The greatest Christmas present is something you canít buyÖ
This is my first Christmas with my new family. When I first rode up to the Barkley Ranch that spring morning in March I never imagined I would receive the greatest gift of all, a family. In these months I have been here I have received more than I ever deserved. This family has given me their unconditional love and have made me an equal member of this amazing group of people I am proud to call my loved ones.
That is why I am sitting here perplexed. Oh, it's a bit overwhelming with how they decorate and celebrate the Christmas holiday. Boy howdy, I sure have never seen so much fussing going on before. When I was a boy growing up in Strawberry we never had a Christmas like this. But thatís not what has me perplexed, itís that they all want this to be my greatest Christmas, seeing how itís my first one with them and all.
But thatís what they, my family, donít understand. This is already my greatest Christmas. It has nothing to do with parties, decorations or presents stacked under the tree with all of our names on them. But how do you tell a family who has never had to go without food, or experienced the struggle to find money to buy a pair of boots for winter? How do you tell this family who has always had each other around how special it is to a boy who never knew the meaning of brotherhood or sisterhoodÖor a second chance with a motherÖthat they all have given me something that money couldnít buy.
Jarrod. Jarrod was the first to welcome me into this family. Oh at first he tried to buy me off but that was a logical response. It was certainly the one I had expected. But what I didnít expect was what happened next. I rode up to Sample farm with the intention that my presence would forever haunt them long after I was gone. I wanted to prove something to them that day. Let them wonder about this man who dared to call himself a Barkley. The gunfight shook me up more than I cared to admit. Jarrod came over to me as I tried to shakily role a cigarette. He handed me one of his fancy cigars. It was a peace offering, but what came next really surprised. He invited me to the ranch so we could all talk. I had made my impression. My head kept telling me to tip my hat and make the grand exit of all exits. But my heart had me accepting his offer.
That night everyone talked, except Nick, he yelled. But they all, minus Nick, voted for me to stay. This wasnít what I expected to receive from a family as fine as the Barkleys. The days were rough in the beginning. The town and ranch hands werenít so welcoming. But I stuck it outÖmainly because Jarrod was there to encourage me every step of the way. We were still worlds apart but we were becoming brothers.
Those first months werenít easy though. Sometimes Jarrodís fight for justice gets in the way of our newfound brotherhood. Like the time he went up against me, the prime witness against his client, Korby Kyles. The family wasnít pleased. But I understood. It was daunting, my brother is a magnificent lawyer. But like I said, I understood. I was poor and I've been in the position where law was not on your side. The experience of your lawyer and his desire to help prove your innocence determines your outcome of freedom. Korby Kyles was guilty and Jarrod felt bad. But I understoodÖand I told him so.
Weíve grown closer through the months, especially after that trial. It all started with a brotherís chanceÖor challenge if you wish to call it. Tonight, Jarrod is determined I have the finest Christmas. But no matter what he gives me under that tree he already gave me something that money couldnít buy.
Audra. Audra and her sweet innocence was the first one to make me a full fledge member of the Barkley family. I first met Audra when I visited Tom Barkleyís grave. She came after me with a whip. I knew at that moment she was full of fire. That night after my declaration got me the boot off the ranch she came into town to see me. She tried to get me to come onto her, believing it would prove I was a con. Boy howdy, was she a handful!
The following night I was invited back to the ranch after the fight at Sample Farm. Audra listened intently to the questions being thrown at me. She never said a word the entire nightÖuntil the vote. She was the first to vote for me to stay. Her chin came out in determination, daring for her brothers to tell her otherwise. Ever since that night she's been there for me and I for her. Jarrod and Nick have played mentor to her since her father passed on when she was only twelve. But I have been there merely as a friend and not someone to judge her. Her kindness and gentle spirit has made it easy to speak to her. She reminds me so much of the lovely ladies that raised me. I guess thatís why it was easy to love her, because her acceptance of me came without strings and has never been questioned.
Tonight she is so full of excitement. She is talking nonstop about the orphanage and how she is going to make the gifts special for the children. Like those children at the orphanage, her big heart wants to give me all that Iíve never experienced as a child. But no matter what she gives me this Christmas she already gave me something that money couldnít buy.
Gene. Gene was apprehensive of me at first. He didnít fight me like Nick did, but he did fight me in other ways. He was jealous of me. I never could understand that at first. But he saw me as a threat. He just turned fourteen when his father died. He, not only lost his father, but he had lost that brotherhood feeling with Jarrod and Nick. Like Audra, Jarrod and Nick had to mentor Gene, but it came with a price of brotherhood. Oh, they still love each other but itís different then what it use to be. With Gene in college he saw me as an interloper coming in and stealing away his brothers and his sister.
When Gene realized I wasnít there to steal away his family he came to realize I had benefited in the family. Well I never thought Iíd be beneficial to Gene as a brother before, I mean itís not like we have a lot in common. A college boy and a cowboy donít necessarily have much in common. But he came to realize I was that brother he lost in Jarrod and Nick. I have to admit I have grown to love playing big brother just as much as Jarrod and Nick have enjoyed the role.
Can you believe Gene actually came to me with a problem not too long ago? Nobody was more surprised then I when he wanted my advice on how to handle what had been troubling him. And then when I told him how I felt he wanted to know if I would stand with him when he talked to Jarrod and Nick. It made me feel special when he said that. He really needed me.
Now heís home for Christmas and he wants me to know how heís glad Iím part of the family. He canít believe itís my first Christmas with them. He says it feels like Iíve always been there. He says he hopes I like his gift. Said it came all the way from England. England. Can you believe a poor boy from Strawberry owning something from England? But he already gave me something that money couldnít buy.
Mother. That word still surprises meÖand blesses me each day. I never realized how much I needed a mother until I lost my Mama. No matter how far away Iíd go I always knew I could come home. Mama would stand in the doorway and squeeze the life out of me with one of her hugs. Then sheíd cover me in kisses as I tried to fend her off with the excuse I was a grown manÖand grown men donít get kissed by their Mamas. When I buried Mama I felt so alone inside. I wanted nothing more than to feel one of those hugs and to have her kiss me again. To smell the scent of her apple pie surround our small cabin as she spoiled me with her cooking. The cabin never felt the same when she wasnít there and when I left Strawberry I never felt more alone.
Then that anger brought me here to the family I felt jealousy. While my Mama struggled to give me a good life this family lived day to day like Kings. I wanted to tear them down and if my presence crumbled their perfect existence, well then it would give me great satisfaction. Or so I thought. I saw this family and the magnitude of love they were willing to give me. But most of all I saw a woman who reminded me so much of my own Mama.
The night I returned to retrieve those apples and the money Jarrod tried to give me I couldnít believe it when I saw her standing in the foyer. I thought she was going to condemn me for my actions. But what she did was welcome me into her home and eventually into her heart.
When I was a teenager and I left home I was so full of anger that I never realized the hurt I caused my Mama with my leaving. As they say you never realize what you have lost until it's gone. Now I am blessed to have another chance with a Mother, and itís a priceless gift I will always treasure.
Tonight Mother wants to make sure I am happy and that I have all I could ever desire. She placed her hand around my shoulder and leaned in to give me a slight kiss. I could only smile, for she already gave me something that money couldnít buy.
Nick. Oh Nick. He was the one to fight me the hardest, and the only one out of this crazy bunch that made any sense. I heard his speech about working hard that first morning I was at the ranch. When I came in from outside in sweat the look of pride in his eyes well it shook me to the very core. I saw the other part of my soul that morning. I know he felt the same about me too cause I saw how it shook him like it did me. But we were both too stubborn to admit what we felt.
Nick tried to make it hard on me at first. But in all truth I enjoyed the challenge. When we went on the cattle drive Nick didnít coddle me. When Nick was shot he put me in charge of the drive; he wouldnít have done that if I didnít impress him. When I returned home I saw the pride in his eyes and the look of admiration when he heard what happened with General Wallant. Thatís when I knew things were getting better between us. I think today those first months cemented our bond we have grown to share today. That bond still shakes me up sometimes to know there is someone else out there that shares my soul.
Nick loves Christmas. The one thing I have learned about Nick in these short months is that he has the heart of a child. And at Christmas that child comes out in full force. He talked me into joining him as we snuck into the attic looking for presents. I shouldíve run the opposite way when he promised we wouldnít get caught because that was the sign of Mother coming up behind us. She gave us her best glare and we gave her our best repentant look. She wasnít really angry with us but we didnít cross her again.
I know Nick is worried I wonít like his present. I think heís afraid it wonít express his true feelings for how far we have come. Like he with me, I know Nick better than anyone. And you see he doesnít have the confidence in how far we have come since those early days. He still feels regret and a part of him wonít offer forgiveness. I wish he would though. It doesnít help matters when everyone in the family tells him he needs to treat me with more sensitivity and with a pair of kid gloves. Of course he believes what they are saying and doubts that bond between us. In all truth he knows me better than any of them. Thatís because we are very much alike.
Nick is my partner, my best friend and my big brother. Heís the other part of my soul that I have searched for all my life. When I found him, I found the greatest gift of all, and I will forever treasure this special gift God has bestowed upon me.
He wants his gift to tell me what I mean to him. But I already know, because he already gave me something that money couldnít buy.
I sit here beside the beautiful Christmas tree that stands in the parlor. Nick and I searched high and low for this tree. Jarrod popped the popcorn in the fireplace then Gene and Audra strung them on a line. We all worked and laughed together as we transformed this massive parlor into a Christmas extravaganza. I couldnít help but join in the fun of this time honored Barkley tradition for it has now become my own.
I guess thatís why I can understand how they feel. I am sitting here itching about the gifts I have placed under the tree and hoping they like what I gave them. Jarrod and Gene sure could use that fine leather satchel I made for each of them. Jarrod can carry around his lawyer papers as he fights for the client everyone else believes should hang. Gene can carry around his medical books from one classroom to the next. Heís hinted about all the books he has to carry so I know he will like what I got him. When I saw that beautiful music box in the General Store I just knew Audra would love it. I canít wait until she hears the beautiful song it plays. Itís music an angel would play. And Mother, I really hope she loves that pearl necklace. The store clerk said the pearls came directly from the ocean. The beautiful colors shine in the sunlight and I can vision the picture of beauty when she wears it around her neck.
And Nick. I had a special painting ordered of him and his beloved horse. Jarrod helped me find a picture amongst the stack of albums that I could give the painter. When I saw the completed work I was so proud. It is so lifelike you almost feel that horse and rider will jump off the canvas. Nick doesnít think Iíve noticed, but Iíve caught him stealing glances at the wrapped gift ever since I put it under the tree tonight. Heís trying to figure out what it could be. I canít help but smile for that little boy inside of him. He wants to shake it, I know him, but he wonít do it as long as Iím in the room. As the night goes on I get more anxious to see his face when he opens it. I keep reliving that vision of him hanging that painting in his room knowing heíll always have a part of his old friend with him long after heís gone.
You see Coco is getting up in age and it wonít be long now until Nick will have to retire him. I know something about the special bond between a man and his horse. My horse, Gal is just as special to me. It will be hard on Nick to finally come to terms with the fact Cocoís not the horse he use to be. So maybe if he has this painting of him and Coco itíll be easier for him to say goodbye to his friend.
Listen to me. I am doing exactly what they are doing. Fussing over presents. I guess the spirit of Christmas has caught me as I watch my beloved family. Tonight is Christmas Eve and weíll be going into town for the tree lighting soon. Thereís a dance at the Hotel after the lighting ceremony, and then we'll gather at Church for services. It will be the greatest first Christmas of many more with my new family. For weíll spend lots of time together and thatís something you canít buy.
Someday I know itís coming when all of us wonít be together at Christmas. It doesnít seem possible but Mother turned 73 this year. Weíre all married now and have children of our own but we still make sure to celebrate Christmas together as if it was our first and last.
Jarrod and Gene have returned home with their families. Jarrod is serving his second term as Senator and thereís talk he could even become the next President. Gene carried on as the town Doctor when Howard Merar retired. The well-known Dr. Barkley helped build the new hospital in Stockton and thereís talk he might serve abroad. Audra lives close by with her husband Carl Wheeler and their beautiful children. She and Mother are still very close and a week doesnít go by when they donít see one another. As for Nick and me, we have raised our families together in this place I call home. Our children are more like siblings than cousins and if you didnít know better youíd swear our wives were sisters, for they are just as close as Nick and me.
It's hard to imagine that all of this has come to an angry man who demanded his share of what was Barkley. If only I knew what that entailed maybe I would have been more prepared when I rode up to this ranch that early day in March so many years ago demanding my rights.
This family says I've given them the greatest gift of all. But they have given me something more precious then all these material possessions can obtain. And to pay back all they have given me, Iíll pass on to my own children something they canít buy.