A Christmas Miracle: Gifts From Their Hearts

A father gives his daughter a gift much greater than what she had expected

Charlene Elizabeth Baltimore Published Dec 25, 2019 00:00:00 IST
A Christmas Miracle: Gifts From Their Hearts Photo: Yasu+Junko

It was Christmas Eve 1949. I was 15 and feeling sad because there was not enough money to buy the dress I wanted. We did the chores early that night, so I figured Pa wanted extra time for us to read the Bible.

After supper, I took off my boots, stretched out by the fireplace, and waited for Pa to start reading. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, wasn’t in much of a mood to listen to the Scriptures. But Pa didn’t get the Bible; instead, he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out—we had already done all the chores.

It was a cold, clear night, and there was ice in Pa’s beard when he came back in. “Come on, Elizabeth,” he said. “Bundle up. It’s cold out.”

I was upset. Not only wasn’t I getting the dress; now Pa was dragging me out in the cold. I put on my coat and boots, and Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door. Something was up.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There, in front of the house, was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever we were going to do wasn’t going to be a quick job.

I reluctantly climbed up beside Pa, the cold already biting at me. We pulled in front of the woodshed, put on the high sideboards, and started loading wood—the wood we’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain and all autumn sawing into blocks and splitting.

Finally I asked, “Pa, what are you doing?”

“Have you been by the widow Clark’s lately?” he asked.

Mrs Clark lived about three kilometres down the road from us. Her husband had passed away the year before, leaving her with three children to raise on her own.

“Yeah,” I said. “Why?”

“I rode by just today,” Pa said.

“Little Jake was out digging around in the woodpile, trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Elizabeth.”

That was all he said, and we loaded the sled so high with wood that I began to wonder whether the horses would be able to pull it.

Pa then went to the smokehouse and took down a big ham and a side of bacon, telling me to go load them. He returned to the sled 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 Jake had gunnysacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without some candy.”

We rode the three kilometres to the Clarks’ place in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We did have a big woodpile, meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money. Widow Clark had closer neighbours than us. Why was it our concern?

We unloaded the wood behind the Clark house and knocked on the door. It opened a crack, and a timid voice said, “Who is it?”

“James Cotton, ma’am, and my daughter, Elizabeth. Could we come in for a bit?”

Mrs Clark opened the door. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The three children were huddled underneath another blanket, sitting in front of a small fire in the fireplace. Widow Clark fumbled with a match and lit the lamp.

“We brought you a few things, ma’am,” Pa said, and set the sack of flour and meat on the table. He handed her the other sack. She opened it hesitantly and took out the shoes, one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children—sturdy shoes that would last.

She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling as tears ran down her cheeks. She looked at Pa as if 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, “Elizabeth, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let’s get that fire roaring and heat this place up.”

I wasn’t the same person when I went to get the wood. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Soon the fire was blazing, and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids giggled when Pa handed them each a piece of candy, and Widow Clark looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face in a long time.

“God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord sent you. The children and I prayed that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”

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, the Lord made sure he got things right.

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 Clark and said, “The missus 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 11. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again,” he added.

With a look of deep gratitude, Widow Clark nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Cotton. I don’t have to say ‘May the Lord bless you.’ I know for certain that he will.”

On the sled, Pa explained that he and Ma had tucked away money here and there all year long to buy me a dress for Christmas.

Yesterday, when he had seen little Jake with his feet wrapped in gunny­sacks, Pa knew what he had to do. “I spent that money on some shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand,” he said.

I understood very well. My father had given me a gift much greater than a dress. He gave me the look on Widow Clark’s face, the smiles of her three children and the best Christmas memory of my life.


—From the Reminisce book Life in America
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