Today’s Illustration: The Best Christmas Gift Of My Life

[Including Links To The Author’s Original Story]

by Matt Miles . . . . .

It was ChristmasEve 1942.I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me becausethere just hadn’t beenenoughmoneyto buymethe rifle that I’d wanted for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Daddy wanted a little extra time so wecouldreadintheBible.AftersupperwasoverItookmybootsoffandstretchedoutinfrontof the fireplace and waited for Daddy 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 Daddy didn’t get the Bible instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out becausewehadalreadydoneallthechores.Ididn’tworry aboutitlongthoughIwastoobusy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon he came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” hesaid.”Bundle upgood,it’s cold outtonight.”I was really upsetthen.Notonly wasn’t I gettingthe rifle forChristmas,nowhewasdraggingmeoutinthecold,andfornoearthly reasonthatIcould see.We’d alreadydoneallthechores,andIcouldn’tthinkofanythingelsethatneededdoing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew he was not very patient at one draggingone’s feet whenhe’d toldthemtodosomething,soI gotupandputmybootsbackonandgotmycoat. Mommy 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 hitchedtothebigsled.Whatever itwasweweregoingtodowasn’tgoingtobeashort,quick,little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Daddy 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, Daddy pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed.He gotoff 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 side boards on.

Then Daddy went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood -the wood I’d spent all summerhaulingdownfromthemountain,andthenallFall sawingintoblocksandsplitting.What washedoing?Finally Isaidsomething.Iasked,”What areyoudoing?””YoubeenbytheWidow Jensen’slately?” heasked.Mrs.Jensenlivedabouttwomilesdowntheroad.Herhusbandhaddied 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,” he said. “Little Jakey was out diggingaround in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” 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 sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, he called a halt to our loading then we went to the smoke house and he 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 thelittle sack?” I asked.Shoes,they’re outofshoes.Little Jakey justhadgunnysacks 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 Mrs. Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Daddy was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, thoughmostofwhatwasleftnowwasstillintheformoflogsthatIwouldhavetosawintoblocks 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 he buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any ofthis?Widow Jensenhadcloserneighborsthanus;itshouldn’thavebeenourconcern.

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 timidvoicesaid,”Who isit?” “LucasMiles,Ma’am,andmyson,Matt,couldwecomeinforabit?” Mrs. 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 in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Mrs. Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

“We broughtyouafewthings,Ma’am,”Daddysaidandsetdownthesackofflour.Iputthemeaton thetable.Thenhehandedherthesackthathadtheshoesinit.Sheopenedithesitantly andtookthe 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 my Daddy like she wanted to say something,but it wouldn’t come out.

“We broughtaloadofwoodtoo,Ma’am,”hesaid.Thenturnedtomeandsaid,”Matt,gobringin enoughtolastawhile.Let’s getthatfireuptosizeandheatthisplaceup.”Iwasn’t thesameperson whenIwentbackouttobringinthewood.IhadabiglumpinmythroatandasmuchasIhateto 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 savingthelivesofthesepeople.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Daddy handed them each a piece of candy and Mrs. 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 neverthoughtofmyDaddyinthoseexacttermsbefore,butafterWidow JensenmentioneditI could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Daddy had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Mommy and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Daddy insisted that everyone try on the shoesbefore we left. I was amazedwhen they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get.Then I guessedthat if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

TearswererunningdownWidow Jensen’sfaceagainwhenwestooduptoleave.MyDaddytook 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 Daddy and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door he turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the childrenoverforChristmasdinnertomorrow.Theturkeywill bemorethanthethreeofuscaneat,

andamancangetcantankerousifhehastoeatturkeyfortoomanymeals.We’ll bebytogetyou abouteleven.It’ll benicetohavesomelittle onesaroundagain.Matt,here,hasn’tbeenlittle for quite a spell.” I was the youngest.My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Mrs.Jensennoddedandsaid,”Thankyou,Brother Miles.Idon’thavetosay,MaytheLordblessyou. 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 gonea ways, Daddy turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something.Your Mother 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 Mom 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 Daddyhaddoneit.Nowtherifle seemedvery lowonmylistofpriorities. Hehadgivenmealot more. He had given me the look on Mrs. 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 of my daddy that night. He had given me much more than a rifle that night -he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

PDF Copy
Christmas Eve 1942

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