In my sister’s blog, “The Greatest Gifts” at mitchowl, she tells a family story which I have to respond to. In her story, she tells about doing something for our father, which she describes as a wonderful gift to him. But she probably doesn’t realize that it also became a “Greatest Gift” to me as well.
Like everyone else in our American culture, I love the many Christmas movies which have replayed from year to year. From “It’s a Wonderful life", with Jimmy Stewart to the more modern “Santa Clause” and “Elf”, Christmas movies are fun to watch as part of the festivities of the season. But my all time favorite Christmas movie is a short story told in a BYU production which was made in 1978.
The movie, “The Gift” is only 18 minutes long. Set in the depression of the mid 1930’s. A twelve-year-old boy who has very little money decides to get up early on Christmas morning to do the farm chores for his dad.
I love this movie because it tells the story of my sister and I, when we lived on our family egg farm a decade earlier (than when I first saw the movie). Like my sister said in her blog, it didn’t happen at Christmas time, and we didn’t even intentionally start out thinking, “Let’s do this as a gift for Dad.” But that’s how it turned out, and in the process, it has become a lifetime favorite memory for me. So I am the one who really received a gift back then. Thank-you, sister, for hating early mornings, and pulling me into what became one of my favorite night time pastimes.
Here is my version of the story.
Sometimes Dad had problems, so when we got home from school, we found that we were way behind on the work. On these “bad days” the last thing to be done was the egg gathering. Sometimes part of it wouldn’t get done at all. Then we would have to get up by 4:00am to gather before school the next morning. We didn’t like this very much. In fact on one such occasion my sister told me that she’d rather do it herself the night before.
So that’s what we did. After coming in late one evening, after one of “those bad days”, and after having supper, we told Mom and Dad good night and went downstairs to bed. Then we went out the basement door and back to the green house. (We called it the Green house because we originally used green flats to gather the eggs in that particular chicken coop. We also had chicken coops named the Red house, and the Yellow house. But the name Green house was the only name that stuck.) The lights were off now in the coop but we had a flashlight.
It took hours to gather that building in the dark with just the two of us, and with only a flashlight to see what we were doing, but we worked harder then ever at it, and we finished sometime in the middle of the night.
At 3:50 AM, Dad came down to get us up to help gather the green house. We got up and went down to the farm with Dad to get started. As we went inside the coop, Dad looked at all the eggs on the carts in front, and at the empty gathering trays under the chickens with amazement. We reacted just as shocked as he was, not admitting to any knowledge of how the work had been mysteriously done during the night. After a minute of looking around, Dad shrugged his shoulders and said, “It must have been gremlins that did it.”
That was so fun to do that frequently after that, “Gremlins” worked at night unexpectedly. One time was a major undertaking. One of my older brothers, Keith, was married with a family of his own. He worked part time on the farm along with his college job. We were buying egg cartons by the railcar load out of Macon, Georgia. But the nearest railroad siding, where we could unload was in town, about four miles away.
One Friday evening, Dad spotted our rail car load of egg cartons parked on the side rail. There were between 1000 and 1500 bundles of cartons to unload. On a truck we could get about 100 bundles. Dad took my older brother, Keith, my younger brother, Warren, and me over to load up a truckload just before dark. It was a lot of work to unstack the cartons from the rail car, carry them over to our truck and restack them in the truck. We then drove the truck home and we were then only half done handling that load of cartons.
Unloading was harder, because every bundle had to be lifted up into the second floor of the green house, which was now used for carton storage. After getting back with this first load, it was getting dark and too late to unload it. So Dad arranged for Keith to come back at 4:00 AM to help us finish unloading the rail car.
In no time Keith, Warren and I were making plans. Dad finally went to bed at 10:00 PM. At 10:30 PM we felt it was safe to start. We went to the farm and unloaded the truck that Dad had brought in. Then we took two trucks back to town. As we went past Dad’s open bedroom window we shut off the trucks and coasted so Dad wouldn’t wake-up. In town we loaded both trucks by Lantern light, working like mules as fast as we could. We then went back to the farm, coasting past Dad’s bedroom window with lights and engines off. We unloaded and went back to town to load up again, and then back to our farm again.
All night we worked like our lives depended on it. At 3:30 AM we still had 2 trucks to unload. Finally we finished and Keith split for home. Warren and I slipped back in the basement door and to our rooms. We could hear Dad moving upstairs. I didn’t have time to get undressed as dad approached my room, so I just got under the covers to hide my dirty work clothes. Dad came in to wake us up. I followed Dad down to the farm and was shocked along with him that everything was already done. Again, Dad said, “Gremlins must have done it.” As always it made a dreaded job fun.
So what started out as a way for my sister, who hated early morning chores, to not have to get up at 4:00am, became a pattern of giving our dad a needed break from his “Bad days” on the farm, and of giving us children a feeling inside that can only be experienced by giving of ourselves. Thank-you Sister, for including me while learning a wonderful lesson of life. Because I watch that Christmas movie, “The Gift” every year, I always think of those Gremlins of our youth. And I realize that we, the givers, were really the recipients of the gift. And It is a gift which I will cherish my whole life.