(a yarn spun from a very old joke my father told me)
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ONCE UPON A TIME...
THERE WAS A WIFELESS FATHER who had two small boys. The father spoiled the oldest son, who never seemed satisfied with the things his dad did for him. As hard as the father tried to please his oldest boy, the harder the son complained about it.
The younger son was rather unassuming and, as you might imagine, did not receive the same attention from his father as the older boy did. The younger boy seemed perfectly happy with whatever his dad gave him. In fact, the boy often made better of the circumstances than they actually appeared.
JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE, the father decided he was going to do something really spectacular for his boys. He had worked many hours of overtime and saved quite a large sum of money to buy expensive gifts for his sons. As he began his search for the "perfect gifts", he soon realized his oldest son would not be happy with just one big gift, so he bought the boy two. After picturing in his mind the older boy's reaction to only receiving two gifts on Christmas morning, the dad bought three, then four, then five, and so on, until all his money was spent.
Feeling quite pleased with himself at having bought so many perfect gifts for his oldest son, the father suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to purchase even a single gift for his youngest boy. The dad felt ashamed and embarrassed at this oversight. An overwhelming sense of panic struck him like a heart attack as he thought of his little boy having no gift to open on Christmas day!
Out of money, opportunity, and time, the father began driving around the countryside in desperate search for something.... ANYTHING! ... to give to his youngest son as a gift. Just before heading back into town, he spotted a humble farm that had cattle and horses.
"Aha!" he thought. "Perhaps I can find a suitable gift there for my little boy."
With a sliding stop on the shoulder of the road, he leapt from his car and began searching for something of value to give his younger son. He looked in vain through the pastures and corrals, finding nothing suitable as a present.
WISHING NOT TO GO HOME empty-handed, thoroughly frustrated, the dad was suddenly aroused by the potent aroma of a handsomely-shaped pile of freshly-deposited horse manure. He had an idea! Rushing back to his car, he shifted some of the store-bought gifts around to different bags. Taking an empty paper sack, he trotted back to the pile of horse dung and carefully scooped it into the bag. He was quite proud of himself for the skill he deployed in retrieving the "special gift" because it looked as if the horse donor had deposited its waste contents into the bag personally.
RELIEVED AT LAST, the father sped home and spent the next several hours wrapping the various purchases in shiny new paper, trimming each parcel with ribbon and bows and cute name placards (all addressed to the older boy, of course!) Once again, due to his emphasis on the older child, the dad ran out of paper and trimmings for the youngest boy's only gift.
EXHAUSTED BEYOND BELIEF, the dad simply folded the top of the paper sack over twice, ran several staples through to hold it shut, and quickly scrawled the little boy's name on one side of the bag in pencil. Then, guilt-stricken once again, he quickly shifted what blame he could for this fiasco, by adding the words "From Santa" under his son's name. He shoved the bag to the most remote corner under the tree and crawled off to bed for a few hours of rest.
CHRISTMAS MORNING ARRIVED ON TIME...
AND THE BOYS AWOKE EARLY. Rushing into the semi-darkness of the living room, to the foot of the Christmas tree, the older boy shoved his little brother aside and flung himself headlong into the mountain of gifts addressed to (only) him. In a whirlwind of shredded paper and peals and outbursts of spontaneous delight, the oldest son tore into every gift in record-breaking time. There must have been 50 presents mangled by the eldest child!
AND TRUE TO HIS PLEASANT DISPOSITION the oldest boy, after dumping the contents of the last gift unceremoniously onto the carpet, shifted his expression from glee into a horrible twisted scowl and screamed at the top of his voice, "IS THAT ALL I GOT?!!!" His father stood in the afterglow of this warm reception in something akin to a stupor. He was, in fact, speechless.
THE YOUNGEST BOY, who had been sitting patiently in anticipation of the wonderful gift(s) he would open, turned and asked his father, "Daddy, what did you get for me?"
A high-powered projectile hurled from the barrel of an elephant gun could not have pierced the father's heart with more ferocity than the words his little boy spoke. Feeling all the courage draining from his trembling body, still unable to talk, the dad pointed a shaky finger to the dark shadows at the farthest point beneath the tree.
This was too much to bear! The father began sobbing uncontrollably at the sight of his little boy eagerly and gingerly pulling the paper sack out from under the tree. His son had an expression on his face as if the bag were filled with the most precious gift on earth!
SLOWLY AND WITH GREAT CARE the little boy removed each staple. As he read the message on the outside, tears welled up in his eyes, as he excitedly proclaimed:
"Daddy, it's from Santa!!!"
HIS LITTLE SON'S FACE did not change expression, even as the unpleasant odor of the bag's contents escaped into the room like a bursting dam. The boy peeked into the bag and paused.... (The father felt his own heart stop beating at that very moment.)
HIS RIGHT EYEBROW RAISED EVER SO SLIGHTLY once the boy recognized the shapely pile that was his new gift.
"OH, FATHER!! OH, FATHER!!" the boy cried with great joy.
"Oh how wonderful, Daddy, I almost got a horse!"
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY:
Love can never be measured by appearances or in the abundance or quality of things.