“Giving Is Getting,” New Era, Dec. 1986, 32
I had spent my 16th summer working at a dude ranch and returned home with two hundred dollars, more money than I had ever had before. I entertained so many different ways to spend it that by the Christmas season I still had it all.
I was old enough to understand the worried glances my parents exchanged at comments my brothers and sisters made regarding their Christmas wishes. Dad had recently recovered from a serious illness, and medical costs had made a sizable dent in my parents’ Christmas budget.
I approached Mom with a suggestion that she and Dad use my money, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She explained that they had decided to forego giving anything to each other and would just make sure Santa made his visit.
It wasn’t too many days later that I heard my parents discussing an offer made to Dad. He had been snowmobiling again with his friend Bob. It wasn’t hard to see how much Dad and my brothers enjoyed this winter sport. They returned from their snowmobiling ventures full of enthusiastic stories. Now Bob had offered to sell the snowmobile to Dad for a reasonable price.
Without realizing, I had crept closer to their room where I could hear every word. Mom said, “I know two hundred dollars is a good price. Do you think we could do it?”
After a long pause, I heard a deep sigh that said so very, very much, followed by Dad’s voice, “No, I just don’t think so.” Another long pause, then, “There’ll be other times.”
I stole away to my room while my thoughts ran like wildfire. Two hundred dollars … two hundred dollars. That was every cent I owned. It would close my account entirely.
I got ready for bed, and after turning out the light, I could picture my family riding that snow-mobile. All night we chased snowflakes in my dreams.
With the light of the foggy winter dawn, I felt calm. I found a few moments to myself to call Bob.
“Bob, this is Louise, Ellis’s daughter. … Yeah, he’s had a lot of fun on that machine. Listen, I … uh … understand that you offered to sell it to him for (gulp) two hundred dollars. Is that correct?”
“Well, I heard them talking about it last night and they decided they couldn’t buy it. So what I’m wondering is … uh … if they decide they can’t for sure, could I buy it from you for that price? I could? Thanks! Thanks so much! … Yes, it would be a surprise, so don’t let on, okay? Thanks.”
I hung up the phone and tried not to think about it for the rest of the day. It was not a spontaneous act of selflessness. I had to wean myself from my money, avoiding thoughts of how long it had taken to earn it and all the other ways I had planned to spend it.
The days crawled by. Christmas Eve finally came. After midnight Bob’s sons would sneak over with the snowmobile and park it on the lawn where we would be sure to see it. Anticipation made sleep difficult.
Christmas morning brought shouts as the younger ones raced downstairs to see if Santa had come.
The drapes were drawn in the living room. I sneaked a peek and caught my breath. There it was! A huge red bow adorned it, and Bob’s sons had shined it till it sparkled.
I can’t remember what I received that year. Mom gave me a quizzical look once. I guess my excitement for what I knew was about to happen overrode what my enthusiasm should have been.
I kept waiting for someone to open the drapes, but no one thought of it. Finally my brother David glanced outside to check the weather.
I’ll always cherish the look on his face. He’s the family’s mechanic, and to him that machine represented tinkering at its best.
David approached Dad and asked in a low voice, “What’s that out on the lawn?” Dad’s questioning took was authentic, so David knew Dad didn’t know either.
They walked back to the window and Dad looked out. I almost laughed aloud at their sharp, surprised looks at one another. In unison, they looked at Mom, who was still helping the youngest ones open and assemble toys.
Dad bent down and gave her a big kiss. He started to thank her and ask how she managed it. Her look of surprise was also authentic. Now all three went to the window. I ducked my head. One look at my foolish grin would give it away.
After a few moments of murmured exclamations, Dad and David threw on coats and went outside to investigate. David revved the machine and spun it around the yard. He was in his glory. They searched it for a card.
The noise of the snowmobile drew the rest of the family to the window, and I oohed and aahed with them. I could see Mom studying me carefully, and I knew the game was over.
It was at that moment, on that frosty Christmas morning when I had helped fill a Christmas wish, that I knew the real meaning of the old cliché about it being better to give than to receive.