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The Talon House

Pa and The Rifle


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Got this in my E-Mail

Pa and The Rifle

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who

squandered their means and then never had enough for the

necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his

heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I

learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving,

not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling

like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been

enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just

figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the


After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in

front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old

Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest,

I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn't

get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside.

I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the

chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy

wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there

was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up

good, it's cold out tonight." I was really upset then. Not only

wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me

out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.

We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything

else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this.

But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one's feet

when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my

boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a

mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house.

Something was up, but I didn't know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the

house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled.

Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short,

quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled

unless we were going to haul a big load.

Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly

climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me.

I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the

house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I

followed. "I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said.

"Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job

than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but

whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with

the high sideboards on.

After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed

and came out with an armload of wood---the wood I'd spent all

summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing

into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said

something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?" You been by the

Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about

two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so

before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight.

Sure, I'd been by, but so what? "Yeah," I said, "Why?" "I rode

by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around

in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of

wood, Matt."

That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the

woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We

loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses

would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our

loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big

ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to

put them in the sled and wait.

When he returned he was 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 Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his

feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the

children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas

without a little candy."

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much in silence.

I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much

by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile,

though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs

that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could

use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but

I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes

and candy?

Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer

neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern. We came

in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood

as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and

shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a

timid voice said, "Who is it?" "Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son,

Matt. Could we come in for a bit?"

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket

wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in

another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very

small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow Jensen

fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp. "We brought you

a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I

put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had

the shoes in it.

She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a

time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the

children---sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I

watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from

trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running

down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like 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, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's

get that fire up to size and heat this place up." I wasn't the

same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a

big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there

were tears in my eyes too.

In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the

fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running

down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she

couldn't speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy that I'd

never known before, filled my soul. I had given at Christmas

many times before, but never when it had made so much difference.

I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared.

The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy

and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't

crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us.

"God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you.

The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his

angels to spare us."

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears

welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those

exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could

see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man

than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all

the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many

others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

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 that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when we stood

up to leave. 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 Jensen and said, "The Mrs.

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 eleven. It'll

be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here,

hasn't been little for quite a spell." I was the youngest.

My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles.

I don't have to say, "'May the Lord bless you,' I know for certain

that He will."

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I

didn't even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned

to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma

and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all

year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have

quite enough.

Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back

came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real

excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I

started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way

I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet

wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do.

Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those

children. I hope you understand."

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again.

I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it.

Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had

given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen's

face and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the Jensen's, or

split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought

back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night.

Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given

me the best Christmas of my life.

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