You read right – it was the present that was important, not just the thought, but we'll get to that later. I just watched the classic movie Hoosiers with my son, Daniel. I've watched a dozen times, but not for a while, and not with my son. He's home from college. Tonight will become a Christmas memory.
So forgive me if I'm nostalgic. After all, it's Christmas. (You can still trade that tractor before Jan. 1 if you think you need to). But for this moment, think back to your favorite Christmas memory.
I'll bet it isn't the time you got the biggest present. I'll bet it has to do with people. Maybe it was a Christmas spent with a relative no longer here. Maybe it goes back to when you were a kid.
Perhaps the Christmas that I remember most tonight was when I was 6 years old. Mom never put the tree up until the week before. It was a real tree – we decorated it while dad watched the Butler Bulldogs on a small Philco black and white TV. Some things cycle around. For this month at least, Butler is top dog again.
We lived on a 240 acre tenant farm, and we'd only been there a year. Dad milked 40 cows. Mom and dad never talked about it, but even a kid could tell we didn't have much money. We drove an old Nash Rambler. Coke came in those little glass bottles, but I hardly ever saw them, maybe once a month.
This particular Christmas mom seemed sad. We had been to see Santa Claus, and I don't remember what I asked for – probably a farm set. Mom never put presents out early. Santa Claus brought them. This particular Christmas my brother and I waited patiently for dad to come in from milking. Our neighbor, Estel 'Cocky' Wilcox, a farmer, country gentleman, banker and one of the best neighbors anyone ever had, came over with his wife, Ede. Their son was grown and gone.
I remember getting a plastic toy fort with toy cowboys and Indians. It was right down my alley. I don't remember a lot else, except seeing a few tears in mom's eyes and my neighbor's faces light up as my brother and I opened our presents.
It was years before I knew the true story of that Christmas. Mom and dad were so strapped that they didn't have money to buy presents. At least half the presents we opened, including the toy fort, came from our neighbors. Without asking, they brought presents. In this case, it really was the present that counted. The fact that my brother and I had presents to open made all the difference to my mom. It wasn't just their thoughtfulness. It was putting thoughts into action that lifted mom's spirits.
Mom and dad went on to earn enough money to buy a house and live comfortably, although frugally. Our neighbor Cocky died too soon, when I was 21, the same summer my granddad Housefield and our landlord, Mr. Peck, who became an authority figure to me, died. The Lord called three good men home to rest that year.
My brother went on to be a state FFA officer and graduate from Purdue. Today he runs a successful farm management business. Me, well you know what I do. Life is challenging, but life is good.
There have been many Christmases since I was six. The message is still there. We need to help each other. Do an act of kindness for someone, don't just think about it. You don't have to buy a fancy present – just put it in the Lord's hands – he'll show you whom to help and what to do.
Next week we'll talk about crops and taxes again. But in the glow of the Christmas lights tonight and that precious memory from long ago, the challenges of everyday life don't seem so important now.