The Gift

What’s the most meaningful gift you’ve ever given someone? The poignant Christmas story “Ansel’s Special Gift” addresses this very question. It shows the joy that can derived from giving gifts to others and how these gifts can remind us of what’s truly important in life. Read “Ansel’s Special Gift” and see how it relates to your own Christmas experiences.
“Ansel’s Special Gift”

Ansel Nordquist steadied himself against the cold night wind. Tightly gripping his gold-knobbed cane, he stared at the bright and lovely things in the Saks Fifth Avenue window. “What to get?” he asked himself. He needed to buy only one present, but it had to be perfect. Perfect. Just right. And time was running out.

Snowflakes, thick and fluffy, tumbled through the air. In the street beside him, a dapple-gray horse with steaming breath pulled a carriage of young lovers beneath the stars and twinkling Christmas lights.

Busy shoppers scurried by, feet crunching in the new-fallen snow. Faintly, he heard the ting…ting…ting of The Salvation Army bell. The air was heavy with freshly cut pine mixed with the smell of hot popcorn from the street vendor’s cart.

A gleeful toddler squealed, “Hurry, Mommy! Come on! Come on!” He tugged hard at his mother’s skirt, pulling her from the boring windows filled with gowns and jewels and furs to the exciting windows, down the street, loaded with wondrous toys.

Ansel turned cautiously, steadied by his cane, and shuffled toward the next Saks window, wondering what beautiful things it would hold. His cashmere coat and white silk scarf kept him warm against the chill. Nevertheless, the bitter wind brought tears to his eyes. Or was it the wind? Perhaps, instead, it was the season.

Window after window, Ansel passed. Each was filled with different things that, at various times in his life, he had bought. The diamond ring. The wedding band. The casual and the elegant clothes. The maternity wear and the baby things. The toys. Oh, yes, the toys. Especially the ones that came in pieces and had to be assembled.

How she’d laugh and how he’d curse, trying to put the toys together. She’d bring him coffee. They’d sit and talk of Christmases past. She’d drink the milk and eat the cookies the children had left for Santa. Then, when all the work was done, they’d sit on the floor in front of the fire and pray to the child who had changed the world. They’d pray to the Prince of Peace. They’d kiss. They’d hold each other close. They’d feel the fear of all the world and the safety of each other. Yes, these were the times when they knew love best. These were the fullest of years.

A smile crept across Ansel’s face. “Wonderful, wonderful times,” he thought. “But my gift…I must find my gift.”

Ansel turned from Saks and walked down the street. Past the haberdashery. Past the bakery. Past the laughter-filled cafe. He came to a stop at the toy store window. He watched the circling electric train running through mountains and villages. The sailboats. Airplanes with gas engines. Mesmerized, he watched them all, losing himself in the ghosts of the past and their hollow, faraway laughter.

Then a shiver ran down his spine. Despite his hat and gloves and coat, Ansel was growing cold. He was growing tired. But nothing…nothing could he find. He could not find his treasured gift.

Then he saw it! There it was! Tucked in the corner. High on a shelf. Up behind the expensive toys. Yes! There it was. The perfect gift. The most perfect gift of all.

Ansel entered the shop and purchased the gift, requesting that it be nicely wrapped. Then he walked back to the street and hailed a cab.

“Where to?” the cabby asked.

“St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,” Ansel replied.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Ansel paid the driver, tipping him nicely. Each wished the other a Merry Christmas. Ansel shuffled through the lobby to the elevator, taking it to the fourth floor — to Sarah’s room.

Once inside, Ansel removed his hat, gloves, and coat. He pulled the chair close to Sarah. He took her hand and gently stroked it.

“Hello, Sarah,” he said, not expecting an answer….None came.

Ansel gazed at her beauty. The rest of the world saw her 80-year-old wrinkles, frail white hair, and swollen, gnarled, arthritic joints. But not Ansel. Oh, with his eyes he saw those things, but not with his heart.

What Ansel saw was a woman who had devoted her life to him. She was a young woman high on a ladder, giggling, with paint in her hair. A woman on the sidewalk in front of their house playing hopscotch with the neighborhood kids. A woman with skin like farm-fresh cream — ripe, round, and aglow with child.

His heart heard her soft lullabies rocking their children to sleep. It heard her laughter as she ran with them on the lawn, jumping into piles of bright autumn leaves.

His heart smelled her scent mixed with salt air when, standing on ships’ decks, they’d seen the world with lovers’ eyes. And he felt the comfort of awakening in her arms each day.

Yes. This was the Sarah that Ansel’s heart saw. Not the Sarah connected to life by various wires and tubes.

“It’s Christmas Eve, Sarah,” Ansel said softly. “I brought you a gift. Would you like to open it now or save it for tomorrow?”

Knowing that Sarah couldn’t answer, Ansel reached for the gift and placed it on the bed beside her. “OK. We’ll open it now. See the beautiful ribbon, Sarah? And the paper? Red. Your favorite. I picked it out especially for you. And I watched to make sure they wrapped it right. Just for you.”

With aged, trembling fingers, Ansel unwrapped the gift. While doing so, he journeyed back through time….

“The cow’s gone dry, Ma!” Ansel hollered, walking through the door.

“What’ll we do, Pa?” Sarah yelled back, busy in the kitchen.

“Shoot her an’ have her for dinner, I guess.”

“OK, Pa. Best git out an’ shoot her.”

This was their greeting each night when Ansel came home from work. How it began, they couldn’t remember. Just silliness. Just being young. It certainly had nothing to do with them. They didn’t live on a farm. They lived in the city. And Ansel couldn’t milk a cow. He was an attorney. All they knew was that it was fun. It was theirs and no one else’s. It was their special way of saying, “I love you. Good to be home.”

Ansel pulled the last of the wrapping from the box. “Here it is, Sarah. It’s all unwrapped. Here…give me your hands.” Ansel drew her hands toward him so that Sarah could hold the gift. Then he placed it in her palms. It was a small, fuzzy stuffed toy — a brown and white cow that mooed when squeezed. The cow lay in Sarah’s limp hands. Ansel reached and squeezed the cow. “Moo…moo…”

In the silence, Ansel heard a sound–quiet, soft, muffled. Looking from the toy to her face, he saw Sarah’s eyes — open, distant, glassy. Her lips moved slightly. Ansel rose from his chair, standing in disbelief. Months — months it had been — since Sarah had stirred.

Gently, afraid of breaking the spell, Ansel leaned toward Sarah, turning his ear to her lips. “What, my dear? What did you say?”

Quiet as wind-driven snow, Sarah whispered, “What’ll we do, Pa?”

Never had Ansel felt such joy! These few words from Sarah’s lips! What a gift! What a gift! Never had there been such a wonderful gift! Tears welled in Ansel’s eyes, falling on Sarah’s cheek. Our words! Our special words! he thought, then chokingly replied, “Shoot her an’ have her for dinner, I guess.”

Into the night, this holy night, Ansel waited for Sarah’s response….

But Sarah lay silent. She held her cow. She sailed into the great beyond….

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