Back in the late 1980s, we had a little Christmas party where I worked at Ben's Uniforms in downtown Amesbury. My 8-year-old son Stephen joined us in the festivities. He fit right in too, and gladly helped us polish off our Christmas goodies. Then as we were leaving the party and closing the store, someone noticed that there were some doughnuts left uneaten. With Stephen's prodding, I was delegated to take them home.

Now normally, we would go through town to the parking lot, but Stephen asked if we could take the more scenic route, which is through the town's Millyard section. It has reconditioned buildings of the old mill era, a nice little open air theater and some picturesque landscaping that really beautifies the whole area. What he and I liked best, however, was the Powow River that runs through the town. In the winter it roars through, and it's an awesome sight to witness its power. We watched that for a while, then, doughnuts in hand, we clumped noisily over the bridge that spans the rushing water. Then we followed a trail that leads to the dam at the top of the hill.

As we reached the dam, Stephen and I came upon an older man with a little girl who was probably his granddaughter. They were standing and chatting while they watched the water flow over the dam. My son and I smiled, said hello and soon we too became captive to the hypnotic effect of the roaring falls. Then something broke our meditation. A tiny duck had started floating toward the edge of the dam. At first we were mildly concerned, but as it got closer, we began to worry a little more seriously. Just when we thought it was going to be washed over the edge, however, it simply paddled casually out of danger, totally unaware of our concern for its safety. We watched that lone duck for a while, then came the start of a procession. First a few Mallards came winging in, water skiing to a stop. Then, almost miraculously, there were 15 to 20 more ducks that found their way to the dam, and it made us curious about the reasons for so many ducks at this particular spot.

Then it dawned on me. These ducks were here because they had seen us, and what we represented was a possible feast. They were used to having crumbs thrown to them all the time by the river's visitors. I mentioned that to Stephen and the old man, who nodded in agreement. It took my son, though, to make the suggestion of the day. If the ducks like to be fed, then why not feed them our left-over doughnuts?

That sounded good to me, and it took but a minute to open the box and split a doughnut between us. I showed Stephen how big a chunk to use, then threw it in the water at the closest duck. Well, that duck and all the others around him went crazy. They battled, dove, splashed and committed all sorts of mayhem, just to get a chunk of doughnut. We then threw in the equivalent of a whole doughnut and were having a great time. Then I realized that the old man and his granddaughter were quietly watching us. They were enjoying the show, but I sensed they might have liked to join us in the doughnut tossing.

I stopped then, took another doughnut out of the box, held it out to the little girl, and asked her if she wanted to feed the ducks too. Needless to say, she reacted with almost as much enthusiasm as the ducks, took it from me, and in almost the same motion, had a piece of doughnut in the water. Her grandfather then joined us, and the four of us were firing doughnut chunks at all those hungry, beckoning beaks.

All four of us were having a great time supplying those ducks with Christmas Eve dinner.

Soon, however, the doughnuts were gone. I looked around. It was beautiful. The biggest grins were still locked on everyone's faces, and the ducks started to leave. This party was over too.

It had lasted only 15 or 20 minutes, but that little episode was as nice a Christmas gift as any I had ever received. We had experienced the true spirit of Christmas, the art of giving, just for the sake of giving. We had expected nothing in return, but in that short period of time, we had filled our lives with immeasurable joy, and all it cost us was a few doughnuts.

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Joe Hanish lives in Amesbury.

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