The unassuming book, “The American West” is one of the most precious gifts that I have ever received.
A Most Precious Gift
By Richard Mabey Jr.
Mrs. Huntley was my seventh grade Sunday School Teacher, back in 1965. She was a kind woman, with enduring patience in dealing with a group of 12 year old boys. I didn’t attend many of her Sunday School classes that year, as that was the very year I was fighting a horrible strep infection that invaded the chambers and valves of my heart, in that nightmare of a disease known as rheumatic fever.
Sometime, in the midst of my first month of illness, Mrs. Huntley came to my home to visit me. She brought with her a most extraordinary book entitled, “The American West.” I still have it. It is one of my most cherished gifts that I ever received. I remember sitting up in my bed and Mrs. Huntley proudly handing me the book. It was carefully wrapped with colorful wrapping paper, with a ribbon wrapped around it, complete with a little bow. A sign of true class.
I remember ripping off the wrapping paper, while Mrs. Huntley and my Mom sat beside my bed. I was genuinely amazed at what a great book it was. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I opened up the cover of this very cool book, to find the signatures of Mrs Huntley and all of my buddies from my Sunday School class, on the inside front cover.
Seeing all the signed names of my buddies from my Sunday School class, on the inside cover of my new book, deeply touched my heart.
Mrs. Huntley told me that she had taken a little collection during her Sunday School class and all the boys donated toward the purchase of the book. There are not words enough to describe how much that meant to me. I was so deeply moved. I knew that my buddies had given up their allowance that week to all pinch in and buy me this incredibly, wonderful book. That meant that for that week, my pals would not be buying the latest Mad magazine, or their fave comic books, or buying a couple of candy bars at the sweet shop on their walk home after school.
In that sacred moment, in first seeing the signatures of all my buddies, I came to realize that these boys were true friends. They made a real sacrifice to buy me this very cool book. And, very cool, it was. The book had great graphics, wood cut pictures, historical photographs, maps, and extremely well done pencil drawings from cover to cover.
“The American West” book was filled with colorful drawings and old black and white photographs. It was a wealth of information about the old west.
The book was filled with stories about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock and Annie Oakley; just to name a few of the true-to-life biographies that filled the pages of this wonderful book. In the year of seventh grade, I did not attend school, for having been in and out of the hospital with rheumatic fever. During that year, I must have read this book from cover to cover at least seven or eight times. I simply loved this book. In fact, I still have it!
Here’s the thing. In eighth grade, we had a teacher who would give oral quizzes every Friday. She made up some really tough questions and you had to think fast when you were called on to answer her question. I remember when we were studying the old west, I often drew upon the knowledge that I had attained from reading “The American West” book to come up with the correct answer to some pretty tough questions that this particular teacher would throw at the class.
Life is funny. At times I’ve found myself standing on top of the mountain and it seemed that everything I touched turned to gold. Other times, I’ve found myself walking through the dark valley and everything that I touched seemed to turn to lead. But through it all, over the years, many times I’ve revisited that dear old book that my buddies bought for me, 40 years ago!
Other than the old high school reunions, I don’t see the old gang any more. Some of the fellows that signed my book, I walked home from school with every day. Some of them were in the scouts with me. Some of the fellows, I played hockey with after school atop the ice covered Old Lilly Pond. One of my buddies, who signed my book, I stood by him many times playing the drums together, at many school band concerts. At 62, I know one thing for sure, I’ll never have friends like that…..ever again.
You never really know how much a single act of kindness will touch another’s person’s heart. You just never know. I know one thing for sure, that the kindness and sacrifice that my buddies made for me, all those years ago had a profound positive affect upon me. In many ways, I think it had given me a boost, toward healing, that no medicine could have ever given me. In many ways the fellows who signed my book, 40 years ago, were true friends and brothers in spirit.