Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story
By Jimmie Aaron Kepler
I had a bad habit of calling my bride Joanne mama. That is what the kids called her. I guess I just copied them.
I hadn’t planned on mama dying. Neither had the kids.
I remember getting the news that she had cancer. We barely knew what that was. We weren’t more than kids with children ourselves. She was only twenty-three. I was an old twenty-four.
At Wednesday night prayer meeting, we would hear people share requests to pray for their aunt, uncle, and sometimes their cousin that had gotten cancer.
One thing we had learned was that God didn’t seem to answer the prayers to cure the people that had cancer. They always died. Now we all die, but with cancer, they died before their time, way before their time. It seemed like we would pray for them and within a few weeks we would be giving our condolences to their surviving kinfolk.
Now Joanne had cancer of her female parts. One month when her monthly lady time came, it just kept on and on, not stopping. We both knew the story from the Bible about a woman with the issue of blood. That’s how she told me she had a problem.
She called me into the kitchen after Joseph Junior, and Elizabeth were put to bed for the night. We sat at the kitchen table. She opened the Good Book to Saint Luke chapter 8 and then read verse 43 from the Authorized King James Version. That’s the only one that was allowed at our church.
She read, “And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any…”
She then asked if I knew the story.
I nodded. “I am familiar with the story. Preacher Jones has preached about it before,” I said.
She explained her situation. She said she knew we couldn’t afford a doctor, but this was a real problem. She told me how her mother had the same happen before she got sick and died.
I went to see Doctor Simon next morning. He agreed to stop by and to accept an old chicken we had for payment.
I still remember him calling me in after looking at Joanne.
“Cancer,” said Doctor Simon. He added, “I will stop by Reverend Jones and ask him to call on you. You will need to get your personal affairs in order. Joanne will not be here to celebrate our state’s one-hundredth birthday.”
I remember Joanne and my looking at each other. It was barely the second week of 1936. We both knew our beautiful state of Texas’ birthday was in March. That was less than eight weeks away.
The preacher called that very afternoon. Joanne knew Jesus as her Savior but did not want to die. She didn’t mean to leave our children and me.
Cancer gave her no choice. It took her real fast. We buried her in the cemetery at our little church on Valentine’s Day 1936.
The kids and I didn’t celebrate Texas’ birthday. We didn’t feel too happy. We missed mama. It was hard. Even with an old maid aunt of mine coming to help keep the kids, it was still hard.
Aunt Emma was my father’s baby sister. While she was a right handsome woman even now, she had a speech impairment that kept any man from seriously courting her. My aunt was an educated woman. She had gone to college back east. She not only had a college education, but she was one of the few women that had attended and graduated law school.
Emma Gibson was her given name. Miss Emma as everyone called her had even passed the Texas bar and had her license to practice law. She had tried to get a job, but no law firm would hire someone who had trouble talking without stuttering. She had even hung out her shingle but couldn’t get enough business to pay her rent.
She had never married. I provided her with room and board for caring for the kids, as well as a small allowance.
Aunt Emma was as sweet to Joseph Junior and Elizabeth as if she had given birth to them herself.
As Christmas neared in 1936, an empty wallet was only one of many concerns we faced. The children missed their mama. Their mother had always made Christmas special. She had sung a solo in the church Christmas pageant since she was thirteen. I missed my wife, as well.
I missed my wife, as well.
Mama and I had talked about moving to California to a better opportunity before she had got sick. We just never followed up on our dreams.
I had a bank note due come Thursday, December 24, 1936. If I didn’t make that payment, the bank would have the sheriff evict me, the kids, and Aunt Emma.
The year had been a bad one. What little livestock we owned was all that had been sustaining us. Well, that and the canning Aunt Emma had done from our garden. Because of drought, the garden had not produced very much.
It was humbling, but I took a job in the nearby oil fields. The work was hard. The hours long. The pay was good for the times. I hadn’t made enough money for the bank note. I still owed the bank.
I had thought about asking the church for help, but three other families had bank notes due that same Thursday. There just wasn’t enough money in the congregation to help everybody.
I needed a miracle. I had seen with Joanne that miracles happened in the Bible and to other people, but not to my neighbors and me.
On day Aunt Emma asked if she could read all my papers to see if she could find any loopholes or options.
I gave them to her. I guess she never found anything. My focus shifted to what I could do for the kids and Aunt Emma with Christmas coming.
The supervisor at the oil field was a mean man. He used profane words that not even sailors had ever heard. He had a soft spot within his mean streak. He would allow a hard working man to work extra hours. He made sure you got your wages for your labors.
I was counting on some extra hours of work. Maybe the money would help get me an extension with the bank. I also needed those hours to buy a few presents for my family.
One of the few good things I had seen come out of this depression President Roosevelt way trying to get us out of was something called layaway. The 5 and 10 cent store in town was the first to offer it.
Within a week, the department store on the courthouse square followed suit offering the same. I had new shoes for the kids as well as a new dress for Elizabeth and overalls for Joseph Junior plus two shirts and store bought undergarments on layaway at the department store.
At the five and ten cent store, I had a doll and cap pistol on layaway for the kids.
I think the merchants figured I was crazy trying to buy something for my family.
Mr. Matthews at the department store thought I had lost my mind because I sometimes would ask mama what she thought of the clothes I was selecting for the kids, even though she was now in heaven.
With my overtime, I was able to make my weekly payments and still have money to save for the bank.
I was trying to be frugal. While I owned an old Model A Ford, I only drove it when necessary. The kids, Aunt Emma and I walked to church on Sundays, to prayer meeting Wednesday nights, and even to town. It was only a mile to the city and church was halfway between.
I had offered the car to the bank to help pay my note. They said no. They required cash. Since I had been late on a payment back in September, they got the justice of the peace to require me to pay in full by December 24, 1936.
Wednesday, December 9 we had a called two-hour prayer meeting at our little Crossroads Community Church for the families facing eviction and foreclosure by the bank. While it felt good, no one gave me the money I needed to pay off my place. None of the three other families received money to pay off their farms either.
I remember how cold it was that night. Poor Elizabeth complained about how cold it was when I made her wear a dress to church. I remember her crying as we walked home. One of the older kids told her we would be losing our house, farm, and she had better get used to the cold.
Why would an older child be so mean to a preschool aged little girl? It caused Elizabeth to cry and cry. The words of that teenager scared her so badly. Joseph Junior didn’t understand. He was still too young I guess.
Prayer meeting came on December 16 and again on Sunday night December 20. We prayed again.
I remember Aunt Emma asking we pray for wisdom for those trying to figure this out. Preacher Jones said all four families could move into the church if needed; that is if the congregation would agree.
It was the first time I felt like there was a chance of keeping the farm.
My hope was short lived. The banker’s cousin who also chaired our finance committee stood up. He said he wasn’t sure if the families moved into the church that he could keep the bank from calling in the church’s note. It was past due he noted.
I just knew all hope was lost. The wives of the other three families had all started tearing up. One of the men asked if we pooled all our money if we had enough to save one farm. He suggested the farm that had the least owed on it be paid off. Naturally, it was his.
His suggestion upset some of the church members. They didn’t view it as an option, but as his trying to save his place sacrificing the other farms and ranches.
Depressed describes my feelings that night. The walk home that night was bone-chilling. Aunt Emma and I had to carry the kids as they were exhausted from a long meeting.
Aunt Emma mentioned she was still going over the legal papers. She said the preacher’s wife had agreed to watch the kids Wednesday since we had no prayer meeting that Wednesday. She asked if she could use the car. She had an idea. She even said she would pay for the gasoline. She said she needed it on Wednesday before Christmas. She had managed to set up an appointment with someone she thought could help with the bank note and save the farm.
I asked what she had in mind.
She shook her head. “In case it doesn’t work out, I’d rather not say but I do have an idea.”
She wouldn’t say another word. I tried, but nope she would not talk.
“You do have a license and know how to drive?”
“You can use the car,” I said. I was desperate. I wondered what she had in mind.
“Mr. Horn will see you now,” said the secretary guarding access to his office.
Aunt Emma made her way into the oil company’s field headquarters office.
After one hour, one handshake, and an exchange of merry Christmas greetings, Emma left Mr. Horn’s office.
We could see the dust kicked up by a car as it drove down the main road turning onto the little road that came up to our farmhouse. With today being December 23, the sun set early. It seemed like a car, and sunset was arriving at the same time.
“I wonder who that is?” asked Preacher Jones. He and his wife were at the house checking on us. They had also brought the children back that Sister Jones has been watching. They also had accepted my invitation to supper.
If we are going to lose everything, we at least were going to eat enough these last days. I was barbecuing our last pig over a big pit fire beside the house.
“That’s Aunt Emma. She had an important errand requiring using the car. She said to expect her back about dark,” I said.
“I wonder what important business she had?” asked Sister Jones.
As the car came closer to the house, Preacher Jones said, “That’s the sheriff’s car. I didn’t expect him out here until Thursday noon.”
We stepped down off the porch to greet the sheriff as the patrol car came to a stop.
“Evening folks,” said Sheriff Porter as he stepped out of the vehicle tipping his hat.
“Hello, Robert,” said the preacher. “Everything okay?”
I looked with curiosity at the sheriff awaiting his response. I was fearful maybe Aunt Emma had been in an accident.
“Well?” I queried.
“Nobody’s been killed. I just wanted to give you a reminder I would be by at noon tomorrow with Ronald Foley from the bank. I have the papers. The judge signed them this evening. I had to drive over to his place to pick them up as he is on vacation the rest of the year.”
He looked me right in the eye and added, “Joseph Gibson, I will do my duty if you don’t have the $750. The court order says it must be paid in full and paid in cash.”
“I understand. Sheriff Porter, please stay for supper. We have barbecue pig. We have planty and it’s ready. We’ve some beans and greens to go with it.”
Rubbing his stomach, the sheriff replied, “I am hungry. Sure, I’d like that. What are you folks going to do when you are evicted tomorrow? It sure won’t be much of a Christmas for you.”
“Now Robert, don’t you go repossessing their farm until after the deadline. We still have time for a miracle,” chimed in Preacher Jones.
“Amen,” I added.
As we were sitting on the front porch, after enjoying our supper we saw the lights of a car approaching the house. It was Aunt Emma. As she got out of the car she shook her head and said, “Keep praying for a miracle.”
“No, I haven’t picked the layaway presents up. I just didn’t get them paid off. I have until 5 PM today.”
“I understand. I expected to see the Sheriff Porter here,” said Preacher Jones.
“He told me he wouldn’t be here until just before noon. It’s just 10:30 AM. Mr. Foley from the bank will be with him. That Foley man reminds me of a vulture with his big beady eyes,” I said.
Preacher Jones nodded. “Did Emma ever come up with anything from reading your papers?”
I shook my head. “I honestly think she drove into town to interview for a governess position.”
“Yep. I heard she interviewed with the president of the oil company. He had advertised for help in last week’s paper,” I said.
“From the dust, it looks like the Sheriff Porter is on his way. Is Emma still here?” said Preacher Jones.
I nodded. “Aunt Emma is keeping Joseph Junior, and Elizabeth entertained. I told her we needed to start packing. She said there would be time. She said don’t lose faith.”
I didn’t recognize the car that was approaching my house.
“That’s a new 1936 Series 90 Cadillac,” said Preacher Jones.
I just kept staring. I was wondering who it was and what it was they wanted. I had my answer in a matter of minutes.
“Only one man in the county owns that car,” the preacher added. “That’s Harlan Horn.”
“The oilman?” I gulped. No wonder Aunt Emma wasn’t concerned. She had her work lined up.
“Yep, the oilman.”
The long, black Cadillac rolled to a stop. The door quickly opened. A tall, slim man stepped out. He put on a silver Stetson Open Road hat. He moved around the car with a purpose in his step.
“Is Emma Gibson here?” he asked.
“May I ask who is calling?” I said in a cold voice. I just knew he was here to cart off Aunt Emma to be his housekeeper or care for his youngins.
“Horn’s my name; Harlan Horn, but you may address me as Mr. Horn.”
I looked at the fancy car. He wore custom-made boots as well as a new suit. The Texas A&M class ring on his right hand signaled he was somebody. At least Emma would have a place to live.
As I turned toward the front door to call for Emma, she opened the door. The children were a step behind her. Sister Jones was beside her.
“Mr. Horn,” she said with a big smile on her face. The enthusiasm in her voice surprised me. “Do you have it?”
“I do,” he replied.
“Oh wonderful,” said Aunt Emma.
“Of course, it depends on if Mr. Gibson is willing,” said Mr. Horn.
I looked over at Mr. Horn. “Willing to do what?”
Mr. Horn had a satchel in his left hand. “Can we go to your kitchen table?”
We moved into the house. We sat at the table. Aunt Emma had coffee prepared to show she was expecting us to be at this very place.
Taking papers from the satchel, Mr. Horn said, “If you do sign the papers Mr. Gibson, I have one thousand dollars in cash for you right now. I also have your layaway presents in the back seat of the car. They were paid in full.”
I looked at Aunt Emma.
She nodded. “Joseph, it’s okay. It’s just an oil lease. The thousand dollars is the first year’s lease payment. You will also get royalty money on any oil or gas they produce.”
“A thousand dollars? Oil lease?”
Mr. Horn interrupted. He explained, “Your lawyer aunt drives a hard bargain. She found in your deed wording showing you own one-hundred percent of the oil and mineral royalties.”
I looked at a grinning Aunt Emma. I smiled.
She said, “The owner of petroleum and mineral resources may license a party to extract those resources while paying a resource rent or a royalty on the value or the resultant profits. That is all we are doing. It should take care of you money needs for the remainder of your life.”
I quickly signed the papers. Mr. Horn had just finished counting out the money when Sheriff Porter and Mr. Foley up.
Banker Foley did not look to happy when we had the cash. Reluctantly he had no choice but to take my payment. Aunt Emma made sure we got a clear deed.
Sheriff Porter just grinned realizing he had one less person to evict.
Sadly, my church member friends did not own the royalty rights to their places. They would each lose their farms and ranches.
I had my Christmas miracle.
Next morning the children missed mama as we sat around the Christmas tree opening our presents. Later that morning we missed the amazing solo she sang each year at the Christmas church service. The first Christmas without mama would be remembered for the miracle we had at the Gibson farm.