Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas story

Normally, I don't read through this kind of email. This one, though, I did. It was a new story to me, but the message is an old one that we often forget. With the panic of Christmas being a week away, and the media frenzy of commercials and cooking and decorating shows, news broadcasts giving "Must-buy" lists, we all need this reminder. Enjoy.

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 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." 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 side boards 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 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 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 mu ch 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 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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ain't misbehaving

(I think that's the first time that word - the a-word - has ever come from me!)

It's not a good sign when your doctor walks into the room and the first thing out of her mouth is "Have you been misbehaving again?" Although this time, I promise I was not doing anything I shouldn't be doing. Honestly!

I called the office this morning because all this week I'd been having pains where I shouldn't be having pain. In short, my girlie parts were hurting like crazy! It felt like this baby was about to fall out. Last night was the worst. I had no energy whatsoever, and every part of me from my belly to my feet hurt like crazy. My back and hips were killing me, and the pressure "down there" was horrendous! I tried making dinner, and had to bring a dining chair to the stove to sit in to form the meatballs. I did ask Chris to come in and put a pot of water on the stove to boil for noodles, and later got out the carrots and another pot for me to cook them in. I rested while the meat and noodles cooked, then made the gravy. I can't make real gravy to save my life; thank goodness for mixes that are quick and easy. Just that simple thing hurt so much, though, that I camped out on the couch again and asked him to bring me some dinner and something to drink. I just couldn't do anymore. I was hurting so badly I couldn't walk. So, I didn't. I ended up falling asleep on the couch,and woke up just before midnight to go to bed. I could walk then, but my belly was SO sore. Once I was in bed, I couldn't move.

This morning, I was feeling much better. Thankfully. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought I should call the nurse line just to make sure it was normal late-pregnancy pains. At this stage with Emma, I was at home all the time and not active at all, so I really couldn't compare. Also, that was twelve years ago! I can't remember what I felt like then. The nurse called me back, wrote down my symptoms, and checked with the doctor. Sure enough, I had to go in for a check. That is when I got the misbehaving line. Really, though, I have been VERY good lately and not doing anything I'm not supposed to do.

She did an internal exam, listened to Sophie's heartbeat, and measured whatever it is she measures. She asked me lots of questions about what I was feeling last night and what I had been doing leading up to that. It turns out I was having contractions! The real ones, too, not the fake Braxton Hicks whatevers that I don't think I've ever felt.

I was not expecting that at all.

Really, I was expecting a "You're fine, this is normal, go back to work and quit worrying" answer. Instead, I got detailed instructions on what to do if it happens again, when to call immediately, and what will be done to prevent early labour if it DOES happen again. The good news is everything inside is as it should be - closed up tight.
That was a big relief, since Sophie isn't done cooking yet! She still has quite a few more weeks to go!

I now also have doctor's orders to take it easier.... I thought I had been doing so well, but I have to do more. Or less, rather.... if I'm tired or achy at the end of the day, I'm to have Chris and Emma do the cooking and cleaning up. I have to cut back on other things, too. This is going to be a real challenge for me, I know.

But, I'll do it! I'll have to, to keep her in there as long as possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To tell the truth (a Santa story)

So it's that time of year again. The time when parents hide stashes of "stuff" and secret wrapping paper, fake handwriting on tags, eat cookies and drink milk in the middle of the night, after deciphering budding penmanship on sweet, "I've-been-so-good-angels-look-bad" letters.

Except I thought that part would be over by now.

Emma is 11, will turn 12 in just a few too-short months. A few years ago, she found where the Santa paper was hidden. (What she was doing wayyyyyyyyyy under the couch along the wall, I have no idea.) I was on the phone when she found it, and she was VERY upset. Luckily my call gave me a few extra minutes to think, and the best I came up with was "Santa must shop at Target also! And I bought that paper for Christmas and lost it!" I didn't think she bought it, but like the tooth fairy, she seemed to realize that if she admitted she knew the truth the extra gifts would stop.

Last year, many months after Christmas she and I were talking about her Nintendo DS. Does anyone else have trouble keeping up with which gifts were from you and which were from Santa?? I said something about finding it, or something along those lines that made it obvious we bought it, and she said "That one was from Santa, Mom." But again, she was fine; she seemed to understand the arrangement perfectly.

Then this year. Oh boy, this year...

It started at Thanksgiving dinner. We were with my parents, and they had invited a friend over. The conversation turned to my dad's siblings (ten in all) and I asked how many were born in September (four of them). The men joked about what Santa got for Christmas that year... my mom pointed out that I was a Christmas "present" also... and the Santa getting lucky jokes continued. I looked at Emma, who doesn't miss anything (unfortunately) and she wasn't phased a bit. I quickly changed the subject (this was my GRANDMA, people!) and everything was fine. She never brought it up.

Then on Sunday, we were getting our Christmas tree and decorations out of our storage building. Way back when Emma was four, Santa brought her the giant wooden Barbie house from the JC Penney catalog. It's 5 feet high, 4 feet wide, and three stories. Now that she is 11, it's been moved to storage also. I had to slide it out of the way to get to the Christmas decorations, and made the comment that it wasn't as sturdy as it was when we bought it. (Yeah, I know, bad mom...but it just slipped!) She called me out on it, and I told her that I actually said "when Santa brought it" not "when we bought it" although she wasn't convinced. But even as she was pouting, she was hiding laughter. Seemed like she was faking her upset, right?

That's what I thought. Last night my mom came to visit, and as she and Emma were at the dinner table working on homework I was cooking dinner. Emma was telling Mom about the dollhouse incident, and she was VERY upset still! I chalked it up to extra drama; she was tired and it was way past dinner time and she was starving. That combination just breeds crankiness and drama. The pouting continued all night, though, and when she went to bed she told Chris she said she didn't like being lied to.

Wow. I had assumed for the past couple years that she had figured out the whole Santa thing. She no longer corrected when people on TV talked about "the truth" and didn't react to adult conversations she overheard about Santa. I really thought she knew but was just keeping up appearances! I don't even remember how old I was when I figured it all out, but there was no issue or drama with it; it was just part of growing up. It never occurred to me she might feel betrayed or be upset by the whole thing!

So now what?