by Wayne (Tony) Mabes
Blue Ridge, Texas, USA
As a youngster, I lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and attended the local elementary school. Money was scarce in my family, mainly because my father had been disabled in a coal mine cave-in. Christmas was a particularly painful time for us. My parents agonized about how they could give us kids gifts for Christmas. Of course, participating in the tradition of drawing names in school to exchange gifts with other children was not a possibility. For me, there were no talks with friends about who got whose name and “what were you gonna get” for that kid. I felt so left out.
But the most painful part came on the day when the long-awaited gifts were brought to school for exchange and I had none to give — and I knew that I alone would not receive a gift. I knew, as well as an eight-year-old kid could know, this was just another thing I missed out on because my family was poor. The party started and the opening of gifts was the first order of business. Our teacher picked up the first gift and read my name! I was so excited!
This happened three more times during my elementary years. Years later, I found that the gifts had come from Mrs. Lilly, the mother of Griffin, one of my classmates. And I was not the only child to whom she had given gifts.
I now live far away from the hills of West Virginia and far from the poverty I suffered as a child. Her kindness and generosity made a deep impression on me, and I try often to recognize other people’s needs as she did and to help them as well. And in 1997, while visiting family “back home,” I stopped by and thanked Mrs. Lilly personally. But now, I’d like to let the whole world know that “there’s gold in them thar hills.” It is Griffin Lilly’s mother.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.