“It’s just not fair!” grumbled Jason at the close of family council. “Now I know I’ll never get a set of walkie-talkies for Christmas.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Jason,” Dad said with disappointment, “but the family has voted, and our decision stands. We will use most of our Christmas money to make gifts and buy supplies for a needy family. You’ll still get one present from Santa, and you’ll still exchange gifts with your sisters.”
Jason continued to sulk while Dad spoke again to the whole family. “Before we can make any definite plans,” he said, “we have to know more about the needy family. I’ll talk to Bishop Carson tomorrow to see if he can help us. As soon as we know the ages and interests of the children, you can decide what presents to make. Your mother and I will make gifts for the parents, OK?”
Everyone except Jason agreed happily. He sat quietly in his chair, thinking about last Christmas. When he closed his eyes, he could almost smell the sweet fragrance of the gumdrops and candy canes that had overflowed from his stocking hanging from the mantel. He could see the majestic, towering Christmas tree twinkling with brightly colored lights. Under it were piles of presents wrapped with red and green paper and golden bows begging to be undone. But this year …
One present! Jason thought. Last year I had at least ten neat presents. I got a race car set, and … no, I got that for my birthday. He tried and tried to remember the gifts that he had eagerly opened last Christmas, but he couldn’t think of even one.
Three days later Dad called another family council. Kristen, Meg, and Jamie skipped into the living room; Jason shuffled in slowly behind them.
“We have a family!” Dad announced. “Their name is Blakely. They haven’t been to church for several years, so I doubt that you’ve ever met them. There are four girls close to your own ages.”
“Girls, Dad?” Jason asked in annoyed surprise. “I have to make a present for a girl?”
“Yes, Jason. Her name is Jennifer. Bishop Carson says that she is very shy. She likes books and dolls and horses. If you need some ideas for a present, I’m sure Kristen will help you.”
Jason quietly slipped out of the room. He put on his coat and went out into the brisk, snowy December air. “Three weeks until Christmas,” Jason grumbled, “and I have to make a present for a girl. I’m always surrounded by girls! Besides, what can I make for somebody I don’t even know? I can’t write well enough to make a book, I don’t know how to make a doll, and I sure don’t have a horse to give her.”
Jason soon found himself in his favorite thinking spot among a cluster of tall pine trees. Looking up, he could see a bright spot in the clouds, and he wished that the sun would break through, just for a moment, to brighten his mood. He wanted to feel the same sparkle that his sisters had, but it just wasn’t there. Dad’s right. I do need some help, he thought. But not from Kristen.
Glancing around to make sure that no one was watching, Jason knelt down, thinking of another boy who knelt in a grove of trees to pray over 150 years before. After Jason asked fervently for both peace of mind and an idea for a present, he got up, brushed the snow off an old stump, then sat on it to think. He noticed a fallen pine branch at his feet. The rough bark scratched his hand as he picked it up. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his treasured pocketknife.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “Santa gave me this pocketknife last Christmas.” Jason felt pleased that he had finally recalled one of his presents. How could he have forgotten such a great present that had helped him make bookends and figurines and neckerchief slides! He carefully opened the blade and whittled away the branch’s rough outer bark. Soon it was smooth and clear. As he handled the satiny piece of wood, an idea came to him. “A horse!” he exulted. “I can’t give Jennifer a real horse, but I can make her a wooden one! Thanks!” he shouted happily, looking up.
Jason ran all the way back to the house and upstairs to his room. There he found several photographs of horses in a book. After carefully choosing one, he cut an outline into the wood. It took almost two hours before he was satisfied with it. As he put the block of wood into his desk drawer, he heard a knock at his door.
Dad slipped into the room with a solemn look on his face. “Are you still upset, Jason? We haven’t seen you since family council.”
“No, I’m not upset anymore. I decided to go along with everyone else. And I even know what I’m going to make for Jennifer.”
Dad patted him on the shoulder. “Well, I came up here to help you work out your bad feelings, but it looks like you did it on your own.”
“Well, not exactly on my own. I had a little help.” Jason smiled, pointing upward.
Jason spent every spare moment for the next three weeks carving on the block of pine. Slowly the head and mane appeared, then the body and legs. The horse still looked somewhat chunky when Jason carved the tail. It’s not good enough yet, he thought. He started at the head again, whittling away the sharp edges. As the horse’s body became rounded and muscled, Jason was surprised at how much it really did look like a horse running in the wind. He carefully carved curvy lines in the mane and tail to make them look like they were flowing. Even the eyes looked real.
On Christmas Eve, the family gathered early to wrap the presents. Kristen had sewn a book jacket and embroidered her secret friend’s name on the front. Inside were copies of the standard works. Mom carefully folded the beautiful blue quilt that she had completed only the day before, while Dad gave a final inspection to the leather wallet that he had painstakingly crafted. Meg and Jamie had made Raggedy Ann dolls with a little help from Mom. As Jason placed the wooden horse on top of the bright paper, he felt a twinge of apprehension. Looking at the JENNIFER carved into the side of the horse’s base, he worried, I sure hope that she likes it.
The presents were carefully packed into a box. A canned ham, jars of Mom’s homemade strawberry jam, and other goodies were placed in a large wicker laundry basket, along with kitchen utensils, fluffy new towels, warm socks, and a board game. Six wide strands of ribbon held everything inside. After loading the station wagon, they all drove to the Blakelys’ street. Dad parked the car around the corner, and Jason helped him quietly carry the box to the Blakelys’ front door. The box was big, but it wasn’t very heavy. Jason had to strain, however, to lift his half of the laundry basket. His toe slipped on a crumbling corner of the porch, and he stumbled forward, almost dropping his end. As he stood up, he found himself facing the front window. A piece of cardboard had replaced a pane of glass. Peering over it, his eyes widened.
“Dad,” he whispered, “I don’t see a Christmas tree. Or presents. There aren’t even any stockings on the mantel. There’s only a sprig of holly tied to a light, and some paper chains taped on the walls!”
Jason scurried over to the big bush where Mom, Kristen, Meg, and Jamie were already hiding. As soon as he was there, Dad pounded on the door, then sprinted to the hiding place.
A few moments later a little girl opened the door. “Mom! Dad!” she shrieked. “Someone’s left Christmas on our porch!”
Soon the whole Blakely family was gathered on the porch. The girls started jumping up and down when their father read the words written on the box: “Merry Christmas! These presents were made especially for you by your secret friends.”
Jason held his breath as the Blakelys opened each package. The dolls were first and were met with hugs and kisses and taken immediately into the warmth of the house. When Sister Blakely saw the quilt, she hugged it just as gratefully, repeating over and over, “I can’t believe it.”
Where is Jennifer’s present? Jason thought anxiously as he watched Dad’s present being opened. I did put it in the box, didn’t I?
Brother Blakely exclaimed, “Look at the craftsmanship on this wallet, Honey—it’s hand-tooled. And there’s a ten-dollar bill inside!”
The oldest Blakely daughter looked overwhelmed as she slowly fingered her embroidered name. Opening the Book of Mormon, she pulled out a letter and went inside the house to read it.
“Kristen, what was that paper?” whispered Mom.
“I bore my testimony. I thought that that was the best present that I could give her, even if I had to sign it ‘Your Secret Friend.’”
Finally the last Blakely girl found her present and tore off the wrapping. She stared at it for a long moment. Jason felt a knot in his stomach. “She doesn’t like it,” he groaned.
Then, as Mom’s hand squeezed his arm in an effort to comfort him, Jennifer let out a delighted yelp and began to dance around the porch. She clutched the little horse close to her, and tears streamed down her face. “Mama,” she whooped, “this is the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen! This is the best Christmas ever!”
Jason felt tears swell up in his own eyes as he watched Brother Blakely lift the laundry basket into the house and shut the door against the cold. The tune of “Silent Night” floated into the night air as the Blakelys gave thanks for their Christmas Eve surprise.
Jason felt his father’s arm about his shoulders as they walked to the station wagon. “Are you ready to go home and open your presents from your sisters, Son?”
Jason hadn’t even thought of his own Christmas presents for three weeks. He had forgotten all about the walkie-talkie set that he’d wanted. Somehow it didn’t seem important anymore. The wooden horse was the only gift to remember this Christmas—he would never forget the look of joy on Jennifer’s face.