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Kindness: “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”  — William Wordsworth

A cold wind blew out of the north, and Dad hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to stay warm.

Before tractors had cabs, the lone protection was a canvas comfort cover that in theory directed engine heat toward the driver.

Compared to other Decembers, this one – sometime in the 1950s – felt like real winter.

I didn’t mind. My nose was pushed against the kitchen window as I watched Dad feed cattle and I vaguely wondered what Santa would bring to me for Christmas.

To my amazement, Christmas came early that year in the form of a gun and holster set. Real leather, too, and the pistols were silver, with pearl handles. Two guns, just like the Lone Ranger, and in fact, the masked man’s face appeared on the holsters, and the image of his great horse, Silver, stood out in relief on the handles of the six-guns.

And who was the benefactor of this early present? None other than our hired man, who, though always friendly, didn’t seem like the type who would give such a generous gift at Christmas.

Moreover, though I was clueless at the time, he wasn’t getting rich working for Dad. Like other hired men of that time, he made probably $5 a day, plus room and board. In Max’s case, he had his own home, a modest trailer house, where he and his companion, a small dog, lived alone on the other side of a cedar grove close to our farmhouse.

I thanked Max at the dinner table, where he sat quietly, deep-chested in his overalls, his blue eyes twinkling.

Of all the hired men I knew during my growing-up years, Max was my favorite, and not because of the Christmas gift that year. Dad said he could sit on a tractor all day long and at sundown, the rows were as straight as a strand on a barbed wire fence.

His ability and dependability were for Dad to assess; I thought Max must have had a soft heart because he certainly never accumulated material things during his lifetime of hard work. His gift to me that Christmas reflects what I now know about many folks who have little: They are more generous.

Max had his faults, I suppose, but it is his goodness and giving heart I am thinking about this Christmas.

Dec. 23, 2015