The News From Out On Bittersweet
Since last we wrote George, the Red Jeep and Hope’s beetle, Petunia have gone to good homes. Petunia now belongs to a college student in Bowling Green. George now lives over toward Brooklyn. I still have faithful Grenfell and Hope has a new Jeep Wrangler, which does not yet have a name.
Bittersweet is looking Christmassy. Lois put Christmas wreaths in the windows. One cold blustery dark night last week I got home late. Lois was eager for me to hang a wreath in the east-facing gable. I got out the extension ladder. It doesn’t seem very high up until you climb up a wobbly extension ladder in the dark. We have a fresh-cut tree in the living room and a tree on the front porch. I especially mis Wes at times like this. We all love Christmas but Wes and Hope and Hannah would make sure the lights were strung every year even when it meant risking their necks crawling around on the roof in the icy wind and blowing snow.
Wes turns 25 tomorrow. How sweetly I remember the mellow December night in mid-December when he was born in the upstairs bedroom of our home, attended by three, singing Amish midwives. Kyle made a full dinner and delivered it after Lois had labored to bring the little fella’ safely into the world. When he was at home the Christmas music always started early and he would find a spot in the chair in the corner and read every Christmas story he could find. Now he lives north of Dallas and has a wife and a daughter of his own. This weekend he will run the Dallas Marathon.
Anyway, the Christmas lights are up out on Bittersweet tonight. I hope everyone passing in the night knows of our love for Jesus. This evening I noticed that some of our neighbors have added a cross to their Christmas lights. I love to see that. When I do I know that within are people who know that Jesus did not just come on a mission to be an example or a great moral teacher. He came to die for our sins and make us right with God if we repent of our sins and believe.
Here us a true story of something that happened on Christmas time years ago in a little town in northern Michigan.
I’ve written a Christmas story for you. I’m imagining you are before the fire or in a comfortable warm place with a fragrant tree glowing in the corner and you have your favorite hot drink in hand as you read this little story. It’s a bit of Christmas fiction but by the time you reach the end of the story I think you will see how true it is.
The Snow Globe
The snow gathered on Wesley’s shoulders and on his hat. It piled up in the corners of the little widow panes in the shop window. He stood and peered into the warm light of the store. It was a unique little gift shop where they wrapped the gifts for you with festive paper and bright bows made of ribbon.
The store was one of his favorite places, but he rarely had money to buy a gift there. There on the street in front of the shop he could just imagine his mother’s joy and surprise if she could unwrap the snow-globe on Christmas. It was a large lighted globe with a Victorian Santa in it. The globe was mounted on a walnut base with a music box that played “O Come All Ye Faithful.” It was the perfect gift. He wondered how much it cost.
On an impulse he pulled open the door and entered the shop.
“Can I help you, young man?” a kind woman said.
“Yes, how much is this,” he said, pointing to the globe.
“Well, that’s only sixty-nine dollars,” she said smiling sympathetically.
“Thanks,” he said sadly and started for the door.
Just as he reached the door she called after him. “O, if that globe is still here on Christmas Eve Day you can get a discount on it. On Christmas Eve all Christmas items will be half price. You could buy that globe for about thirty-five dollars.”
“Thank you,” Wesley said. “Maybe I’ll come back and see if it’s still here.”
“Don’t wait too late,” she said, “the store closes at 6:00 at night on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” he said back but he didn’t mean it with his heart and he shuffled along the snowy street. He couldn’t hear the carols from the church bell tower. He couldn’t see the lights in the windows, he couldn’t smell the cinnamon almonds and caramel corn the man was selling on the corner and he couldn’t feel merry if he couldn’t buy his mother a gift.
A Business Idea
He pulled his collar up around his neck and braced himself for a long walk home. He started across the street without looking up but was startled by a loud blast from the horn of a red truck. “Hey, kid. Watch where you’re goin’ or you’re gonna’ miss Christmas this year!” Someone shouted from the cab of the truck and then laughed a laugh that could only belong to his grandpa.
“Get in here Wes and tell my what could have happened to you that would account for that long face.”
He pulled open the door of his grandpa’s old red pick-up and climbed into the warm cab. The cab of the truck smelled of coffee. Carols played on the radio.
“What could possibly be wrong on this fine snowy Saturday two weeks before Christmas, trooper?”
“It’s almost Christmas and I don’t have any money or any way of getting any.”
“That, my boy, is when you need to be resourceful… You don’t always have to have money if you are resourceful. When I was your age we had no other choice. It was during the depression years and there was no money. For gifts and toys and fun you just had to be resourceful. We had to make our own toys.”
“Grandpa, it’s not toys I want. I want to buy mom a gift and I want it to be from me, but I don’t have a job or any way to make money.”
“Well, now let’s think about that. Do you remember this fall gathering all those chestnuts out by the barn. I was going to show you how to roast them, but you could put them in bags and sell them door-to-door instead. You could sell them for two dollars a bag with little instructions about how to roast them.”
“How much could I make?”
“Well, you would have about ten bags full. You could make fifteen or twenty dollars if you sold them all.”
“That’s not enough to buy what I want.”
“Wes, you’re not going to sell the chestnuts to buy what you want you are going to sell the chestnuts to start your own business.”
“My own business?”
“That’s right. You are going to start your very own business with the profits from the chestnuts. If you sell most of them you will have enough to buy yourself a snow shovel and if it snows you can go back to your chestnut customers and shovel their walks. If I were you I would ask them if they want their snow shoveled when I sold them their chestnuts.”
Wes was so excited about his new business that he skipped supper to bag chestnuts. He stayed up late writing out instructions on roasting chestnuts and tying them to each bag with a red ribbon. He put them in a basket and got into bed just before midnight. He fell asleep listening to carols on the radio beside his bed.
A Good Day’s Work
The next morning he started down the street with his chestnuts.The Boyds weren’t home and neither were the Temples. Mr. Meyer said to come back when his wife was in. She was out Christmas shopping. The Newhearts had guests, but they invited Wes in for cocoa because he looked cold and discouraged. The elderly couple visiting the Newhearts bought two bags.
“These are Chinese Chestnuts.” The fella’ said; “Did you now that? The American Chestnut was destroyed in a blight years ago. I’m glad you happened along. These are a rare treat.”
To sell the rest of the chestnuts he had to stay out until dark. At every house he left a card offering his snow-shoveling services. When his basket was finally empty his feet were tired, his hands were cold, and he was getting very hungry. He stood under the street light and counted his money… exactly twenty-one dollars counting the tip he got from Mrs. Morehead. Sunday he would give five dollars to buy gloves for children they would give away at the mission. That would leave him fifteen dollars for a shovel.
The Christmas Offering
On Sunday morning he was up early and eager to get to church. He was looking forward to the offering. Just before the offering they showed a video of the children at mission last year getting their gifts. By the time it was done he couldn’t see because tears were forming in his eyes.
When the offering plate came by he just put all his money in and whispered a prayer to Jesus when he did. “I love you, Jesus. Happy Birthday.”
During church it got colder and colder outside and on the way home it started to snow, but Wes was happy and inside he was warm. He didn’t know how he would get his mother’s gift but he knew he had done the right thing with his money.
He needed snow and the snow began to fall. It usually took twenty minutes to drive home but the snow was falling so thick and fast that it took over an hour. Wes helped sweep a path to the house so his mom wouldn’t ruin her shoes. When he got in the house the phone was ringing.
“Hello? Just a minute. Wesley. Phone for you,” his Dad said.
“Wesley. It looks like you have a job,” the warm voice on the other end of the line said, “I have a three or four inches of snow in my dive. If you can shovel it, I will give you ten dollars. It is thick and heavy and the plows are all busy. They all charge twenty-five so if you will get here soon it will save me some money.”
It was Jim Dickerson who lived at the end of the street.
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” Wesley said.
“You can’t? Son, why not. You could make some money in a storm like this.”
“I don’t have a shovel. I used my money for something else,” he said sadly.
“Well, you come over here and shovel my drive for free and I will let you use my shovel for a day to earn enough money to buy your own shovel. Does that sound fair?”
“Fair enough. Thanks. I’ll be right over.”
Wesley went to his room, pulled on two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants and his cap. He bundled up in a sweatshirt and jacket and his winter coat. He put on his gloves and his boots and lumbered out into the snow toward Mr. Dickerson’s house. The wind picked up the snow was blowing almost sideways now. It stung Wesley’s face. He struggled forward through the snow.
It took him two hours to clear the Dickerson’s drive. Mr. Dickerson thanked him and told him he could go on and use his shovel for the rest of the day. There would only be two or three hours of daylight left.
He started down the street knocking on every door. His feet and hands were cold but he kept thinking of how happy his mother would be when she opened her gift and he just kept going. It was not hard to get jobs. Everyone seemed to appreciate his help. He worked clearing sidewalks until two hours after dark but when he was done he had earned twelve dollars. He returned Mr. Dickerson’s shovel and make his way wearily home.
When he got in his mother was waiting for him and helped him with his boots. “I have some homemade bread and chicken noodle soup for you, Wesley. I kept it warm. I thought you were never going to come home.”
“Thanks, Mom. Can you take me into town in the morning?”
A Shovel of His Own
When the hardware store opened the next morning he was waiting with money in hand. He bought a shovel and went out looking for more work. Most of the people in his neighborhood were dug out from the storm but there was still some work to be had.
He worked all day long stopping only to run home for a peanut butter sandwich and some brownies. After supper he spread his money out on the bed and began to count it. He had counted it over and over in his head already. His total earnings reached twenty-nine dollars and fifty cents. He still needed six dollars and some change. He got on his knees.
“Dear Lord. Thank you for sending the snow. Thank you for letting me get my shovel. Now, Lord, I need six more dollars and, Lord, please don’t let the snow globe sell. Lord, I hope you have a nice birthday. In Jesus Name, Amen.”
He went into the living room and turned off all the lights except the Christmas tree then he laid down on the couch to think and watch the lights. His mother had the radio on in the kitchen and she was humming along to the Christmas music. While he watched the lights he smiled at the thought of the look that would be on his mother’s face if he could get the snow globe for her.
He literally dreamed about it in his sleep that night.
The next morning the snow had stopped and the sun was out. There would be no more snow removal until after Christmas that year and Wesley was still six dollars short of the thirty-five he needed for the his mother’s gift. He tried to think of other things she might like that didn’t cost so much but his heart was set the snow globe. That night Mrs. Dickerson came over with a plate of cookies and special Christmas treats.
Wesley was in the next room and he could hear what she said to his mother. “My husband told me what a good job Wesley did clearing the snow the other night, but I was shocked when I found out that Jim didn’t pay him anything. For all that work he just loaned him a shovel. I have something for him. Tell him thanks for the good work.”
After Mrs. Dickerson left Wesley’s mom put five dollars in his hand. She had a soft look on her face and love in her voice. “Good work, son. I’m so proud of you. You must have a lot of money now. What are you going to do with it? You haven’t done any shopping yet.”
“I’m not sure,” he answered honestly.
When his mom stepped into the next room he went to the garage and opened the car door and ran his hand in the cracks of the seats. A quarter and a dime. 35 cents. He waited until no one was looking and he went to the family room and removed all the cushions from the soft and love seat. Nothing. He leaned his dad’s recliner forward. Boom! Almost a dollar in change under the recliner.
He counted his money. A little over 35.00. He checked his watch. 5:24.
“Dad, can you take me to town?”
In an hour he was back with his treasure. That night Wesley locked his bedroom door and set on the edge of his bed turning his treasure over in his hands looking at the wrapping and the gold foil and the ribbon and feeling the weight of it. He hid the gift in his closet and went to sleep with a smile on his face and a prayer of thanksgiving on his heart.
A Christmas Prayer
Wesley is a young man with a wife and children of his own now. At Christmas time he always thinks back over the years to the Christmas he bought the snow globe for his mother. He remembers her wearing the apron on Christmas Day. He remembers how hard she worked to be sure each of his brothers and sisters had gifts at Christmas. He remembers how she made the home so warm and beautiful. He remembers the year he learned to be a giver. He remembers the smile on her face and the tears on her cheeks and how tightly she held him that morning.
Every year he lights the tree, turns off the lights, winds up the snow globe and listens to “O Come All Ye Faithful.” He sits the snow globe in the center of the mantle over the fireplace, he thinks of his sweet mother. Standing before the mantle he prays every year; “Lord, please tell my mother how much I love her and how much I miss her. Lord, please thank her for teaching me that is really is more blessed to give than to receive.”