"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
"Then one fall when
things were slack, Mike took off a few days to go hunting. Pete went
along, of course. And 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 they'd returned and that Mike had got a really
nice big buck. We heard more than that. 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 the laugh, for the joke of it, he
had saved the ears, the tail, the hoofs -- 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 he saved until last.
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
"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
"He took the package
firmly in his grip and rose slowly to his feet. He smiled broadly at
Mike -- and it was then we noticed that 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 that's been an invalid
-- bedfast 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. And 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.
"We'd been watching
Jake so intently we hadn't paid much notice to Mike and Pete. But we
all noticed them now, because 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
so funny, but nobody laughed -- nobody at all. But the hardest part
was when Jake looked up and said thank you while trying to smile.
Silently one by one each man moved forward carrying his package and
quietly placed it in front of Jake, for they had suddenly realized
how little their own gift had really meant to them. Until now."
This was where the foreman
left the story and the men. He didn't need to say anymore, but it
was gratifying to notice that as each man ate his lunch that day,
they shared part with Bill Andrews and one fellow even took off his
shirt and gave it to him.