Rich­est Fam­ily in Town

When my par­ents were in trou­ble at Christ­mas, their friends taught me the true value of kind­ness.


Igrew up on a 50-acre farm in the small ru­ral com­mu­nity of Catawissa, Mis­souri, as the sixth of seven chil­dren. My par­ents of­ten noted dur­ing meals how ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble ex­cept the su­gar and flour came from the land.

Be­sides run­ning the farm, Dad was also a car­pen­ter. In the fall of 1970, he was work­ing on a house when the lad­der broke. His back was frac­tured in two places.

He stayed in the hos­pi­tal for three weeks with his head and feet down, per­mit­ting his back to align cor­rectly so the bones would fuse.

On Thanks­giv­ing, Dad was still in the hos­pi­tal. We al­ways butchered hogs the day af­ter the hol­i­day, and that year my un­cle showed up with a cou­ple of cousins to help my three older brothers pre­pare our year’s sup­ply of pork.

Af­ter Dad re­turned home, he was in a back brace and un­able to work. I was too young to re­al­ize our fam­ily had no money com­ing in as Christ­mas ap­proached.

One night we heard a car com­ing up the long drive­way. Al­ways alert to com­pany, we kids were cu­ri­ous about who was vis­it­ing.

Peggy Phe­lan was at the door, hold­ing an en­ve­lope stuffed with money. She told my dad she had col­lected money in the com­mu­nity and was there to de­liver it.

He tried to protest but Peggy would have none of it. I can still hear her say­ing, “Archie, when­ever some­one’s baler is broke, you bale their hay. Some­one passes away, Altha is cook­ing. It’s our turn.”

That evening, this 6-year-old un­der­stood what be­ing a good neigh­bor was, and that be­cause her par­ents were good neigh­bors, their kind­ness would be re­turned.

I learned later that my mom’s sis­ters all “adopted” one of us kids to help with Christ­mas, and we re­ceived gift bas­kets from more than one or­ga­ni­za­tion.

My par­ents were used to be­ing the givers and not the re­ceivers of such gen­eros­ity. They had a bit of pride to swal­low, but con­tin­ued all of their lives to show us kids the value of kind­ness.

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