A while back, my wife and I hit a rough patch.
Folks weren’t interested in buying our livestock, alive or in white packages. Coyotes were giving our sheep a beating: we were losing more than we could afford. Ranch income was down and bills were up.
It wasn’t the end of the world or anything close— just a rough patch.
Just before Christmas, I went out to the mailbox and found a strange handwritten envelope with no return address. I didn’t pay much attention.
After going through the bills and getting the bad news, my wife and I opened the strange envelope and got a surprise: two crisp $50 bills. There was an unsigned note, which said the person sending us the money had prayed and received a message that we could use the cash more than he could.
We stared at each other, shock and outrage registering on our faces. We spluttered...
“...our problems are no big deal and we didn’t ask for money...”
“...wonder who sent the money and why...”
“...maybe we can give it back...a big mistake...”
My wife calmed down before I did.
“Maybe we should accept this present with the grace and kindness in which it was given,” she said.
Finally, I admitted she was right. Perhaps we could pass the gift back the same way we’d received it—with grace and kindness.
We accepted the offering.
Both of us had had our noses to the grindstone for so long that we used the money to take a brief break—dinner in town and a motel for the night. It wasn’t much, but it sure felt good and it was something we wouldn’t otherwise have had.
The following year, just before Christmas, we were doing better. Not great, just better. We took three crisp fifties down to our local community kitchen where they feed people who are in a tough spot. We explained that we’d like to help out with Christmas dinner that year. The only thing we asked was the hungry people get something for dinner they wouldn’t ordinarily have had.
Last year, we got word on the community grapevine
that our mechanic had lost his house. This 30-something fellow and his wife had got in over their heads with a high-interest loan on their first house. When the balloon payments started rolling in, they held everything together for over a year. Finally, they conceded reality.
A mutual friend had an unused mobile home on a piece of property. With a lot of work, that housing kept the family with five prepubescent children out of a cardboard box under the local bridge.
The family was—mostly—OK.
As the holidays approached, we dropped a card in the mail for them with three $50 bills and a copy of this column. A week later, I ran into the mechanic in town. I asked if he’d received our card.
“Yes,” he said, “and if you hadn’t put a copy of that column in the envelope, I would’ve returned the money.”
“You and your family have had a tough year,” I said, “the idea was for you to get something you wouldn’t have ordinarily had.”
“That’s what we decided,” he replied, “my oldest daughter has been asking to go snowboarding with me...we’re going to use the money to make that happen.”
We were thrilled. In a day and age when families are falling apart, how important is it for a girl on the verge of womanhood to spend quality time with her father?
Very important, in my book.
If you’re reading this column, chances are you live in a rural and agricultural community. Times are tough. Many people are hurting. Take a look around; is there someone nearby who is worse off than you?
Perhaps you have something they don’t—a bag of onions or potatoes, maybe an old sweater. It could be the only thing you have to give is an unexpected friendly greeting.
Offer that and a genuine smile—if they take it, they’ll have something they wouldn’t ordinarily have had for the holidays. If pride might get in the way, then cut this column out and offer it as an explanation.
And tell them that I said it was OK to take a gift they wouldn’t ordinarily have had for the holidays. — D. “Bing” Bingham [Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller.
If you have a Christmas story to pass along, contact him at bing@bingbingham. com.]