think I really count my Christmases from the
year Linda was eight. That is the year when
"Peace on earth, good will to men" first began
to mean something to me.
That was in '34, the worst year of the Great
Depression, at least for farmers. Like many
another, I had bought a quarter section, 160
acres, just before the market crash, and at much
too high a price. Now, with farm prices at rock
bottom, the prices of things we had to buy were
rising. It took every cent we could scrape
together just to pay the interest on the place.
That was the year we decided we just couldn't
afford to buy Christmas presents. For ourselves-
Jane and I- we didn't mind, but for Linda, we
felt differently. Our only child, she seemed
almost a baby. She was a serious-minded little
girl, with a wealth of silky brown hair and a
pair of enormous brown eyes, so warm they would
have melted the heart of the legendary Snow
Queen. We felt she was just too young to
understand why there was no money to buy
There was a beautiful red coat, just
Linda's size, in the window of Lloyd's
department store, in the county seat. Every time
we'd go to town she looked at that store window
to see if it was still there. But the price was
an impossible $12.95! It might just as well have
been $100. Jane went to great pains remaking a
coat of her own, to fit Linda, and she wore it
dutifully. But it could not take the place of
the one in Lloyd's window.
those days our nearest neighbor was Old Man
Riggs, whose 500 acres lay between our place and
the river. Old Charley Riggs was the stingiest
man in three counties, with a disposition like a
sour apple and an expression on his face that
hinted his chief diet was unripe persimmons. He
was reputed to have money, but you never would
have guessed it. He dressed like a tramp, and he
drove a broken down old Model T. He never put
side-curtains on it, no matter how cold the
weather. He'd sit bolt upright, his big, knobby
hands holding the steering wheel in a grip like
death. I never saw him wear a pair of gloves -
not until after that Christmas.
One of the most pressing problems for a farmer
in the hill country is water. If you don't have
access to a spring or a stream, you must have
deep wells to get it. And at that time, before
electricity came to the hills, you pumped it by
hand. And pumping all the water for all the
animals on a farm is labor, indeed. I had been
trying for years to negotiate a right-of-way
across Old Man Riggs's place, to the river. Here
I was, spending half my time pumping water,
while across the narrowest point in Riggs's
place, fifty yards from my pasture, was a whole
river full! And it wasn't as if he needed it. He
had over a mile of frontage and he wouldn't sell
me an inch!
Christmas approached, Jane was busy going
through the attic, picking out things to make,
or remake, and for materials to decorate with.
Linda was an interested spectator. Then, one
day, she came to me with a suggestion.
want to give Mr. Riggs a Christmas present!" she
was thunderstruck! But I said, "What could you
give Mr. Riggs, Linda?"
"I'd have Mother make him some mittens, like she
makes for you," came Linda's confident answer.
"Why," I blurted, "the old man would be too
stingy to wear them, if you did."
saw at once that I had made a mistake, for Linda
hung her pretty head, and began making circles
with her toe, in a way she had.
"Mr. Riggs is my friend," she said. "He lets me
eat pears from that big tree in his yard."
wouldn't have been more surprised if she had
said she had trained one of the local wild cats
to catch mice in the kitchen. But, knowing her
as I did, I shouldn't have been surprised, even
at that. Myself, I wouldn't have given the old
tightwad the time of day from his own watch, but
I couldn't deny Linda anything, when she looked
like that. Besides, I saw the hand of Jane in
this, for Jane, the gentlest and sweetest of
women, has an iron will that brooks no
opposition in such matters. I went down on my
knees beside Linda and took her in my arms.
"Aw, honey," I told her, "if you want to give
Mr. Riggs some mittens, you go right ahead!"
Every winter Jane made several pairs of
zero-mittens for me. These were mittens cut from
the best parts of my worn out overalls, and
lined with pieces of worn blankets. Then she
would knit some cuffs of yarn, and sew them on.
These were the mittens Linda wanted to give to
the old neighbor. Jane cut out two pairs for Old
Man Riggs, but she left the sewing to Linda. She
cut one pair from overalls, but she found an old
skirt in the attic, I think the brightest red I
ever saw, and she cut one pair from this. When
they were finished, they went into a box, along
with some of Jane's molasses cookies.
Early on Christmas Eve, before dark, Linda took
the box and left it on Riggs's porch. About
eleven o'clock next morning, my chores done, I
was sitting in the living room while Jane and
Linda prepared our Christmas dinner. Suddenly,
with a clatter like an earthquake in a tin shop,
Old Man Riggs's Model T turned into our drive.
He had his usual death grip on the wheel, but on
his hands were the flaming red mittens!
came to an abrupt halt just in front of the
house and climbed painfully to the ground. He
further mystified me by lifting a big cardboard
grocery box from the rear seat. Then he marched
right up to the front door, and knocked, holding
the box under his arm. After the briefest of
greetings, he asked for Linda. When she came in
from the kitchen, he put his hand into the box
and lifted something out. There, beautiful to
behold, was the beloved, fabulous red coat!
Linda let out a cry of wild delight, and then,
after the manner of womankind, she began to sob.
Mr. Riggs put his hand caressingly on her head
with remarkable gentleness.
"You know," he said, "I had a little girl just
like you, once, a long time ago. Only her hair
was red." He tried to say more, but only his
moment later, Jane came in from the kitchen. And
piling surprise upon surprise, Old Man Riggs
again reached into his box. What he handed Jane
was a hand-tooled leather bag that must have
cost fully as much as the coat! Riggs turned to
hope," he growled, "you won't mind if I give
your wife a Christmas present, John."
wasn't just a common courtesy that made me ask
Riggs to stay for dinner. The old man began to
stammer and make excuses. But Jane would have
none of this.
"Nonsense," she chided, "we've got plenty for
everyone, and it'll be ready in just a little
while. "Anyway". She clinched her argument.
"I've already set a place for you."
Poor though we were, we never went hungry. The
farm yielded an abundance of food, and it was
nourishing and good. And Jane was a cook who
could make a feast out of the plainest fare.
There wasn't a turkey, but there was a fat
chicken from our flock, as well as a pair of
rabbits I had shot the day before, served, of
course, with plenty of Jane's good cornbread
dressing. We didn't have tea or coffee, but
there were cider and milk aplenty.
could tell the old man enjoyed the meal. There
was a kind of dreamy look in his eyes. Once he
looked at Jane, sort of stammered, and then
remarked, "A man sorter forgets about a woman's
way with food, when he lives by himself."
After the meal, Riggs sat in the living room
with me for a while, enjoying a quiet moment.
But finally he put on his coat and started
toward the door. "Gotta be about my chores," he
explained. Then suddenly he turned to me and
said, "You know, John, there's a place down at
the end of my field close to the river, where an
old road used to go through. If you'll fence
that off, and run your stock down over it, it
won't cost you a dime."
he slipped through the door, he waved his red
mittens and said, "Merry Christmas, Linda! If
you will bring your basket to my house, I'll
fill it up with some of them pears for your
by Hartley F. Dailey