At this time of year, when I am struggling to get gifts for everyone I want to get a gift for and working with a shoestring (a ratty, worn out, threatening to break shoestring) budget, I always think of the greatest Christmas gift I have ever gotten that had almost no monetary value at all, yet was the most precious.
There was a family that became a part of my life through horse camp. In previous years, our city offered scholarships to children in public school grades 3-6 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 particular family. It was a family of 6; 4 children, 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 oldest girl came to camp one year, then again the next year along with her younger sister. They were lively, happy, beautiful girls that 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. Regardless of horses, their Mom and I talked often, sharing Mom stories with all of the happiness, 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 healing they impart. I was meant to work with them and for them. I wasn't always doing things right but slowly and surely learning from my mistakes and trying to improve perpetually. Most of all, this family gave me the inspiration to keep going.
My son was maybe 4 years old at the time of this particular Christmas. At 4, he was just becoming aware of the fun and surprise of Christmas. 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 am, when I normally would have been heading out to the barn to feed horses, there was a knock on my door.
At the door was Mom and all 4 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 4 small children, ages 9-3, 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 my son, 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 Tristan and his gifts while their Mom and I talked a little. Not once did any of the 4 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. That gift was the most valuable one I could have ever received, especially during that year of trial and strife. 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 and I will never forget your gift.