted 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 it.Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered howhe had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that ifhe was on an errand for the Lord, He would make surehe 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 hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa.At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said,"The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children overfor Christmas dinner tomorrow. A man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too manymeals. We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again." I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you. Maythe Lord bless you; I know for certain that He will."Out on the sled I felt warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold. Pa turned to meand said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and I have been tucking a little money away here andthere 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 I were real excited,thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and Istarted into town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the wood pile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and alittle candy for those children. I hope you understand.”I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I was so glad Pa had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had givenme a lot more. He had given me the look on WidowJensen'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. Pa had given me the best Christmas of my life.
Cheers and Merry Christmas
The Decker Family