the christmas rifle

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guru of nothing
Dec 4, 2015
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The Christmas rifle

Pa and The Rifle
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 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 giving,
not from receiving.

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 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

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." 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 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.

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,
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. The cold was already biting at me.
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 then 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
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
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 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, 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 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 gunny sacks 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 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
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. "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 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. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand
for the Lord that the Lord would make 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 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, Brother Miles.
I don't have to say, "'May the Lord bless you,' 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 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 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 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 Jensen's, 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.
~by Rian B. Anderson
Cogito, ergo armatus sum.