One Christmas morning I woke early. To my joy, the tree was surrounded with presents. The excitement of discovering what treasures waited inside the wrapping paper made up for the lack of snow.
We were quite poor, and most Christmases were meager. We lived on a farm and always had chores to do, even on Christmas Day. Right after we opened our gifts, my father left to do his chores.
I was praying that my mom wouldn’t make me stop playing with my new race car set to do my chores. When my dad returned, he told me he had done our chores for us. I was excited to spend the entire day in the warm house.
He then said something to my mother about Blanche, an elderly widow down the street who was looking for firewood. That was my dad, always caring for others. It seemed like everybody in town depended on him.
The next thing I knew my father was asking my brothers and me if we wanted to get some wood with him. I couldn’t believe it. On Christmas? I knew that wood was the only way Blanche could cook her food and heat her house. But couldn’t someone else get her firewood? Couldn’t we wait until tomorrow? Or couldn’t we just take her a little from our woodpile? Surely she had enough wood to last until then. But no. My father wanted to go into the woods and get a whole truckload. I complained, but it didn’t do any good.
My dad was very good at getting his boys to help him, and we each had our jobs. My dad would run the chain saw, Grant, my next-to-oldest brother, would split the wood, I would load it into the truck, and another older brother Ron would stack the wood in the back of the truck.
Eager to get back to our toys, we all worked hard. Dad had cut a big tree, and we almost had it loaded. I thought we had plenty of wood, but my dad cut into another big tree.
“This is going to take forever,” I thought. “I’m cold and tired and want to play with my toys, and he is cutting down another tree.”
When we backed up to Blanche’s house and started unloading the wood, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There wasn’t a sliver of wood anywhere in her yard. The only thing she had left to burn was the house itself. I had been worried about losing time playing with my race cars while she was worried about freezing.
As we were unloading the wood, she came out of her house. My dad looked up and said, “Merry Christmas.” She started crying, and my dad got down from the truck to console her. I couldn’t fight back a few tears myself. I tried hard not to let it show, but then I noticed a tear in my brother’s eyes, too. My presents didn’t mean anything to me now. Being able to keep someone from freezing on Christmas Day meant much more to me than all the toys in the world.
The next year, Christmas was not so happy. We sat around solemn-faced after opening our presents. Finally Ron said, “Let’s go get wood.”
Nothing more needed to be said. We all got our coats, hats, and gloves and headed out the door. Again we were getting wood for a widow. But this time it was our mother. It wasn’t that we needed the wood; it meant something deeper. Two weeks before Christmas my dad had died. He left seven children to be raised by my mother.
I suppose because of one act of kindness and the lessons my dad taught his boys, he assured that his wife would never go without wood. We not only got wood for our mother, but often we would get it for other widows. On many Christmases, after we opened our presents, my brothers and I would go out and cut wood for one of the widows. Though it was never spoken openly between us, we were all doing it in memory of our father.