A beloved family story recounted by my Grandmother about the events from one cold December day in 1932. The three children mentioned were the first of what would be thirteen children she raised.
TL;DR: Your small actions can have a life long positive impact you never know about on another person. Be kind, Be gracious, Be thankful.
The Stranger's Gift
Genevieve Brandon, Sterling, Illinois
The December day was bleak, just as every day from mid-September on had been that cheerless winter of 1932. The cold weather had settled in early, wiping out the fall crop of vegetables. Over our small village in northwestern Illinois, as over all the nation, there hung an aura of quiet desperation. These were the deepest, darkest days of the Depression. With so many people out of work, there seemed to be little to look forward to this holiday season.
My husband and I huddled close to the heating stove that morning, rationing the cheap coal and trying to suppress our dreams of a joyful Christmas for our three small children. Suddenly, there was a knock. When I opened the door I found a poorly clad, shivering stranger standing there. He was holding a small Christmas tree, and, in the background behind him, I could see a rusty old truck loaded with cut trees.
"Buy a tree, lady?" he asked hopefully. "They're just 25 cents."
Sadly, I shook my head, with tears welling up. "No," I answered, "I haven't got a quarter in the house."
So the stranger left and went elsewhere to peddle his trees, leaving me dejected and hopeless and despising myself because we didn't even have 25 cents to spend to bring a little pleasure into our drab surroundings.
That evening, there again came a rapping on our door. When I opened it, the same wearied stranger stood there, one scrawny tree in his hand.
"Take this," he said. "It's the only one I have left. No one wanted it -- it's twisted and one side is nearly bare, but if you put it in a corner it will look all right."
Charity? "No, I am not a beggar," I started to say icily, but before I could get the words out, I was stopped by his eyes. They were silently pleading, begging me to accept his gift, if not for me, then for the children ~and~ for him. With a sudden change of heart, I reached out and took the sickly looking tree and murmured, "Thank you."
"No," he said, quietly echoing my words, "Thank ~ you~."
I invited him in out of the cold, and after a hot cup of coffee, he stood up, adjusted his earflaps and disappeared back out into the night. We never saw him again.
A little thing? Perhaps. Then again, I had the feeling it was the only Christmas gesture that poor man was capable of that doleful year. But, for both of us, that one little act of kindness brought a priceless measure of the peace and joy engendered in a lonely stable in a far-off land almost 2,000 years ago.
For 60 years now, I've thought of that dear stranger every holiday season. And, every year, out over the cold crisp air, I've sent a silent prayer of hope that all his Christmases since have been filled with joy and love and cheer.