Once upon a time not so long ago in a place where the cold winds blow, a God-fearing family lived. A family much like my own, comfortable in their lives, living and working hard in rural America. This is a story of my own, but the core idea came from a Facebook post I read that struck a chord with me. I wrote my story later not realizing how similar it was. I don’t know who the original author is, but would like to thank them for the inspiration, since I grew up in a home very similar to the one mentioned in this story.
Falling between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, December is the height of the holiday season! Many homes will celebrate one of the varying ceremonies, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah or maybe Kwanzaa, but all of these have a central theme of good will towards our fellow men/women. As a rule, I try to keep my articles to a trucking subject, or at least about truck people, so we are going to give my story a new twist. The original story was told to be about a farm family around the time of the Great Depression. With that being said, I think we will stay with the rural setting and make the father a milk hauler.
During the depression days, most people didn’t own cars, and if they did there wasn’t money for gas, even if it was available. As a child, my own father hauled milk from our family farm and other farms locally to the bottling plant located in the county seat. That’s how he met my mother, who was waiting tables at a restaurant up on the highway. But that’s a story for another time – let’s get back to my “trucker style” Christmas story. Call the kiddos around, load them into the sleeper and read this aloud in the glow of your chicken lights.
It was a cold, snowy and windy afternoon when young Jim and his dad set out to do their evening chores. They had fed the livestock early and put the chickens in the coop. The milk parlor was warm and smelled of fresh hay. Jim always enjoyed this time of the day, since it was when his dad got home, having finished up with his milk run, and put the team in the barn. This was when Jim got to spend time with his father, working alongside his hero, the one man he knew he could trust and count on no matter what life threw at him.
Jim’s father was a great provider for his family and young Jim hoped he too would learn to be like his dad, who drove a team of draft horses, loaded cans and hauled milk to the processing plant in town. The times were hard and there wasn’t extra money for luxuries, so both Jim and his father took turns hunting for game to feed the family. This was the year Jim turned 15 years old and all he could think about was getting a new Winchester rifle. He had asked his dad for one for Christmas. Hoping his wish would be granted, Jim was excited for Christmas to hurry up and get here so he could do all the hunting and take on more of the family’s responsibilities his father had to do.
Owning a gun was one of the first steps to becoming a man. It was and is a great responsibility. Jim so wished he would get that rifle! On December 24th, the day of Christmas Eve, like most kids he had been watching for any packages under the tree that could hide his treasure, but none had appeared, and it didn’t look like any more would come. Remember, this was during the Great Depression and money was hard to come by. With the chores all done and nothing else to do outside, they went into the house where Jim’s mother had made supper. Jim ate in silence and sulked around the house after they finished, sure his wish wasn’t going to be granted. His father was reading the Bible, something the family did every night, thanking God for the blessings they had and asking forgiveness for those who may have strayed.
Jim’s father had read for a short time and then all at once he rose up and got dressed to go back outside. This was a strange thing since Jim knew all the chores were complete and they weren’t expecting any company this evening. Out the door he went without a word. Minutes later he returned, rubbing his hands, brushing away some snow and looking for his warm work gloves. “Jim,” he said. “Would you dress and come help me. I have something to do and I need your help.” Jim replied, “But dad, it’s cold out and all the chores are done!” But his father persisted, saying, “Jim, please, I need your help!” With that out the door he went. What could Jim do except get dressed and follow his dad out into the cold. He looked to his mother for an explanation, but she just smiled and shooed him out the door.
Father was leading their team of work horses from the barn all hitched to the sled. The wind had picked up and there was fresh snow falling, covering everything, making it look all new and clean. “What are you doing?” he asked his father. “We are on a mission tonight, but first we need to change the side boards out from my short milk racks to the tall sides for hauling wood.” Jim didn’t know what this was all about, but it didn’t look as though it was going to be over quick. With the tall sides on the sled they started loading firewood until Jim wasn’t sure the team could even move it. His father still hadn’t said a word about what they were doing. Jim was deeply concerned since he had been cutting this wood through the summer and fall to keep their house warm this winter. Now they were loading it up to take it someplace else. When the last of the wood was loaded, his father went into the smokehouse and grabbed two large hams and instructed Jim to get a couple birds, too. After loading them up, they headed down the driveway.
When the two of them rounded the front of their house, Jim’s mom ran out carrying a wood box tied-up with a red ribbon. With her shawl flopping in the wind and a coat wrapped around her, she too climbed up onto the seat next to Jim’s dad. The two of them smiled and started singing songs of the season. With the jingling of the horses’ harnesses and the sweet sound of Christmas carols, the snow continued to fall as they went down the road. No one had said where they were going, so Jim just enjoyed the closeness of his family. They hadn’t gone far when Jim’s father stopped singing and told them to be as quite as they could be, because they were going to unload the wood at the Jensen farm, but he didn’t want them to hear.
As the three of them unloaded the firewood, Jim’s dad told him the story of what happened to Mr. Jensen. He had been working on a neighbor’s roof when the support beam broke and he fell. Having broken both his legs and one arm he could not work. The Jensens didn’t have any family who lived close by to help them, so they had fallen on hard times – even harder than most folks. Jim’s dad said when he was on his milk route that morning, he drove past the Jensen farm and noticed Nettie, the oldest of their children who was about Jim’s age, loading some rotted and green wood from a very small supply and she didn’t have any shoes. Her feet were wrapped in pieces of old feed sacks and newspaper. As Jim looked at his own feet, covered with warm wool socks and sturdy good shoes, he couldn’t help but think how fortunate he was.
With the sled all empty, Jim’s dad told him to get a big armful of wood and then the family started for the house, singing one of their favorite carols very loudly. Mrs. Jensen came to the door unsure as to what was going on. Jim’s family finished their song and then they were invited in, just in time, too, since the wood was getting heavy on Jim’s arms. Father told Jim to build up a big fire and warm the house, because, “It’s Christmas Eve!” Mrs. Jensen started to protest, but dad explained there was more wood in the shed – enough to see them through the winter. Mr. Jensen sat in his chair stunned, and then Jim’s dad dropped the hams and birds on the table, telling them we had plenty more in our storeroom, and if we ran short, Jim could always hunt up some more. And, if they (the Jensens) needed more, send one of the kids down and they were welcome to have some. Seeing the gratitude in Mr. Jensen’s eyes, Jim couldn’t help but be prideful of his own dad’s generosity.
Mrs. Jensen had set the table with hot drinks to shake the cold from their visitors when Jim’s mom stepped up and handed over her gift box. Jim still had no idea what surprises it held, but from the look on his mom’s face, he could tell it was a gift of love. Not sure what to do first, Mrs. Jensen called the children around for them to open the box. The ribbon was gently removed so it could be used again, and then what to my wondering eyes should appear? It was shoes and warm socks, enough for the whole family. Along with the socks were pieces of candy for the children and a couple oranges. Jim’s dad never did tell how he came by those oranges. Truth be told, he must have promised someone a bunch of labor in exchange.
With all the gifts given and the newfound treasures accepted with glee, it was time to ride home. Jim’s mom wrapped her scarf around her neck and hugged Mrs. Jensen goodbye. Before they left, she made Mrs. Jensen promise to bring the whole family down to our house for Christmas dinner the next day. Jim’s dad said he would be there to pick them up at 11:00, adding, “Bring your hunger. We got a big turkey Jim shot and there is plenty to go around!”
On the way home, Jim’s father explained they had been saving a little money all year to buy Jim that rifle and he was going to town that very day to pick it up when he saw little Nettie getting the wood. He told Jim it hurt him deeply that people were in such need and there was little he could do. Jim’s dad said he wrestled with his thoughts all morning, knowing how much he wanted to reward his son for becoming the man he had hoped for, but also knowing the responsibility of providing for those who were in such need. The father looked at Jim and said, “The price of being a man is doing what you know is right, even though you will disappoint others.” Jim’s father continued, “I took all the money we saved for you and purchased shoes and socks for them. I hope you understand and will forgive me.” Jim replied, “No! You must forgive me for being so selfish and not seeing the needs of those around us!”
We rode the rest of the way home in silence. Jim could not have been prouder to be his father’s son than he was that night. The next morning, Jim’s dad picked up the Jensen family right on time and they all had a grand time at dinner. To my surprise, they all wore their new shoes, showing Jim’s father they fit. Mrs. Jensen couldn’t understand how dad knew to buy the right sizes. All he would say is, “When you do God’s work, he gives you good instructions.” After the meal was finished, Mr. Jensen sent Nettie out to get a package. When she returned, she gave it to Jim. Mr. Jensen said it was a rifle he had bought for himself just before his accident, but since he didn’t know if he would ever walk again, he wanted to give it to Jim. Nettie smiled and said if he got good with it and got some extra birds, she would make them into a special dinner.
That was a long time ago. Jim shot many birds with that rifle and Nettie did make that dinner. In fact, she has been making it every Christmas for all the years they have been married since. Mr. Jensen did recover and he, along with Jim, hunted the holiday turkey for many years, providing meals to those who were less fortunate than themselves.
Jim and Nettie’s parents are gone now, so they are the elders. Jim still has his dad’s family bible, the one they were married with, and the same one he reads to their children and grandchildren from. Every Christmas Eve they get it out and read the passage that says (in God’s eyes) it is better to give from the heart than to receive. That rifle has been passed down to Jim’s son along with the tradition of hunting for that special bird. Jim has told and retold the favorite family story of how one grandfather traded four pairs of shoes and a stack of firewood to the other grandfather for a good rifle and their mother. One gave HOPE and the other gave LOVE… now that is a pretty good trade!
May this story stir the threads of your imagination and give you cause to spin a yarn or two of your own. This is the time of year for family, friends and sharing. If you don’t have close kin to call this year, then take the time to make a stranger feel like family. Share a meal with someone new or, as I like to do, be the secret Santa. Give gifts to those less fortunate and those in need. And don’t forget our military men and women – not only those overseas, but the ones serving here at home, too. I like to give to their charities, and my favorite is The Marine Corps TOYS FOR TOTS. If your kids are all grown or you don’t have any, then lighten the load of a fellow worker who has kids. I often work the holidays so families can be together. If you see me out there wearing my big red hat, keep your load in your lane and the skis on the ground. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way… happy holidays, 10-4!