The gift of a Christmas coat for mom

By Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Dec. 23 2013 5:05 a.m. MST

Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen shares her Christmas experience when she was 16 and she and her siblings were secret Santas for their parents and four youngest siblings.

Chris Carlson, Associated Press

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "With Wondering Awe," which includes a compilation of essays from Mormon authors and was published by Covenant Communications.

Two events changed my life the summer I turned 16. I started a full-time job at a potato processing plant in the outskirts of Rexburg, Idaho, earning more money each week than I’d ever had, and I saw my mother take my father’s winter coat from the entry closet of our home.

When she then tried it on, I wondered what she was doing. It was much too early in the year to worry about coats; it was hot outside.

“Money’s tight this year,” she said when I asked her about it. Though she needed a new coat, she and my father couldn’t afford it.

My father worked long, hard hours providing for our family, serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the community. My mother, always stalwart, always faithful, always striving to teach her seven children correct principles, was a stay-at-home mom who kept our home and family together.

At that age, I knew on an intellectual level that my parents’ righteous sacrifices for our family often went unnoticed, but just then, that knowledge struck an emotional chord inside me. Wasn’t there something I could do to show my appreciation?

That’s when I had an idea. Because of my job, I could save enough money before winter to purchase my mom a coat and give it to her as a surprise Christmas present. Christmas and surprises went hand-in-hand, after all.

Motivated by my new plan and hoping my mother hadn’t noticed my smile, I found a manila envelope and went downstairs to my basement bedroom. I wrote “Christmas” on the front of the envelope and added it to the three others I’d already labeled “Tithing,” “Spending” and “Savings.” I then secured the four envelopes between my bed’s mattress and box springs. I was set.

Or so I thought.

The longer I considered my plan and imagined my mother’s surprise on Christmas morning, the more excited I became. To this day, one of my favorite activities is to surprise others with gifts that touch their hearts. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love the Christmas season.

So, as the oldest of my siblings, and wanting to involve them in my excitement, I told my two teenage sisters and my 11-year-old brother what I’d seen and heard from my mother. Then I explained what I planned to do and asked them if they would like to help me with this Christmas surprise.

“I thought we could manage it the same way we pay tithing,” I said. “Everyone just donate at least 10 percent of whatever they earn.”

“A coat costs a lot of money,” one sister said. “The only money I ever get comes from baby-sitting.”

“I don’t make much money either,” my brother said.

“That’s all right,” I said. “If you make one dollar and put in 10 cents, you’ll have done your part.”

“And we’ll go together to buy the coat?” another said.

“Yes, at Christmas.”

Each paused for a moment, and then, one by one, each agreed to participate in our Christmas project.

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