Thursday, December 9, 2010

Yearlong Gift Dazzles A Dad

by Lincoln J. Card
Deseret News - January 3, 2003

All night, fierce winds swept the ground of the crisp, white snow and had chipped at the frozen earth, eroding off precious particles of top soil. The driving winds caused ground blizzards that had piled snow in great grayish-brown-tipped drifts around the house. As the frigid winds subsided, the whole world seemed frozen in the quiet, crisp chill of the frosty dawn. Meager threads of smoke curled upward from guarded blazes of stoves desperately trying to heat the scantily equipped homes. The 1930s Depression was at its peak. It seemed that no one was spared from the bony clutches of this catastrophic experience.

We were no exception. The furnace in our home sat cold and muted. The 10-room, two-story house had been closed off except for three adjoining rooms. The bathroom, kitchen and dining room struggled for the warmth from the coal-burning stove in the kitchen.

A Christmas tree crowded the corner of the dining room. My older brothers had tied a rope from the hinge of the door leading to the front entry hall, then diagonally across the room to the hinge of the door leading to the kitchen. From this rope hung 10 limp, well-worn stockings, many of them filled from heel to toe with loving stitches.

Mother's stocking hung at one end of the line, followed in succession, the oldest to the youngest, of each family member, ending with Father's stocking.

I was 8 years old and had saved every penny since the past February in order to buy presents for my family.

My oldest brother, Brigham, had been working on a government highway project high in the Rocky Mountains of southern Alberta. He had sent all of his earnings home to my father to help the family survive the stranglehold of financial depression.

Today, however, was Christmas morning, and the laughing excitement of eight children electrified the air as they lined up at the kitchen door awaiting Father's signal to enter the magical Christmas room. Enchantment had swallowed up the harried struggles for survival of the past year.

"Open the door!"

This signal brought cheers of delight as eight eager children flew to their stockings. For a fleeting moment, I had a feeling of disappointment as the stockings appeared to look as limp and lifeless as they had been on Christmas Eve. However, on closer observation my disappointment turned to thrilling delight as I recognized some small bulges stretching the sides of the otherwise gaunt stockings.

A comb, a pair of socks, a toothbrush, a pair of shoelaces, some handkerchiefs, a few nuts and most of all the wonderful hard-tack candy with colored stripes and designs.

A feeling of love, excitement and joy filled the room. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Father open a plain, wrapped, small gift. It was a notebook, the kind a man carries in his shirt pocket. As he fingered through the pages, his cheerful smile melted into thoughtful reflection. Tears began to dazzle his eyes, overflowing in little bursts of silver down the creases of his weary, worn cheeks. Quickly, he left the room.

Briefly, I wondered about this strange behavior on Christmas. My wonderment was soon distracted by the excitement of all the "ohs" and "ahs" and "thank yous" and laughter that punctuated this magic morning.

Soon, Father reappeared. His countenance was subdued and calm. There was a glow about him as if he had seen some heavenly vision. He walked slowly to his stocking, bowed his head for a moment, then slowly raised it. In a composed and gentle voice, he called out: "I would like to have everyone's attention."

This unusual request on a Christmas morning brought quick silence from eight children and Mother. All eyes were fixed on Father in the wonderment of expectation. Slowly he raised his hand, which held a little well-worn book, and spoke. The sound of his voice rang with a mellow yet driving sincerity that seemed to infuse my very being.

"I have just been given the greatest Christmas gift that I have ever received."

There was a short pause as he blinked away the mists that blurred his vision. Then he continued: "I want to tell you all about it. This is a gift from your brother Brigham. It is a little book with a notation written for each day of this year. In the front of the book is a note which says: 'Dear Father, I had no money to buy gifts this year. This is all I have to give you. It is a record of a good deed which I have done for someone each day of the year.'"

Father then stopped speaking. A hush fell over the whole family. The impact from the message of this gift left us all in thoughtful, reverent silence. Then someone began to clap their hands. Soon everyone was clapping with the joy of having experienced such an inspirational moment.

Though many years have passed since that eventful Christmas morning, the impact of its message of service and love lingers on as a brilliant, guiding star.

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