Summary: It’s not the number of presents, but the size of the heart that gives them.
Word Count: 2846
Andy dropped the dishes noisily into the tin wash basin and turned to face the older gentleman standing behind him. “But, Jonesy, it’s Christmas!” he exclaimed.
“I know it, an’ so does Slim, but the bank still has to be paid, even if it is Christmas,” he replied.
“Yeah, I know, but…”
Jonesy interrupted. “Slim didn’t say there wouldn’t be any Christmas at all; he just said it would be very small. Now help me with those dishes, or all you’ll get’ll be a lump of coal in your stocking.”
Andy hung his head and turned back to the sink. It was not that he minded having a small Christmas so much for himself, although he would like that new leather jacket he had seen in the window of the general store; it was more that he resented having his own gift-giving possibilities hampered. He didn’t have enough money saved up to afford all the gifts he had wanted to give alone and had counted on help from Slim. Now that option had fallen through, and he didn’t know what he was going to do anymore.
“Jonesy,” Andy asked as he dried a plate, “What do you want for Christmas?”
“I want ever’body to be here an’ to be healthy an’ happy,” the old family friend said.
“Aw, Jonesy, I mean, well, I mean that I can give ya!”
Jonesy glanced at Andy’s earnest face and thought for a moment. “Well, I reckon I could do with a new comb. You know, mine’s startin’ to loose teeth.”
Andy frowned, thinking that did sound like much of a present.
Jonesy smiled. “Well, you still got a couple weeks ta think on it, anyway.”
“Hey, Jess, what d’ya want for Christmas?” Andy queried as he hung on the ladder to the hay loft. He and Jess were in the barn, Jess soaping harness while Andy watched from afar.
“I want you ta help me with this harness, that’s what I want,” Jess grunted in reply.
Andy dropped to the floor and sauntered over to take up a rag. “I mean for a present.”
“Oh, I don’t know. ‘Sides, you heard what Slim said.”
“He didn’t say we couldn’t have any Christmas; he just said it would be a small Christmas. Jonesy said I could get him a new comb, but, dad-gum it, Jess, it’s no fun gettin’ a gift when the other person already knows what it is!” Andy tossed the rag down momentarily before picking it up and resuming his work thoughtfully.
“Then why’d ya ask me what I wanted?”
“I guess I was lookin’ fer ideas.”
“Maybe I could help ya think of somethin’ fer Jonesy, too. As fer me, an’ Slim too, ya could get us new hankies or somethin’.”
“You could make somethin’ fer Jonesy.”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe you could make him a new rag bag.”
They worked in silence for a few minutes, and then Andy snapped his fingers. “I know!” he cried. “I can make him a leather thimble!”
“Sure you can,” Jess agreed.
“I can use yours as a pattern, and, Jess, do you think you can help me?”
“I reckon you can do most of it by yourself, but if you need help, just let me know,” Jess promised.
Andy started to leave the barn.
“Hey, where’re ya goin’?” Jess called after him.
“Why, to get started!” Andy stopped and looked over his shoulder
“Ain’cha gonna help me finish with this harness first?” Jess demanded with a mock frown.
“Oh, yeah, I guess I got a little ahead of myself, that’s all,” Andy replied sheepishly, returning to rub at the harness with vigor. “I’ll get started right after this.”
Andy did start Jonesy’s thimble, with Jess’ supervision, and, with Jonesy’s advice and aid, began making presents for both Slim and Jess.
The remaining two weeks before Christmas seemed to fly by as each member of the household planned and made gifts. Presents seemed to be hid all over the ranch, leading to some very interesting situations.
“Jonesy, wheres the…”
“Andy, don’t go in there!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jonesy. What’s in there?”
“Never you mind. Just stay out of there.”
“Jess, what’re you doin’ in there?”
“Just lookin’ for some horse liniment, Slim.”
“Oh. Well, better let me get it.”
“If you didn’t keep hidin’ ‘em in differ’nt places, this sorta thing wouldn’t happen.”
“Okay, here’s yer liniment.”
“No need ta get sore!”
“Don’t come in yet!”
“Andy, I need yer dirty clothes!”
“Well, just wait a minute!”
At last it was Christmas morning. Andy awoke long before the dawn and lay still listening to the soft snores of his brother and best friend. When he was sure they were still asleep, he crept from bed and out the door. In the corner of the living room between the fireplace and the doorway to the kitchen was the Christmas tree they had cut and decorated the day before, and he paused just long enough to be sure there really were presents underneath before continuing to the kitchen.
In utmost silence, he lifted the lids of the stove and added fresh wood, stirring the coals until he had a nice blaze. Then he filled the coffee pot with water and set it on the stove. When it boiled, he added the coffee grounds and then tiptoed back to the bedroom. Slipping through the door, he waited until his eyes had adjusted to the darkness before hollering at the top of his lungs:
Slim and Jess both jumped, but the former jumped out of bed while the latter turned over and buried his head under his pillow.
“Andy, what time is it?” Slim demanded sleepily when he realized what was going on.
“Time for Christmas! Come on Slim!”
Slim groaned and ran a large hand threw his blond hair with a yawn. “Oh, Andy, it’s too early,” he muttered, starting to swing his legs back into bed.
“No, it isn’t, Slim. ‘Sides, I made coffee,” Andy protested, grabbing his brother’s knees.
“Well, if you can get Jess up, I suppose we can have Christmas now,” Slim acquiesced.
Andy grinned and turned to Jess’s bed. Taking Jess’ shoulder, the boy began shaking it. “‘Mon, Jess, wake up! It’s Christmas!”
Jess grunted and rolled out from under Andy’s hands.
“Coffee’s ready, Jess!”
Andy climbed onto the bed and started bouncing, only to be swept to the floor.
“Aw, come on, Jess, please!” Andy stood and began pulling the covers off Jess’ recumbent figure, inciting a tug-of-war.
“Slim, help,” Andy pleaded.
Slim grinned, lying flat on his back, hands behind his head, wide awake. “You’re doing alright,” he encouraged.
The tug-of-war seemed to work, because at last Jess sat up and sleepily demanded to know what Andy wanted.
“It’s Christmas, Jess,” the lad explained.
Jess swung his legs over the edge of the bed and ran a hand through his hair. “So,” he grunted.
“So it’s time to get up. There’s coffee ready.”
Jess reached out a hand, and Andy handed him his pants with a whoop of delight. “‘Mon, Slim, you said you’d get up when Jess did!”
“I am, I am,” Slim placated his younger brother who was dancing a jig at the door.
“I’ll go get Jonesy,” Andy cried, when he was sure his two roommates were really getting up. Like a flash, he was out the door, making a detour into the kitchen to check the coffee before dashing on to Jonesy’s room.
“Merry Christmas, Jonesy!” Slim and Jess heard him cry. Jonesy’s soft mumbling was heard to follow, and then more excited chatter from Andy. Jess shook his head as he buckled his belt and pulled on a shirt, muttering something about kids, Christmas, and too much energy, much to Slim’s amusement.
Andy bounced back into their room, just to check on their progress and then led them into the living room like a puppy leading two staid, grown dogs. Jess crouched in front of fireplace while Slim lit the lamp; Andy bounded into the kitchen and returned, sedately bearing three steaming mugs of coffee. The men accepted them with thanks and found seats in various places around the room while Andy hovered like a distracted butterfly until Slim convinced him to sit down and be patient.
When the adults were sufficiently awake, they all assisted in lighting the candles on the Christmas tree, and then Andy handed Slim the big Bible, and went over to sit on Jess’ knee on the settee under the window. As his father before him, Slim read the Christmas Story from the New Testament with Jonesy silently quoting familiar passages as they were read. Andy glanced at Jess to find his eyes downcast and his lashes damp, and he wondered how often the cowboy had heard the Story before this day.
Slim closed the Bible and looked at Andy. “Now presents,” he said.
Andy popped off Jess’ knee and hurried to kneel beneath the tree. Searching among the presents, he found the one he had made for Slim and brought it forth. “Merry Christmas, Slim,” he said, handing it to his brother.
Slim set his mug on the floor and took the soft package. “Shall I try to guess, or just open it?” he asked.
“Just open it.”
Slim did so and unfolded a bright red scarf from the brown wrapping paper.
“Do you like it, Slim?”
“It’s swell, Andy,” Slim answered sincerely, winding the scarf around his neck. “It’s nice and warm, too.”
“Jonesy taught me how to knit it myself. It’s kinda crooked, though. Here, Jess, this is for you; Merry Christmas.”
Jess’ present was a similar scarf, done in blue yarn.
“Gee, Andy, it’s awful nice. This’ll keep me warm when I’m ridin’ fences,” Jess grinned, putting his scarf on, too.”
“Do ya really like it?”
“It’s great, Tiger,” Jess replied, ruffling the boy’s hair.
Andy dove into the presents again and brought out a small package addressed to Jonesy. “Merry Christmas, Jonesy; I hope ya like it.”
“Andy, it’s great! Just what I been needin’ for when I mend your britches. I get mighty tired of pokin’ myself,” Jonesy replied to the carefully crafted leather thimble.
“Is there anything under that tree for you, Andy?” Slim asked.
Andy found a small package and tore it open. “Oh, boy, new gloves, just like Jess’!” he whooped, waving a pair of hand-made, black leather gloves in the air before putting them on. “Thanks, Jess,” he added. “They fit perfect!”
“That other one’s from me,” Jonesy said, pointing to a slightly bigger parcel with his slippered foot.
It was a scarf, knitted in red and blue strips, and Andy promptly wound it around his neck with many thanks.
The last package addressed to Andy was quite larger in size, and he turned to it now. To his astonishment it was a leather jacket, very similar to the one in the general store window. “Oh, Slim,” was all he could say in a breathless voice as he held up the jacket.
“I knew you admired the one in the store window, so I made that one as much like it as I could. I hope you like it,” Slim said softly.
Andy launched himself at his brother and wrapped his arms around his neck. “It’s ever better than the one in the store, Slim,” he replied after a moment.
Slim and Jess exchanged pairs of wool-lined gloves and each received a pair of warm woolen socks from Jonesy. Slim had made new gloves for him, and Jess had fashioned a new pair of slippers moccasin-style of rabbit skins.
After all the presents had been opened, and thanks had been said, Andy began to gather up the wrapping paper to put by the wood-box for starter fuel.
“Say, Andy,” Slim said, “Did you check in your stocking?”
“My stocking?” Andy had refrained from even glancing at it, sure it would be hanging limply. Now he looked and found that not only his, but Slim, Jess, and Jonesy’s stocking all had knobby lumps in them. With a whoop, Andy ran to the fireplace and pulled down all the stockings, passing them out to their respective owners. Inside each were an orange, a peppermint stick, and a quarter.
“Gosh, thanks, Slim!” Andy exclaimed, smelling his orange, tossing his quarter, and eyeing the peppermint stick.
“Me?” Slim asked, eyebrows raised. “Don’t thank me, thank Santa Claus!” he added, with a wink at Jess and Jonesy.
Andy caught the wink and laughed. “Okay, thanks, Santa Clauses!”
Jonesy chuckled as he rose from his rocker. “If you boys want to go out an’ git the chores done, I’ll git breakfast goin’,” he said, shuffling into the kitchen. At the door he stopped. “Thanks, boys,” he added with a smile.
Slim, Jess, and Andy gathered up their presents and retired to their room to finish dressing for the day. Then they bundled into their warmest clothing, including their new gloves and scarves, and sallied forth into the biting cold.
Breakfast was ready by the time the chores were done; hotcakes, bacon, eggs, biscuits, milk and coffee were on the bill of fare, and were gladly consumed. The stage did not run on Christmas day, and, as Jonesy wanted to have supper early and to have an empty kitchen to cook it in, the three boys saddled horses and rode to the fishing hole where Slim and Andy taught Jess how to ice-skate in his cowboy boots.
When the sun was about three-quarters of the way across the sky, the threesome started back to the ranch, cold, hungry, and slightly bruised. They unsaddled, rubbed the horses down, and fed them an extra ration of oats as their Christmas present.
Jonesy had supper on the table by the time they had finished the chores and washed up, and they crowded around the table exclaiming over their favorite dishes before taking their seats.
“Mashed potatoes! And gravy!”
“Well, stop admirin’ it, an’ say grace, Slim, so’s we can eat!”
There was more than enough to go around, but at last they had to push back their plates.
“Jonesy, ya did yerself proud,” Jess sighed contentedly, leaning back in his chair.
“I hope you saved room for pie,” Jonesy replied, bearing a steaming pie from the kitchen.
“Oh, boy, apple pie! I thought I smelled somethin’!” Andy grinned.
“Where’dja git the apples, Jonesy?” Slim asked, passing his plate.
“Dried apples. I been savin’ ‘em.”
“Best pie I ever ate,” Jess assured the cook.
When they were truly finished at last and had helped clear away the dishes and the leftover food, the family gathered in the living room with all the lamps extinguished and only the candles on the Christmas tree and the light from the fire to brighten the room.
Jonesy took his seat in the rocker, Slim claimed the chair, with Andy on the floor, head on Slim’s knee, and Jess commandeered the settee.
After several minutes of silence, Andy’s voice came softly out of the darkness. “Slim, when you said this would have to be a small Christmas, I was disappointed. I knew what I wanted for Christmas, an’ what I wanted ta git you an’ Jess an’ Jonesy, an’ I knew I couldn’t now, an’ that made me upset. But when I started makin’ things, it seemed as though it made Christmas last from the time I started makin’ until today. I was more excited this mornin’ for you all to see what I had made you, than I was to see what I had got.”
“It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” Jonesy incanted in a low voice. “I always though those blessings were gonna come later, an’ that you wouldn’t notice ‘em when they did come, leastwise, wouldn’t put two an’ two together an’ figure out why they come, but now I know differn’t,” Andy continued thoughtfully.
“I know whatcha mean, Andy,” Jess said from the settee. “That’s what I always thought, too, but I know whatcha mean about ‘em comin’ quicker. I felt it too.”
“So did I,” Slim said, putting his hand on Andy’s head.
“The best Christmases aren’t ‘cause of what you got, or gave, or what you ate; they’re on account of the people yer with an’ the feelin’ you have. The Christmas spirit, they call it. An’ that feelin’ ain’t somethin’ you can buy, an’ it ain’t somethin’ you can really make; it comes when folks truly care about others an’ their happiness,” Jonesy murmured, feeling very wise.
Andy quickly moved from his place at his brother’s knee and stood to throw his arms around Slim’s neck. “Thanks fer the best Christmas ever, Slim. I’m gonna remember this one fer as long as I live!”
To my Mother, Merry Christmas!