Gifts of Love
Lancer Brat Pack AU Christmas
Disclaimer: Here’s where I have to confess the characters are not mine…just in case Big Brother is watching…though to tell the truth I’m more concerned about Santa watching me…according to Ray Stevens he even has a wire tap on my phone… ah ef ife crime don’t pay….
1. I introduced the Ladies of Lancerlot to the Brat Pack last year on James Stacy’s birthday, and so I wanted to honor his special day again this year with another edition of young Johnny’s adventure.
2. Teresa talked me into doing a Brat Christmas, she says please so nicely.
3. This story was actually supposed to be a good bit longer, with more details, but Father Time stepped on a banana peel and slipped away from me. Therefore, in an effort to finish this in time for James’ birthday, I pulled a Reader’s Digest and condensed it.
It had all started with a conversation at the supper table. Scott was explaining to Papa and Ha about the discussion on giving and receiving his Sunday school class had. The teacher had explained to the children that it didn’t matter had small, large or expensive a gift was, as long as it was given with love. She had gone on to tell the children that they could make the presents for their family, or in the case of the older children, perhaps perform extra chores to earn the money to purchase them. She had assured them their efforts would please the recipients.
Therefore, Scott informed his father that since he was turning eight in the next few weeks, he felt he was old enough to be given some additional chores, which he could be paid for so he could buy the gifts he wanted to give this year.
No one even realized Johnny had paid any attention to the conversation. He had been preoccupied with his artistic endeavors with his supper. The budding little artist had made a lake with his mashed potatoes, and filled it with gravy. Broccoli trees stood sentry around the brown pond, glazed baby carrots snakes slithered all around it. His beef roast that had been cut into bite sized cubes became his moo cows, their square bodies bogged down in the edge of his potatoes.
While his own meal was used to create his three dimensional impressionistic masterpiece, Johnny feasted on the food from Ha’s plate. Ha laughingly called this the toddler diet. Ha would eat a bite and then feed Johnny a spoonful. He claimed he was actually doing himself a favor by feeding Johnny from his plate, as it kept him from over indulging. Papa just thought it was another case of Grandfather being too lenient with Johnny. Johnny certainly wasn’t allowed to play with his food, when Ha wasn’t here to feed him off of his plate.
“Moo mooooooooo,” Johnny mimicked, as he moved his cubes of beef through his boggy potatoes straight to the depression filled with gravy. “Splash,” Johnny shouted as his pretend cow did a high dive into the pond of gravy.
Johnny had amazingly accurate aim for a child and the chunk of meat landed dead center in the pool of gravy. Brown liquid droplets sprang up and splattered out, most of them ended up on the high chair tray, but quite a few became teardrop shaped decorations on Ha’s starched white shirt.
Scott’s mouth fell open as he watched the event unfold. He glanced at Papa to see what he would do about Johnny’s bad manners. Much to Scott’s annoyance, all his father did was to calmly remove the rest of Johnny’s meat from his plate. That kind of surprised Scott, but he figured it was because Ha was here, and Ha didn’t like for Papa to spank Johnny. He was pretty sure otherwise his little brother would have been whipped and put to bed. Ha’s reaction didn’t shock Scott at all. Ha laughed, dipped the corner of his napkin in his water glass and blotted at the stains, and then fed Johnny another mouthful of his potatoes.
Deciding he needed to finish pleading his case for extra chores for money, before Johnny did something else to get all the attention, Scott cleared his throat and spoke up.
“Well, Papa is that all right with you? May I do extra chores, and you pay me? I would really like to buy the gifts I give this year.”
“Wouldn’t you rather spend your free time making handmade gifts, instead of toiling away on the ranch?”
“Papa, I’ll be eight this month. I’m a big boy there are lots of chores I could do. I can be a good ranch hand.”
“If I agree to this, what kind of chores are you planning to do?”
“I think I can clean tack, muck stalls, clean the chicken coop…you know stuff like that.”
“Oh really, and how much do you think I should pay you for each chore?”
“I’ve been thinking about that, because I’m not exactly grown yet, there aren’t a lot of extra chores I can do. So I was thinking since the jobs I can do are time confusing, I think you should pay me by the hour.”
“I see…” Papa replied, as he bit back the smile that itched to bloom on his lips over Scott saying confusing in place of consuming, “And just how much do you feel you should be paid a hour?” Murdoch glanced at Harlan to see his reaction to Scott’s proposal. Harlan’s eyes were lit with glee as he observed his oldest grandson. The boy seemed to have inherited some of his business acuity.
“I think five cent an hour. If I work two hours a day, after school, that will be ten cent a day. On Saturday’s I could work five hours and still have time for other things, and that would be twenty-five cents. I’ll take Sundays off. Now by my figuring that’s seventy-five cents a week. But, that would only be for two weeks, the third week I will be out of school for winter break and I can work five hours a day all week. On that week I can earn twenty –five cents a day; or a dollar fifty for the week.” Scott slipped a piece of paper from his pocket and consulted it a moment before finishing. “When you add up the three weeks I work, because I planned to take the few days before Christmas to do my shopping, I will have three dollars to buy gifts.”
Murdoch’s heart twisted at the hopeful look on his oldest son’s earnest face. It was obvious the little boy had put a lot of thought and planning into his argument. It would be a good lesson in work ethics for the little boy.
“All right, you present a good case, son. You’re hired.”
Scott beamed as he shouted, “YES! I can hardly wait. I have a job and now I can earn my own money like you and Ha, and I can buy gifts all by myself.”
Johnny’s curious and intelligent eyes studied his father and brother. They were talking about money, gifts and jobs. Johnny liked gifts and he wanted money too.
“Johnny gonna work with Squat. Johnny want money too!”
“No, you’re not working with me. You’re too little you’ll just make my job harder.”
No was not what Johnny wanted to hear, like most toddlers he had an extreme allergic reaction to the word…it made him break out in screams.
“YES! YES! JOHNNY WORK TOO!” Johnny shrieked, as he beat the high chair tray and kicked his feet.
“That’s enough young man! Just what job do you think you can do?”
“Johnny can ride the bucking horses.”
“No, Johnny can ride his pony, but you will not be riding the bucking horses young man.”
The cherubic little face darkened with a scowl, as Johnny glared at his Papa. Anger glittered in his expressive blue eyes. He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, poking his bottom lip out until it drooped. He saw Papa’s gun hanging on the coat tree, which made him think about the gunfighter stories Squat read to him from the paper books. Gunfighters got paid lots of money if they were good. His scowl turned into a bright smirk, he didn’t have to be a ranch hand.
“Johnny gonna be a gunfighter,” Johnny declared proudly.
The statement caused a chain reaction of suppertime catastrophes. Scott in the process of sitting his milk glass down; dropped it on the edge of his plate, chipping it, and then spilling the milk all over the tablecloth. Ha sprayed his mouth full of red wine all over his shirt, and the fragile glass slipped from his startled fingers, crashing against the stone tile floors. Papa choked on the glazed baby carrot he had just placed in his mouth, he stood up gasping for air, and then coughed with enough force the carrot shot from his mouth like a large orange bullet. It sped down the table, and then landed in the breadbasket, sticking straight up.
Johnny squealed and clapped his hands and implored Papa to do it again. Maria rushed from the kitchen when she heard the commotion. Her weary eyes took in the destruction of the lovely table setting, causing her to briefly consider making them take all their meals on the picnic table on the patio. She used her ever present dish towel, which she kept thrown across her shoulder, to sop up the milk, picked up the breadbasket and headed back to the kitchen to send one of the other girls to sweep up the broken glass.
“Johnny Madrid Lancer, you are not going to be a gunfighter!” Papa sputtered as he wiped his mouth with his napkin.
“Yes Johnny are, Johnny like guns.”
“I don’t want to hear any more of that nonsense, no son of mine would ever be a gunfighter, you will never kill a man, not matter what the circumstances!”
“Johnny not want to kill a man in circus pants, Johnny just want to shoot bullets. BANG! BANG!” Johnny shouted as he shot Papa with his spoon.
Papa glared at Johnny, his mouth working open and shut without a sound coming out of it. As fast as frost on the grass melts in the strong morning sun, Papa’s strength faded away, he slipped with boneless weakness into his chair, if he lived to be a hundred he was sure he would always be confounded by Johnny speak and logic.
“Young man, I do not intend to discuss this any further. You will not be a gunfighter!”
Johnny’s mouth snapped shut, his lips pressed into a straight line, defiance burned in his eyes, and then his chest began to heave, as he panted in anger. Like a silver dollar tossed in the air flips from one side to the other, his reaction flipped from anger to disappointment. Tears welled up in his eyes, and shrieking wails rushed despondently from his lungs, as he tried to scramble from his high chair to Ha’s embrace.
Grandfather’s arms quickly lifted the little one from his high chair. He side-stepped Inez, as she was trying to sweep up the broken glass from his wine goblet. Ha headed straight for the rocker in the great room. He eased down into the chair cooing words of comfort to the distraught toddler. He set the chair in motion, humming in rhythm to the squeak and creak of the wood against the floor.
The room was quiet except for the sniffs and snubbing sounds of the distressed child. Papa moved to lay another log on the fire, and soon the chorus of crackling, snapping, popping and hissing of dry wood being consumed by flames joined the mournful sounds of Johnny’s emotions.
Once Johnny had calmed down Ha and Papa had explained to the toddler that even though it was nice to get big or expensive presents, it was the thought and love that went into choosing or making a gift that made it special.
Papa was sure to tell Scott, that the fact that he was willing to give up his free time to do extra chores to earn money for gifts meant there would be more love in the gifts than money and that was what was going to make them extraordinary.
Johnny decided he would make all of his presents since he was too little to work. Papa and Ha had to swallow their laughter when Johnny announced with his literal logic approach to speech, “Johnny too little to make money, so Johnny gonna make gifts cause Johnny knows how to make love.” Johnny gave Ha a squishy squeezy hug, and a big slobbery kiss. Johnny jumped from Grandfather’s lap and whirled away to play, his heartache and sorrow having floated away as easily as fuzzy dandelion seeds in the wind.
The month of December seemed to move with the speed of the over active toddler. Preparations for the coming holidays, as well as both boys’ birthdays had the house a bee hive of activity. Several times during the month items turned up missing, and no matter how extensively they searched, no trace of them could be found. What an odd assortment of items it was, a receipt book with Lancer Ranch and brand printed on it, one of Murdoch’s socks, one of Johnny’s Sunday shirts, a brandy snifter glass, and a canning jar from the kitchen.
Scott started his job with Papa. He never once complained about any chore he was assigned, and he always finished it in a timely matter. Each weekend the family would travel to town and Scott would window shop, getting ideas for presents once he received his pay.
Johnny would secret himself in his room once in a while, claiming to be making a gift with love. When he would emerge later, he would have an awkwardly wrapped package that he would ask Papa or Ha to put a nametag on. Johnny’s idea of wrapping was to scrunch and fold paper around a box and then bind it with a whole spool of ribbon around it. He would then place it on the end corner of the hearth, closest to the spot where the Christmas tree would be erected later.
The tree was put up the day after Johnny’s third birthday party. The family had decided to wait until after both boys’ birthday celebrations, as they did not want the tree in the way when so many children would be in the house. It was a crisp cold day on the twenty-fourth, and the family took a wagon up to Mirror Lake where they found the perfect fir tree. It was a happy caroling family that made their way home, ate a hot supper and then spent the evening decorating their tree. Both boys were thrilled to finally put their special gifts for the others under the tree. Despite the excitement that constantly twitched in their limbs and twinkled in their eyes, the two boys were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, worn out not only from Christmas activities but also birthday celebrations.
Murdoch and Harlan sat in front of the massive stone fireplace, lost in their thoughts of Christmas Day. The large log glowed bright red, now just an over-sized ember. The low flames bit into the wood, opening holes from which flickering tongues of orange with yellow tips would shoot forth, undulating in heated passion until receding back within the spent wood dusted with white ash.
The tick of the Grandfather clock sounded the melodious beats of the final minutes of Christmas Day, the remnants of which still decorated home and heart. Papa and Ha sat in silent contemplation, wrapped in a peaceful feeling of contentment. Their eyes met in the dim glow of light that radiated from the fire and the two oil lamps.
“It was quite a day, wasn’t it son?”
“Yes, Harlan it was,” Murdoch fairly whispered, as emotions stole his voice and moistened his eyes, “As long as I live I will never forget how humbled, and yet blessed I felt this day. There is nothing quite as pure as the love of a child.”
Harlan’s smile was beatific, he sighed with such contentment. Murdoch could practically see the waves of joy vibrate around the older man. They turned their attention back to the fire as they floated on the essence of the memories of a very special Christmas day.
Christmas Day at the Lancer Hacienda had arrived with the breathless laughing delight of watching two little boys discover what Father Christmas had placed under the tree. The gifts to each other would be opened after lunch, spreading out the cheer and excitement over the course of the day. Johnny was on the cusp of having a fit over not opening their presents first until they reached the Great room, and he became enthralled with his new toys spread enticingly beneath the branches of the bauble bedecked fir.
Scott had received a new saddle and tack for his horse Beanie. Among his toys were a chess set of his own, more wooden blocks to build with, and several volumes of children’s stories. Johnny was delighted to find his very own set of building blocks, a large hand craved horse set in a frame with springs, which allowed the rider to make it rock back and forth or jump, as well as several sketch pads with colored pencils, because he loved to draw.
The boys had played in blissful companionship all morning. Several times before lunch they had to be called away from the tree as their curiosity would get the better of them and they would try to inch closer to the fir, and inspect the remaining packages. The morning had gone so smoothly, leaving the family basking in a feeling that their lives were charmed and enchanted.
It occurred right after lunch, the family returned to the Great room to open their presents from each other, the euphoric ambiance still encapsulated them. Johnny in a turn-about of his earlier mind set decided to let Scott give his presents out first.
Murdoch and Harlan beamed at the little blond as he handed out his gifts. It was as if they could feel the sense of pride, accomplishment and satisfaction he got when he handed them out. Murdoch received pipe tobacco, it wasn’t the brand he usually smoked, that would have been too expensive for Scott’s wallet, but none the less he immediately filled his pipe and lit it. Grandfather expressed his gratitude for the bottle of ink for refilling his fountain pen. Johnny was thrilled with the slate board and chalk, especially sense Scott had taken the time to paint his letters and numbers around the edge in white paint so he could see how to form them. The smile that glowed on Scott’s face was a gift itself to Papa and Ha.
Johnny wanted to open the gifts from Papa and Ha next and save his for last. Papa gave each boy a new winter coat, and a bag of candy each. Ha gave each of them new hats, gloves and boxes of chocolates from a candy store in San Francisco.
Harlan surprised Murdoch with the papers to a new bull for breeding. Murdoch surprised Harlan with a hand tooled leather brief case for storing his papers during his trips back and forth to San Francisco. The adults of the family were caught in the same feeling of giddiness and happiness as the youngsters.
The magical spell of Christmas had almost been broken when Johnny handed out his first present, shattered by a momentary lapse of forgetting it’s the thought that counts, and that all gifts should be received with love.
Johnny decided since Papa was the biggest, which in his mind equated him as the oldest he should open his first. He retrieved a cigar box shaped and sized package, wrapped with crumpled brown paper with red Js written all over it, and wrapped around and around with what looked like three yards of white ribbon.
“Here Papa, Johnny made this.” The little boy fairly twitched with anticipation, his face flushed with excitement, delight dancing in his eyes as he waited for the revealing.
“I wonder what this could be?” teased Papa, as he readied his face to show pleasure over whatever it might be. After unwinding a never ending length of ribbon, he pulled the paper off. He smiled at the cigar box, he knew it didn’t contain any of the pungent smokes, it was too light for that, and he was pretty sure Johnny didn’t know how to roll a cigar. With great fanfare, Murdoch flipped the lid back, the big smile faded from his face, to be replaced with a scowl. The box was filled with the ripped up remains of his Lancer receipt tablet that had gone missing earlier in the month. He spoke before he thought.
“You ripped up my receipts, why would you do that young man? Papa asked incredulously in a stern tone.
Detecting the hint of anger in Papa’s voice, Johnny meekly offered an explanation. “Johnny had to rip them, Papa say Johnny too little to use the scissors.”
Struggling to hold onto the joy that had warmed the family all morning, Murdoch sought to clarify and understand the logic behind Johnny’s gift. “But why did you tear them into so many pieces,” he questioned as he scooped up a handful and sprinkled them back down into the box.
“Johnny needed lots of pieces of paper to fill the box with love. Johnny put a kiss on every piece. Now anytime Papa needs some love, Papa can open the box and get a Johnny kiss, cause Johnny made all the love in it.”
The earnest look of innocence that shone from the expectant little face before him twisted Papa’s heart, giving it a squeezed feeling like the three yards of ribbon that had encased the gift was now tightly twined about his heart.
Swallowing back the full sensation that clogged his throat, Papa scooped his youngest into his arms and embraced him with a fervor that overwhelmed him. Johnny’s small arms hugged his neck, his warm breath seeped into the material of Papa’s shirt right over his heart. Murdoch rested his cheek on the crown of his head, as a single tear filled with a passion for his son leaked from his eye, to be absorbed by the silky black hair.
“Don’t you like it, Papa?” a timid unsure voice questioned.
“I love it, son. I’m a very lucky man. It’s the best gift I ever received.” Papa proclaimed
While Johnny scrambled to the tree to get Ha’s, Murdoch motioned for Scott to come to him. He whispered to the little blond.
“I think your gift is the best too…but well you know Johnny.” Papa tried to explain,
Scott’s reply swelled his father’s heart to the point the ache of it was pleasure and not pain. “It’s okay Papa, Johnny’s only three. Don’t worry I’ll act happy not matter what is in my box.”
Father and son indulged in a hug before turning their attention to Ha, who was in the process of opening his present. Ha ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the creased brown paper covered with green circles that Johnny claimed were wreaths. There was enough red ribbon wrapped around it to drape the full length of the couch. Before lifting the lid, Ha glanced at Murdoch, his eye brows raised in a manner that said your guess is as good as mine. The lid was finally pulled off and laid aside, and there lay Johnny’s missing Sunday shirt, wrinkled and covered with various stains from the last time he had worn it.
“Johnny, I don’t think that’s Ha’s size,” Scott offered softly in the awkward silence that ensued.
“Yes it is Squat. Ha don’t have to wear it. Johnny filled it with hugs. Ha misses Johnny’s hugs when Ha’s in to Sandy Fran see go. Ha can take this, and anytime Ha needs a Johnny hug, it’s right there.” Johnny demonstrated by crawling into Grandfather’s lap, and then wrapping the sleeves of the shirt around Ha’s neck.
“I think this is the finest shirt I have ever had the pleasure of acquiring, and most certainly the only one that came with the hugs included. I shall never travel without it.” Ha didn’t have to put on act of how pleased he was, Johnny could have given him a box full of dirt and he would have had the same sappy, wishy-washy, fuddy-duddy, thrilled to be a grandpa look on his face.
Johnny jumped from Ha’s lap, calling for Mamacita as he did. She appeared in the room, in the process of wrapping her shawl around her shoulders, getting ready to go home to her own celebration, the large Christmas bonus from the Patron and Mr. Garrett tucked safely in her skirt pocket.
“Maria, Johnny has a present for you. He made it himself with love.” Murdoch nodded his head, arching his eye brows as he silently implored her to understand.
Maria gave the barest of winks as she took a cloth covered cylinder shaped item from Johnny. She untied the top which had been cinched with bright red yarn. It was at this point they realized Johnny had used Papa’s sock to wrap the gift. Peeling the sock down, a large jar of sugar appeared. Maria’s present made the most sense to them all, they thought.
“Thank you, niño. I will use this sugar to bake you something sweet.”
“It’s not just sugar, Mamacita. It’s special sugar, Johnny spit in it so it would be as sweet as Johnny, cause Mamacita say Johnny’s sugar is the sweetest there is.”
Thankfully Johnny did not see the looks of disgust that briefly marred the faces of his family at the thoughts of consuming anything baked with sugar that had been spit in.
“I will put this sugar in a safe place, and only use it for extra special occasions.” Amid a flurry of hugs and kisses, Mamacita departed for her little house.
“It’s Squat’s turn,” sing-songed Johnny in a happy trill, as he skipped back to the tree. Coming back he handed his brother a box covered in white paper with little trees drawn all over it. It also appeared that he had been eating right before it was wrapped, as there were fingerprint smudges of chocolate on the paper. Scott’s paper was tied in place with what looked like a girl’s hair bow.
Papa and Ha sat forward as Scott unveiled his present. The mystery of the missing brandy snifter glass was revealed when Scott pulled it from the box and held it up. No one knew what to say, they could understand the logic behind the kisses on the receipts, and the hugs in the shirt sleeves, and even the spit in the sugar, but everyone was stumped as to how or why Johnny would fill a brandy snifter with love for Scott.
Scott held the glass up, a quizzical expression on his face. He didn’t know what to say, he knew it was supposed to be a gift made of love like the others, but he couldn’t figure it out. He turned slightly to face Papa and Ha, and as he did the raised glass caught a beam of sunshine. The brilliant ray pierced the snifter and refracted, throwing a dancing patch of light on the floor.
Johnny squealed in delight and began to prance excitedly on his tiptoes around the radiant spot on the floor. “Look Squat look, there it is!”
Scott’s befuddled movements as he looked for whatever Johnny wanted him to see caused the light to shift. It shimmered as it moved places, and Johnny’s excitement escalated.
“Johnny gived Squat sunshine! See Squat see! Johnny exclaimed as he pointed to the floor. “Johnny loves to play in the sunshine with Squat, so Johnny gave Squat sunshine.”
Scott inspected the light on the floor. He and Johnny experiment for a few minutes changing the position of the glass in conjunction to the sunlight streaming in the window. This made the beam of light cavort about the room in a frenzied happy waltz.
“Thanks Johnny, I love playing in the sunshine with you too.”
“I’m very proud of you Johnny. You worked very hard making your gifts of love, didn’t you?”
“No, Johnny didn’t. It was easy. Ha said love is the feelings you have for people, and the things that give you the feelings.”
Ha scooped Johnny up and nuzzled his neck, “So tell us what love is to you, Johnny.”
“Love is kisses and hugs and being together and good things to eat, that’s what makes Johnny feel loved.”
“I think gifts made of love are the very best.” Papa added, as he stole a kiss.
“Johnny do too…cause Johnny ain’t got no money, and Ha said love was the very first Christmas gift ever,” Johnny yawned widely as the early morning and busy day caught up with him, “Merry Christmas,” he mumbled as he floated away to pleasant dreams while nestled in Ha’s arms.