Johnny knew how to earn and save money for something he really wanted. Christmas was his favorite time of the year. Presents from Santa were great, but this is the time of year when people BUY things... and Johnny always had something to sell. He could sell chipmunks he had caught in his trap in the fall. The twinkle in his eyes was never brighter than when he was lettering a sign for the front yard that spelled out "LEMONAID FOR SAIL". With his slingshot and pebbles from the side of the road, he could knock down large bunches of Mistletoe from trees and sell them for Christmas.
One of his older brothers gave him some when Johnny was six and he sold it door-to-door and made a lot for a six-year- old. And so, on this December, Johnny had collected a wagon- full of Mistletoe covered with the waxy white berries and began his trip through the neighborhood. It was cold and damp, but Johnny did not notice. He was dreaming about stuffing quarters and half-dollars and maybe even dollar bills into his well worn, imitation leather wallet with a picture of Batman on the front. Yes, his thoughts were a long way from the cold day and the long walk ahead of him.
Later he had covered almost the entire neighborhood, but sales had not sold very much. Why, last year, he had needed to return home for a fresh supply of Mistletoe. Why was it? Was 25 cents too much? Maybe his sales pitch wasn't as good as last year. Whatever it was, he was very sad. He was nearly home and had made only two 25 cent sales.
Then he smiled just a little. Grandmother's house was next and she always bought something from him. So he stopped on the front porch, knocked on the door and waited. Sure enough, grandmother opened the door expressing joy and surprise at seeing Johnny. She asked him in to her always very warm house as he knew she would and she offered him a little piece of Christmas candy, as she always did. On this day he was glad to come in because the cold weather was now being felt right down to ten numb little toes.
Grandmother listened quietly to his story of the Mistletoe sales and told him that she wished she could buy the whole wagon load from him, but all she could afford was a dollar. With that, she gently reached into the pocket of a warm knitted robe and slowly retrieved a small change purse that was worn almost completely though at the edges. Johnny watched expectantly as she carefully unwrapped several dollar bills that had been folded into a tight little square. As she gave Johnny the dollar and he handed her a big bunch of Mistletoe, she looked into his eyes. She saw that they were watering a little, either from the cold or perhaps from the disappointment of that morning's efforts. But a little glow was beginning to grow, because now the day hadn't been a total loss.
After he had been there a little while, had sipped nearly a whole cup of hot chocolate and had licked a small peppermint stick till it now came to a point on top...he began to talk more to grandmother.
"What am I going to do now...with all this Mistletoe that I can't sell? I feel so bad. Instead of this being the best Christmas making all that money, this is going to be the worst Christmas ever."
Grandmother silently watched, gently nodding her head in a manner that Johnny assumed was agreement with what he was saying. So he continued, "Heck, I really feel bad...everybody is going to be happy at our house except me because nobody wanted to buy my Mistletoe."
Johnny heaved a big sigh and just sat on the little footstool in front of grandmother's big padded chair. He was gazing at the floor, his chin resting on the palm of one hand. And now grandmother spoke, "Well, Johnny, since you can't sell the Mistletoe and it would be such a terrible shame for it to go to waste...why don't you give it away?"
"But who would I give it to?" he asked as he looked up in surprise.
"What about all of our nice neighbors?" she replied.
"Nice?" he said, "Why they wouldn't even give me a quarter for a big bunch and some of them just said 'No' and shut the door."
"I know," she said, "but maybe they didn't have any money or maybe they had just paid a bunch of bills or something. Why don't you just go to a couple of houses and give a little bit of it away and see what happens?"
To be sure, Johnny thought this was a bad idea and he was inclined to say okay to grandmother and then go on home once he was out of the door. This time seemed different...there was something about the way grandmother looked at him and something about the tone in her voice that made him know if he said yes...that THIS TIME he would have to do it. She seemed so sure that it was a good idea that he began to get up the energy to say yes.
"Okay," Johnny finally said. "I'll go by just a few and see if they want any."
After a short pause, he added, "But I bet they won't want it even when it's free."
Now he began to get ready to make the return trip and he tolerated grandmother zipping his jacket all the way up for him even though he told her it was stuck and would only go up part-way.
The first house he came to on the return trip was the lady who shut the door so quickly and said "No". He wouldn't have gone to the door again, but since she surely wouldn't want any, he could prove grandmother was wrong quicker this way. He rang the bell and this time the lady opened the door and quickly assumed a more perturbed look than the first time as she said, "I thought I told you I didn't want to buy any Mistletoe!" Her voice seemed so foreboding that Johnny's voice quivered a bit as he said, "Yes Ma'am, but I wanted to give you some now." Her expression now changed to puzzlement as she now said, "Why?"
"Well, er...ah..." he stammered as he tried to find something to give for a reason. Finding nothing to say, he finally blurted out, "I just wanted to give you some." And with that, he handed her one of the largest bunches with the most little white berries on it.
Her hand slowly extended and grasped the bundle as she looked down at the cold little figure that seemed to be quivering just a little bit now. As the woman looked down, she could see only the top of Johnny's head since he seemed to be looking at the scuffed toes of some well-worn brown leather shoes. Johnny thought how quiet it was. He could just barely hear the rustle of the wind in the holly bushes near the house and the rest of the day sounds were almost completed muted, perhaps by the light fog that was now settling to the ground.
After what seemed to Johnny as an awfully long time, she spoke, "Johnny," she continued, "I was busy in the kitchen when you came the last time and my day hasn't gone just right for me today, so I was short with you. I can see now that you are a kind little boy and thoughtful to take the time to come back to my house and give me something that you gathered yourself. Won't you come in and have some milk and warm cookies with me?"
These were sincere and kind words now and Johnny began to smile. His stooped shoulders straightened as he said..."No thank you, ma'am. I just had some at my grandmother's and I have some more stops to make before it gets dark."
"Whatever you say, Johnny, but you're welcome back anytime for the milk and cookies...anytime at all."
Johnny was smiling widely now and as he turned to walk away she said..."Oh Johnny, I will hang this Mistletoe in a special place in my living room and I will tell everyone who sees it about the kind little boy in my neighborhood that brought it to me this Christmas season."
Johnny nodded his head, not knowing what to say, and strode off with his wagon load of little green leaves and white berries. He thought to himself that this was the first time anyone had called him "kind" and spoke of him in that manner. Usually people used words like "smart little businessman" or "enterprising youngster" and things like that. But this new word had...well, sort of a "feeling" about it...and it felt good.
The next lady he called on had a similar reaction only she wanted to pay Johnny after all. For a brief moment Johnny almost accepted the money, but then this feeling of his previous visit seemed to come over him again and he heard himself saying..."No thank you, I want you to have it and I don't want any money."
As soon as these words came out of his mouth, he could hardly believe he had said it. Why, he never gave anything away if he thought he could get money for it instead, but there he was, turning down payment. He did end up accepting a big candy cane because the lady said that she wouldn't let him leave unless he would take something. So the rest of that day was spent giving away his precious mistletoe that he thought nobody wanted. But he found that when he approached these neighbors in the spirit of giving, it seemed as if everyone did really value and appreciate his gift to them. In return, he sometimes got a piece of candy or a cookie, but he always received nice, warm words and a growing, glowing feeling inside that was unlike any he had ever experienced on any Christmas season in his life. It was wonderful.
When Johnny got home that night, it was dark and his mother started to scold him for being gone so long, but when he told her about the day he had spent and the reaction of the nice neighbors he had met, she knew he had learned something wonderful about himself and other people.
With sparkling eyes, rosy red cheeks and the widest smile his mother had ever seen, he said, "This has been the BEST day of my life. Everyone was so nice to me and said such good things about me. All I did was give them something that didn't cost me anything, but they seemed to like it so much. And now...I feel...well...I feel all warm and good inside. I think that this must be what people mean when they said it's good to get the Christmas spirit."
As Mom smiled a tight smile trying to hold back the tears of joy at seeing her little boy learn one of the great lessons in life, he looked her right in the eye and concluded..."I'm going to do this again every Christmas season for as long as I live."
And do you know what? He probably will.
(c) M.D. Smith, IV
revised: February 1, 1988
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