— By JOHN PAUL CARTER
When we walked into Roy Parnell’s real estate office on the square in Glen Rose almost 40 years ago, we were looking for a little piece of land on the Brazos River. What we found was something far more valuable than the beautiful property he sold us – a priceless friendship with a truly generous man.
For the next 15 years, until his death, I would stop and have lunch with him on my way to the land. It usually took at least two hours because Roy was a big talker. But much more, he was a wonderful storyteller.
This season of the year always reminds me of Roy’s story of his favorite childhood Christmas. His father was working as a ranch hand in a remote area of West Texas. They lived in a two-room, clapboard house down by the barns. They were so poor that the children had to stay inside on snowy days because they didn’t have shoes.
The rancher was a hardened man who demanded much of his hands and paid little.
Embittered by his own losses over the years, he forbade his wife from seeing to the needs of those who worked for him. Christmas gifts were not allowed.
On this bitterly cold Christmas Eve morning, the prospects for any gifts under the scrub cedar bush that served as the Parnell’s Christmas tree were bleak, indeed. At daybreak the rancher sent Roy’s father to ride fence while he went into town on business.
An hour later the rancher’s shivering wife knocked at their door. Invited in out of the cold, she stayed only long enough to give each child a present carefully wrapped in tissue paper. She apologized that she couldn’t do more. As she left, she warned them that her husband must never know what she had done, lest they all would have hell to pay.
That night by the light of the coal oil lamp, the children unwrapped their presents. Roy’s little sister got a corn-shuck doll and his brother a shiny collar button. Roy’s package contained one of the rancher’s well-worn ties. Roy always said that it was the best Christmas he could remember!
Because she gave from the heart, the rancher’s wife gave far more than she knew. A little boy’s life was forever shaped toward generosity because, like Mary of Bethany, she did what she could.
Many feelings flood our hearts at Christmas – joy and gratitude are often mixed with sadness and longing. One of those yearnings is that we could somehow do more, not only for those we love but also for our needy world. Roy’s story reminds us that when we do what we can, we become a part of the miracle of Christmas!
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.