It was almost Christmas again, and
I was in my father's home . . . one last time. My dad
had died a few months before, and the home that we had
grown up in had been sold. My sister and I were cleaning
out the attic.
I picked up an old Christmas
cookie can that my dad had used to store extra Christmas
lightbulbs. As I stood there, holding the can, the
memory of a past Christmas swirled through my mind like
the snowflakes outside the attic window swirling towards
I was eleven years old, and with
Christmas only a week away, I woke up one morning to a
perfect day for sledding.
It had snowed all
night, and my friends would be hurtling down the
sledding hill at the end of our street. It wasn't what
you would call a great challenge, but we all had fun,
and I couldn't wait to try out the fresh layer of snow
on the runs.
Before I could go anywhere, my mom
reminded me that I had to shovel the walkways around the
house. It seemed like forever, but after about an hour
and a half I was finally finished. I went into the house
to get a glass of water and my sled. Just as I got to
the front door to leave, the phone rang.
will be right over," my mom said in reply to someone.
Geez, not now, I thought. The guys are waiting
for me. I opened the front door, but there just wasn't
enough time to get away.
"Joey, Mrs. Bergensen
wants you to shovel her sidewalk," my mother
"Mom," I groaned, "tell her I'll do it
this afternoon." I started to walk out the
"No, you'll do it now. This afternoon
you'll be too tired or too cold. I told her you would be
right over, so get going."
My mother sure is
free with my time, I thought to myself, as I walked
around the corner to the old lady's house. I knocked on
The door opened, and there was Mrs.
Bergensen with this bright smile on her old
"Joey, thanks for coming over. I was hoping
someone would come by, but no one did."
reply, just shook my head and started shoveling. I was
pretty mad and wanted to take it out on Mrs. Bergensen.
Sure, you were hoping someone would come by. Why would
they? You're just an old lady, I fumed in my mind. At
first, my anger helped me work pretty fast, but the snow
Then I started thinking about Mrs.
Bergensen and how her husband had died years ago. I
figured she must feel lonely living all by herself. I
wondered how long it had taken her to get that old. Then
I started wondering if she was going to pay me anything
for my work, and if she did, how much she was going to
give me. Let's see, maybe $2.50, with a fifty-cent tip
thrown in. She likes me. She could have called Jerry,
the kid across the street, but she called me. Yep, I'll
be getting some bucks! I started to work hard
It took me about another hour to finish.
Finally, it was done. Okay, time for some money! I
knocked on her door.
"Well, Joey, you did an
outstanding job and so fast!" I started to grin. "Could
you just shovel a path to my garbage cans?"
. . sure," I said. My grin faded. "I'll have it done in
a few minutes." Those few minutes lasted another
half-hour. This has to be worth another buck at least, I
thought. Maybe more. Maybe I'll get five bucks
altogether. I knocked on her door again.
"I guess you
want to get paid?"
"Yes, ma'am," I
"Well, how much do I owe you?" she
asked. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied.
Here's a dollar and a fifty-cent tip. How's
"Oh, that's fine," I replied. I left,
dragging my shovel behind me. Yeah, right, that's fine.
All that work for a buck fifty. What a lousy cheapskate.
My feet were freezing, and my cheeks and ears were
stinging from the icy weather.
I went home. The
thought of being out in the cold no longer appealed to
"Aren't you going sledding?" my mom asked as
I dragged in the front door.
"No, I'm too tired."
I sat down in front of the TV and spent the rest of the
day watching some dumb movie.
Later in the week,
Mrs. Bergensen came over and told my mom what a good job
I had done for her. She asked
if I would come over
to shovel her sidewalks every time it snowed. She
brought with her a can loaded with homemade Christmas
cookies. They were all for me.
As I sat holding
that can in my lap and munching the cookies, I figured
that shoveling her sidewalk had been a way for me to
give her a Christmas gift, one that she could really
use. It couldn't be easy for her being all alone with no
one to help her. It was what Christmas was really all
about . . . giving what you could. Mrs. Bergensen gave
me the cookies she made, and I gave her my time. And
hard work! I started to feel better about the whole
thing, including Mrs. Bergensen.
Mrs. Bergensen died, and it ended up that I never had to
shovel her sidewalk again.
Now, years later,
standing in my family's attic and holding that Christmas
can, I could almost see Mrs. Bergensen's face and how
she had been so glad to see me. I decided to keep the
can to remind myself of what I had figured out so many
years ago, about the true meaning of Christmas. I dumped
the old lightbulbs that were in it into the trash. As I
did so, the piece of paper that had been used as the
layer between the cookies and the bottom of the can
floated into the trash as well. It was then that I saw
something taped to the inside of the can.
an envelope that said, "Dear Joe, thank you and have a
Merry Christmas!" I opened the yellowed envelope to find
a twenty-dollar bill . . . a gift to me, with love, from
Mrs. Bergensen . . . the