“Get up, Kevin.”
I looked over to the other side of the room at my brother’s bed. He lay asleep, curled up tightly in the blankets against the cold. This morning ritual began a year ago when Dad had traded half the rabbits, complete with cages, for a milk goat named Colleen. It was my job to milk her while Kevin fed her and cleaned out her cage.
“What time is it?” Kevin asked as he got up and dressed, noticing the light filtering into the room.
“It’s six-thirty.” I was fully clothed and standing by my dresser, putting on my coat and knit cap. The coat smelled of alfalfa hay and dried milk.
“Hi, Mom,” we said in unison as we walked downstairs. I opened the back door, grabbing the clean steel milking pail on our way out. As we walked toward the barn, we noticed that water from the lake had vaporized into a thin fog that drifted across the nearby horse pastures. The ground, just beginning to thaw, felt like thick peanut butter on our boots.
“Kevin, what do you want for your birthday?” I asked. For the past two days I had been trying to think of what to get my seven-year-old brother. I didn’t have any money to buy a present, and there was no snow to shovel to earn a few dollars, either.
“I don’t know,” Kevin said as he scooped up some alfalfa pellets with a cut-out bleach bottle and poured them into a container by Colleen’s milking stand. “Why don’t you do my chores for me tomorrow morning?” He was referring to a tradition in our family—if it was your birthday, other members of the family did your chores for you.
“OK.” But I wanted to get him something else, something more than what was done traditionally.
“Tim and Kevin,” Dad called, “it’s time for breakfast.”
After leading Colleen back to her pen, we carried the milk into the house and placed it on the counter, then sat down to eat. The steaming cereal, cooled by yesterday’s milk, tasted sweet because of the addition of honey and raisins.
“Time for school,” Mom said when we had finished eating. After grabbing our schoolbooks, we returned to the living room for family prayer, then left for school.
Kevin’s elementary school was just under two miles away, while I only had to walk a half-mile to the middle school. Each day Kevin silently wished we lived a quarter mile to the south, making him eligible to ride the school bus that picked up many of his classmates. On most mornings, we witnessed them entering the bus at the beginning of its route. Kevin would stop, watch for a moment, then continue walking, most of the time arriving at his school long after the bus had dropped off its passengers. It was a cruel part of his day, especially on snowy or really cold winter mornings.
“See you later,” I said, watching him walk away when we reached my school.
All day I thought more about his birthday. I remembered last summer, when he had weeded all of the neighbor’s vegetable garden to earn money to buy me a present. It was a small, single-bladed pocketknife he had bought secondhand at a thrift store. He had removed the rust with steel wool, then shined the blade and the handle with silver polish.
That night when I said my prayers, I asked Heavenly Father to help me find Kevin a gift.
After a fitful sleep, I awoke before the morning light had entered our bedroom. I dressed quietly in the darkness and glanced over to see Kevin wrapped in his blankets. I tiptoed downstairs and outside.
The landscape had changed from the morning before. A snowstorm had arrived, and the snow blew around me. A little blew into the house before I could close the door. I hurried to the barn, wanting to complete the morning chores quickly.
Just as I finished, I noticed something tucked into a corner of the barn. I hadn’t seen it since the summer before, and it gave me an idea for Kevin’s birthday.
I quickly ran back to the house to drop off the milk, grabbed a bucket of warm, soapy water and some old rags and carried them out to the barn. The dust of a winter and the rust from the dampness made cleaning difficult, but I kept working. Finally the call for breakfast came.
The smell of bacon and pancakes, food reserved for Sundays before church and other special days, met me at the door. We sat and ate, Kevin happy because of his seventh birthday, and me nervous, hoping he would like my present for him.
“Time for school,” Mom said as Kevin finished the last pancake. After family prayer, we went out into the gray snowstorm.
“Kevin, I have a present for you. It’s in the barn.” He followed me around the house and into the barn.
There stood our old red wagon, washed clean, then polished with car wax I had found on a shelf above the alfalfa pellets. A small wool blanket covered the bottom, and on the side of the wagon I had carefully painted “School Bus” with some old house paint.
“Get in, Kevin. You don’t have to walk to school today. This is your bus.”
His face lit up, and he scrambled in. I put another blanket around him so he would keep warm.
I pulled the wagon out of the barn, past the house, and onto the snow-packed road. Mom and Dad stood on the porch, watching the delight on Kevin’s face.
“Everyone off!” I yelled as we pulled onto the sidewalk just in front of the entrance to Kevin’s school. I tried to sound like a bus driver, and he laughed with me at my attempt. I hurried back down the road with the wagon, and once I arrived at my own school, I hid it in some bushes.
When the final bell rang, I ran outside, rescued the wagon from the bushes, and hurried back to the elementary school.
I arrived just after the bell rang, and saw Kevin with two excited friends. “Tim, can they come with us?”
“Sure,” I said. “Everybody ‘booooard,” I yelled like a bus driver. Kevin climbed in first; the other two squeezed in behind him.
By the time I pulled the wagon to the second boy’s home, I was really tired.
“Tim, I’ll pull you the rest of the way home,” Kevin offered.
“No, it’s your birthday. I want to do this.” That night as I got into bed, I felt too tired to pray. I couldn’t remember a time when I’d been more tired. My legs and back ached, and my hands were sore and blistered from gripping the wagon handle. I lay in the darkness, thinking about the presents Kevin had received from Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and me. Just before I drifted off to sleep, I heard “Tim?”
“Out of all the presents I got today, yours was the best.”
“Thanks,” I said. Then I remembered my prayer from the night before. I crawled out of bed, knelt on the cold wood floor, and thanked Heavenly Father for helping me find my brother a birthday gift.