The Joke Gift

This year
All years
Bill Andrews was a big, awkward, homely guy. He dressed oddly with
ill-fitting clothes. There were several at work who thought it smart to make
fun of him.

One day a co-worker noticed a small tear in his shirt and gave it a small
tug. Another worker in the factory added his bit, and before long there was
quite a ribbon dangling. Bill went on about his work, but as he passed too
near a moving belt, the shirt strip was sucked into the machinery. In a
split second, the sleeve and Bill were in trouble. Alarms were sounded,
switches gave, and trouble was avoided.

The foreman was aware of what had happened, and summoned the men to a
meeting and related this story:

In my younger days I worked in a small factory. That's where I first met
Mike Havoc. He was big and witty, was always making jokes, and playing
little pranks. Mike was a leader, but his friend Pete Lumas was a follower.
He always went along with Mike.

We worked with a man named Jake. He was a little older than the rest of us -
quiet, harmless, apart. He wore the same patched trousers for three years
straight. He always ate his lunch by himself and never entered into the
games we played at noon. He appeared to be indifferent, always sitting
quietly alone under a tree instead. Jake was a natural target for practical
jokes. He might find a live frog in his dinner pail, or a dead rodent in his
hat, but he always took it in good humor.

One Fall, when things were slack, Mike took off a few days to go hunting.
Pete went along, of course. They promised all of us that if they got
anything they'd bring us each a piece, so we were all quite excited when we
heard that Mike had gotten a really nice buck.

Pete could never keep anything to himself, and it leaked out that they had a
real whopper to play on Jake. Mike had cut up the critter and had made a
nice package for each of us, and for a laugh, he had saved the ears, tail,
and hoofs for Jake. It would be so funny when Jake unwrapped them!

Mike distributed his packages during the noon hour. We each got a nice
piece, opened it, and thanked him. The biggest package of all was saved
until last. It was for Jake. Pete was all but bursting, and Mike looked
very smug. Like always, Jake sat by himself. He was on the far side of the
big table. Mike pushed the package over to where he could reach it, and we
all sat and waited.

Jake was never one to say much. You might never know that he was around
for all the talking he did. In three years he'd never said a hundred words, so
we were all quite astounded with what happened next.

Jake took the package firmly in his grip and rose slowly to his feet. He
smiled broadly at Mike. It was then that we noticed his eyes were
glistening. His adam's apple bobbed up and down for a moment and then he
got control of himself. "I knew you wouldn't forget me," he said gratefully.
"I knew you'd come through! You're big and you're playful, but I knew all
along that you had a good heart." He swallowed again, and then took in the rest
of us. "I know I haven't seemed too chummy with you men, but I never meant
to be rude. You see, I've got nine kids at home and a wife who's an invalid-
bedridden now for four years. She ain't ever going to get any better, and
sometimes when she's real bad off, I have to sit up all night to take
care of her. Most of my wages have had to go for doctors and medicine."

"The kids do all they can to help out, but at times it's been hard to keep
food in their mouths. Maybe you think it's funny that I go off by myself
to eat my dinner. Well, I guess I've been a little ashamed, because I don't
always have anything between my sandwich. Or like today, maybe there's
only a raw turnip in my pail. But I want you to know that this meat really means
a lot to me. Maybe more than to anybody here because tonight my kids," he
wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, "...tonight my kids
will have a really..." He tugged at the string that bound the package.

We'd been watching Jake so intently, we hadn't paid much notice to Mike and
Pete, but we all noticed them now. They both dove at once to try to grab the
package, but they were too late. Jake had broken the wrapper and was already
surveying his present. He examined each hoof, each ear, and then he held up
the tail. It wiggled limply. It should have been funny, but nobody

The hardest part was when Jake looked up and said thank you, while trying to

Silently, one by one, each man moved forward carrying his package and
quietly placed it in front of Jake. They suddenly realized how little their
own gift really meant to them.

This was where the foreman left the story and the men. He didn't need to say
any more, but it was gratifying to notice that as each man ate his lunch
that day, they shared part with Bill Andrews and one man even took off
his shirt and gave it to him.

A few lessons can be learned from this tale. The first is obvious: Don't
judge people because they look or act differently than you do. (The old
adage about walking a mile in another's moccasin before passing judgement
comes to mind).

A more subtle point is that this guy should have shared his troubles with
his friends. It is human nature to render aid to someone in need. Even if
you really dislike a person, it's all but impossible to turn your back when
asked for help.

Sometimes when a burden seems unbearable, all it takes is a kind word
from a friend to make it seem a little better.