(Based on a true story)
© Cindy Beck, 2008
(Keywords: Cindy Beck, gift, birthday, 1910 penny, aggie marble, star quilt, chores, hen, booklet, LDS, YourLDSNeighborhood.com)
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God . . . (1 John 4:7).
Clink, clink, clink. Caleb shook the little tin box that he’d pulled from under his lumpy mattress. “That doesn’t sound like much money,” he said to his cat, Muffin, as he popped the lid off and turned the tin upside down.
A shiny, 1910 copper penny; a yellow aggie marble; and a piece of string fell out onto the quilt that covered his bed. The tied knots of black and white yarn on the blanket made a star in the middle.
“Ma gave me this quilt for Christmas,” Caleb said to the striped cat, as he sat on the bed. He remembered the look of love in his mother’s eyes as she presented him with the gift. Even on the coldest nights, his star quilt kept him warm.
“Tomorrow is Ma’s birthday, and I want to buy something special to show her that I love her,” he said to Muffin. “Maybe I could get some pretty ribbons for her hair.” The cat blinked at him, then swatted at the penny. It skittered across the bed and dropped with a clunk onto the floor. The coin twirled for a second. Caleb watched in horror as it angled and fell between the wooden floorboards to the dusty darkness beneath.
“Muffin, you bad cat! You’ve made me lose my money.” Caleb knelt on the floor, and put his eye to the crack between the pine boards. “There are strange shadows down there and a cobwebby smell that tickles my … achoo!” He rubbed his nose. “But I don’t see the penny.”
Getting up, Caleb hitched up the strap to his overalls and started toward the door. There was only one thing to do; ask Pa if he could earn another one.
Puffs of dust rose as his bare feet scuffed the dry soil outside. He found his father in the barn, milking the cow.
“Pa, can I do extra chores to earn a penny?”
“You can do them if you want, but I can’t give you a penny.”
“Why not?” Caleb watched the milk squirt into the bucket.
“Because times are hard, and I don’t have a penny to spare. The wooly bear caterpillars have a thick stripe this year, which means there’s a hard winter coming.”
“But I need it to buy Ma some hair ribbons for her birthday.” The black barn cat sashayed over and rubbed against Caleb’s leg.
“I’m sorry,” his father said. “You’ll have to figure out something else. And it’s time to collect the eggs. Head over to the hen house, and be careful not to upset ol’ Clucker—she’s the most persnickety hen in all of Utah.”
“Yes, Pa,” Caleb said, disappointment shadowing his voice.
On his way to the chicken coop, he prayed for an idea for a gift. After checking for eggs and finding none, he stood listening to the soothing clucks of the big red hen.
Suddenly a thought came to him. “That’s it! That’s what I’ll do. Thank you, Heavenly, Father!” The sound of his voice startled Clucker and she flapped her wings and squawked. But, she was fussing to thin air. Caleb was already halfway to the house.
Once inside he said breathlessly, “Ma, is there some paper and a pencil I can use?”
She nodded. “I believe I have a little of that paper that was used to wrap something we bought at the general store.” Ma walked out of the room and came back with a square of neatly folded brown paper and a stubby pencil.
Kissing Caleb on his blond head, she handed the items to him. “Use the paper wisely and don’t waste any.”
“I won’t,” Caleb said as he ran with it to his room.
Laying the paper on his bed, he tore six small squares from it. On the first one he wrote, “Ma’s Special Book.” On the next one he put, “Good for 6 jobs you want me to do without any grumbling.”
He thought for a minute, licked the lead on the end of the pencil and wrote, “Good for 8 hugs,” on another one.
“What else can I give?” he asked Muffin, who’d jumped back up on the bed. She licked her paw, swiped it over one ear and then mewed softly at him.
“What would Ma like besides chores and hugs?” Caleb stroked Muffin’s golden-brown ears as he thought. “Maybe she’d like me to fix supper? I could do bread and milk.”
Muffin blinked her eyes and purred, and Caleb took that as a yes. He wrote, “Good for 1 extra fix supper.” As he was writing, another idea came to him. “Good for 3 help yous,” he wrote on the fifth square.
Now there was only one square left. But what would he put on that one? He’d used up all his good ideas. Scratching the cowlick at the back of his head, he thought hard. “I know,” he said to the cat. And he wrote, “Love you,” on the last one. Then he put all the pieces of paper together, like a little booklet, poked a hole in one corner and tied them together with the piece of string from his tin can.
The next morning, Caleb jumped out of bed and raced into the kitchen. “Happy birthday, Ma!” he said, handing her the gift.
Turning the pages, she smiled, and at the end, she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “This is the best birthday present ever … because you filled it with love.”
A warm feeling started in Caleb’s heart. It spread all the way to his toes. He guessed it was good that Muffin had lost his penny. Hair ribbons only last for a short time, but love lasts forever.
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