At this time of year, when I am struggling to get gifts for everyone and working with a shoestring budget, I always think of the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. It had almost no monetary value at all, yet was the most precious. I’ve told this story before, but it certainly bears repeating.
There was a family that became a part of my life through my horse camp. In previous years, the United Way of Eastern Maine offered scholarships to children in public school to go to a summer camp of their choice. It was only through this scholarship that most of the children I had in camp were able to attend. That certainly applied to this family. It was a family of six: four children, a stay-at-home mom, and a dad who was working and taking college classes so that he would be able to get a better job. The two oldest girls came to camp thanks to the UWEM grant.
They were lively, happy, beautiful girls who loved every minute of their camp days. With no extra money for lessons, that was the extent of their riding experience except for those times that they would come out and help with chores in exchange for extra riding.
Their mom and I talked often, sharing mom stories with all of the joy, stress, pride and humor that goes along with having children.
During those few years, I was trying to adapt to being a single mom as well as keep the business going, and the work and worry wore me down often. The absolute joy that this family had in just being around the horses reminded me of why I was doing what I was doing; that horses were part of my soul and I believe in all the magic they represent and the healing they impart.
I was meant to work with them and for them. I wasn’t always doing things right, but was slowly and surely learning from my mistakes and perpetually trying to improve. Most of all, this family gave me the inspiration to keep going.
On this particular Christmas, my son was maybe four years old and he was just becoming aware of the fun and surprise of the holiday. In order to share that enchantment with him, I got up extra early to feed horses and get them turned out before he woke up. Mission accomplished, I was able to make breakfast and watch Tristan open his presents.
At 7 a.m., when I normally would have been heading out to the barn to feed horses, there was a knock on my door. At the door were the mom and all four kids. They came bearing some handmade, personalized gifts, but more astonishingly, had come to help with the barn work.
They had left all of their gifts at home, unopened, to come out and help me for that morning. They had foregone their own Christmas morning so that I would have help. These four small children, ages 3 to 9, were here, happily and eagerly ready to do whatever I needed them to do. Their generosity touched me in a way that I can’t describe.
Having told them that I had already gotten chores done earlier so that I could spend the morning with Tristan, they were almost disappointed that there wasn’t any work to do. I invited them in to share our cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate and the children played with my boy and his Christmas gifts while their mom and I talked a little. Not once did any of the four children whine about wanting to go home to their own stuff. They never complained, never sulked, never said, “Can we go now?”
They were just as cheerful and exuberant as always. After about an hour they went home to their own Christmas. Hours after that I was still reeling from the shock of their completely unselfish act and the good will that they shared. They had no money for fancy gifts, but what they gave me that day was absolutely priceless.
That family moved away from the area years ago and I have lost touch with them. Every Christmas since then, I think of them and the sacrifice they made to try and make my life a little easier. Melanie, Tinsley, Missy, JJ and Julianna, thank you. I will never forget your gift.