A Christmas Gift

By Dave Hanks

It was Montana, it was Christmas time, and it was cold. Our fifth wedding anniversary, in the first year of our dream quest, had just past. Just six months ago we had loaded all our possessions into a “U-haul” trailer and our old, red, 1956 Ford pick-up truck. The trek from southern Idaho was slow but we made it with patience and some luck.

We were there in response to a dream - a dream of owning our own cattle ranch in a true cattle state - a state that gives real meaning to the term cowboy. It had been four years since I had graduated from college, only to work a every odd job available in an effort to amass some personal monetary worth. Twelve purebred Angus cows and a red truck were in our possession. Not too bad, for such humble beginnings.

Early May was when we were first introduced to the state – coming in response to my wife’s urgings to investigate around the country. It was evening as we mounted the continental divide to ease our way down into Montana’s valleys. Her gently sloping mountains and larger than life expanses were overpowering. Cattle grazed the hillsides – black cattle – our hearts soared! It was love at first sight.

To purchase a ranch took money and we had none. However, the Bible says: “Seek and ye shall find – Ask and it shall be given you.” That’s exactly what we did and to our amazement found a friendly banker, a small ranch, and a seller willing to go out on a limb. So we packed up our things and came – the twelve cows arriving later in a larger truck.

Now six months had passed and December came without much Christmas spirit. “Poor as church mice”, we struggled to make ends meet by working for a rancher and by renting our newly acquired ranch house in order to get a little extra cash to pay expenses. As a result, we lived in an old adobe-looking shack located in the middle of a machinery junk yard belonging to the rancher who employed me. The plumbing and heating in the shack worked poorly and it was a real problem in weather in which the thermometer often plunged to 30 below zero and to complicate things, our water froze the day before Christmas. All my daylight hours were spent chopping hay – a dirty, dusty job. Hay leaves got in my ears, eyes, nose, and mouth and coated my clothing. Hay for the never ceasing appetites of cattle who’s only reason for existing was to eat. Add to this the terribly low wages I received and life at this time was indeed bleak.

My wife was depressed and I was wondering if it was all worth it. Christmas snuck in to find us broke. By previous agreement, my wife and I had decided to not to worry about presents – to pretend that the 25th was just another day. It’s hard however, to get into that emotional frame of mind at Christmas time and our moods were dismal.

But “it’s an ill wind that blows no good.” On the 24th, what should appear in the mail but twenty dollars. A check sent to us from my oldest brother. Bless his heart! He never knew how he elated our spirits. Twenty dollars was more spending money than we had seen since the move to Montana. After work, it was into the old truck to drive the nine miles to town and the grocery store. We purchased food and candies – goodies that we hadn’t eaten for some time.

Although that Christmas was not as exciting as ones that had come before or that were to come after, it was not a total loss. We feasted that day and pondered on our hopes and dreams for the future.