Gifts for the Poor
by Shirley G. Finlinson
Sister Melbourne was mean and grouchy. There was no other way to describe her. Just the other day I heard her telling the bishop that children took too much time in testimony meeting. She even said that most of us didn’t understand what we were saying; we just wanted attention. I walked out of the chapel feeling very angry.
My anger didn’t last, however. It was December and Christmas was in the air. Excitement filled me right up to the top of my head. I had to smile and laugh, or I think I would have burst. We began singing “Jingle Bells” as we rode home from church, just to let some of the excitement out.
After dinner, Mom and Dad called us into the family room. We all knew what we were going to discuss. Every year for as long as I could remember, we had chosen a family in our ward who needed some extra help at Christmastime, and we had secretly taken gifts and food to their house. It was one of our family’s favorite traditions.
When we were all together, Dad said, “It’s time we decide which family to help this year. Do any of you children have a suggestion?”
Some years it had been really easy to decide because of a particular family’s needs, but this year we couldn’t think of anyone. When none of us said anything, Dad looked at Mom. “Maybe Mom has a suggestion. Sometimes she notices things the rest of us miss.”
Mom smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do know of someone who needs our help. Before, we have always chosen a family with children, but this year I think we should help Sister Melbourne.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! “But, Mom,” I protested, “she’s not poor or sick, and she’s really grouchy. She doesn’t even like kids. I think we should choose someone else.”
“I agree with April,” said my older sister, Beth. “She really is grouchy. It wouldn’t be any fun doing something for her. She might even kick our gifts off her porch. Besides, she seems to have plenty of money. She dresses in nice clothes.”
I looked at Beth gratefully. It was comforting to have someone older agree with me. Peter spoke up. “She’s always telling me to shush, even when I’m quiet.”
Lynn and Josh didn’t say anything. They were too small to know who Sister Melbourne was.
“I know that Sister Melbourne has enough money to take care of herself,” Mom said. “And I know that she isn’t very pleasant to be around. But that’s exactly why I think she needs our help.”
I wasn’t convinced, but I listened as Mom continued: “Sister Melbourne has had an unhappy life. She was divorced before she moved here. She has three children who are married. They have children of their own but never come to see her or let her get to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she has done something to make them want to stay away. I don’t know about that, but I do know that she is very lonely and unhappy. I think she needs someone to let her know that she is loved. You see, April, you weren’t quite right when you said that she wasn’t poor.”
“You mean she’s poor in love?” I asked.
“Yes, and sometimes it’s much more painful to be poor in love than it is to be poor in money.”
We were all quiet for a few minutes. Then Dad said, “Let’s take a vote. How many of you would like Sister Melbourne to be our special family this year?”
Slowly Beth’s hand went up. Lynn and Josh raised theirs. Then Peter raised his. Looking around at everyone, I reluctantly raised mine.
Mom said that instead of buying all our gifts for Sister Melbourne from the store, we should make most of them. All the next week we cut out snowflakes, strung popcorn and cranberries, pasted together red and green chains from paper strips, and made cookies and candy. We bought apples and oranges to go with all the things we had made.
It was Dad’s job to get a box just the right size for our gifts and to decorate it. We carefully arranged everything inside the box and put on the lid. Dad added a huge red and green plaid bow on the top.
We gathered around the dining room table to have a prayer and make four final plans before we delivered the box. In the prayer, Dad asked Heavenly Father to please soften Sister Melbourne’s heart and help her to receive our gift in the spirit of love with which we were giving it. I was comforted by those words, because I remembered what Beth had said about Sister Melbourne kicking our gift off the porch, and I had visions of cookies, candy, paper snowflakes, apples, oranges, strings of popcorn and cranberries, and red and green chains strewn all over the ground.
We all put on our coats and piled into the car. Since the box was pretty big, we decided Dad would carry it to the porch. After he returned to the car, it would be my job to ring the doorbell and run back to them before Sister Melbourne opened her door.
I could feel my heart pounding with excitement as Dad parked far down the street from her house. “April and I will walk to Sister Melbourne’s house,” he said. “The rest of you must be very quiet so that you don’t attract attention.” He lifted the box out of the car and motioned for me to follow him.
“Dad,” I said, “I’m afraid Sister Melbourne will catch me and get mad.”
“She’ll never catch you!” He grinned at me. “You’re the fastest runner in our family. But if you’re really worried, I’ll wait for you behind those bushes over there on the far side of her yard. When she’s inside again, we’ll go back to the car together.”
“I’d like that,” I said, smiling gratefully up at him.
Dad carefully set the box on the porch. I waited until he was hidden behind the bushes, and then I ran up the steps, rang the doorbell, and flew down the steps and across the yard to the bushes, where I crouched down next to Dad. “Good work,” Dad whispered, putting his arm around me.
The door opened, sending a ray of light out across the snow. Sister Melbourne didn’t see the box at first, but as she was about to close the door, she saw it and stopped. She just stood there for a second. Then she bent down and read her name on the top. She lifted the lid, and once again she was very still. Finally she picked the box up and looked around the yard. She was smiling, but there were tears running down her cheeks. “Thank you,” she called out. “Thank you, whoever you are.”
Dad and I were both quiet for a few moments after she went inside and closed the door. I whispered, “I think she really liked our present, don’t you?”
“Yes, I think she really did.”
The next Sunday as we were driving home from Church, we looked at everyone’s Christmas decoration and we began singing “Jingle Bells” again. When we passed Sister Melbourne’s house, I saw our snowflakes in her big front window, and the popcorn and cranberry strings and red and green chains on a Christmas tree that hadn’t been there the week before. “I think Sister Melbourne’s getting richer,” I said.
Mom stopped singing long enough to give me a hug. “So are we.”