The Christmas Rifle

Christmas Memorabilia

I didn’t write this, but I wish I had!

 

The Christmas Rifle

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or for those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the
necessities. But for who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors.

It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from not from receiving. It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was
fifteen 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 badly 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 the Bible.

So after supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace, waiting 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.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, but, 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 dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up, 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.

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 were going to do wasn’t going to be a short or quick or 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.

The cold was already biting at me, and I wasn’t happy. When I 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 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 sideboards on.

After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood – the wood I’d
spent all summer hauling down from the mountain and all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something.

“Pa,” 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 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,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging
around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said.

He then 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, Pa called a halt to our loading and went to the smokehouse where 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 the little sack?” I asked. “Shoes. They’re out of shoes.
Little Jakey just had gunnysacks 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 Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of 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 flour, so 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 the blind side of the Jensen house, unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, and took the meat
and flour and shoes around to the front 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 we come 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 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 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 in it. 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 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 Pa like she wanted to say something, but it
wouldn’t
come out. “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 and, as much as I hate to 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
saving the lives of 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 with a smile
that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long
time.

She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “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 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.

I started 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 how he had known what
sizes to
get. 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, 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. The 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 by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to
have some little
ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite
a spell.”
I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all
married
and had moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you”. Out
on
the sled, I felt 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
said, “Matt, I want you
to know something. Your ma 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 ma
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
gunnysacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I
spent your rifle 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 Pa had
done it.

Now the rifle seemed very low on my
list of priorities. Pa had given
me a lot more. He had given me the look on
Widow 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 Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle
that
night; he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

The author has been a writer/photographer for over thirty years. Specializing in nature and landscape photography, as well as studying native cultures.

His travels have taken him to most of the United States, as well as Australia, Belize, Egypt and the Canary Islands.

He has studied the Mayan culture of Central America as well as the aborigines of Australia. Photography has given him the opportunity to observe life in various parts of the world.

He has published several books about his adventures.

For more information, please consult his website,www.journeysthrulife.com.

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