The Gift My Brother Couldn't Give
by: Gary E. Anderson
In the first years after my brothers, sister, and I left home, there were
several Christmases in which our ability to give fell far short of our desire.
In fact, we often found ourselves getting very creative if we were going to give
any Christmas presents at all. But those early Christmases also contained some
of the finest gifts I've ever received, and one of those was the gift my brother
Jim thought he couldn't give.
Jim had chosen a difficult road, working for himself instead of collecting a
weekly paycheck like the one I got from the department store where I worked, and
his funds were always limited.
As Christmas approached, we all searched for the perfect gift for each family
member. Since I knew Jim harbored a secret desire to write, I bought him two
beautifully hardbound books consisting of nothing but empty pages, so he could
fill them with his own words. They weren't expensive, but I knew he'd love them.
As we gathered around our parents' tree on Christmas morning, Jim's smile
shown brightly as he watched his loved ones begin to unwrap the strangest
assortment of gifts I'd ever seen. One by one, family members exchanged
mystified looks as they opened one totally unexplainable gift after another. My
sister received a well-used meditation candle. My youngest brother opened a
half-empty box of incense. But Jim just sat cross-legged on the floor, unfazed
by the puzzled looks and embarrassed thank you's.
Just when I'd decided my brother had lost his mind, Dad opened his gift. It
was a tattered paperback copy of Lord of the Rings, which I instantly recognized
as one of Jim's most prized possessions. Then I knew what he'd been doing. That
Christmas, Jim had chosen to make gifts of most precious things he possessed,
the things dearest to his heart. In sharing his most beloved treasures, he also
hoped to share the joy they'd given him with those he loved most.
It didn't matter that Dad mostly likely would have had more interest in
wading through "Volume 7" of an encyclopedia printed in Swahili than the
psychedelic world of Tolkein. He understood the profound meaning of his son's
gift. Fighting back tears, Dad held the treasured volume in his hands and said,
"I promise to give it back, son, as soon as I've read it."
Smiling broadly, Jim turned his attention to my gift to him. Although he was
clearly moved by the books, a strange awkwardness washed over the room as I
realized he had no gift for me. After a long moment, he said softly, "I looked
through everything I owned, and I couldn't find anything I thought you might
Now it was my turn to fight back the tears. Apparently, my brother had no
idea of the incredible gift he'd just given me in that simple statement. After
all, what could be a greater gift than to know someone thinks highly enough of
you to want to give the very best he has—and comes up short?
I smiled and said, "The look on your face is gift enough for me, brother,"
and I meant every word.
I got many other gifts that year, but I don't remember any of them. And I've
been given hundreds of presents since that Christmas long ago, but I can recall
only a few of those. But my brother's gift—the one he thought he couldn't
give—will always be one of the most precious gifts I've ever received.
From the book A Heartland Christmas Collection
by Gary Anderson
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© 2004. Gary E. Anderson. All rights reserved.
Gary Anderson is a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter, and manuscript
analyst, living on a small Iowa farm. He’s published more than 500 articles and
four books. He’s also ghosted a dozen books, edited more than 30 full-length
manuscripts, produced seven newsletters, and has done more than 800 manuscript
reviews for various publishers around the nation. If you need writing or editing
help, visit Gary’s website at