It took about 15 minutes to reach the center of the little town, and the corner bank where Matty had opened his two accounts, over the years. One was opened as a trustee account, like his school savings account with another bank, when he was very young, and just starting his work at the farm. It became impractical, after a while, as Matty had frequent transactions to process because of the various jobs he worked, like the farmwork, occasional caddying at the local golf course, and the winter combination of trapping and some farm work, especially during school vacations.
       So, at age 14, the boy opened his own savings account in accordance with an agreement between the bank and his parents, so that he could make all the necessary transactions on his own. It was something that he was very proud about, and, it translated perfectly into his role in the family-  big brother/oldest boy, leading the way for the others; a role that evolved because of his maturity at an early age. 

       He was a boy with a man’s responsibility… by necessity.

       Now, as the two boys stood on the snow covered sidewalk outside the bank, Matty realized that it was still too early for the bank to be open… He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the little wrist watch that he had gotten for his 9th birthday. The band was broken, mostly because of a missing pin that never fit properly. His dad had attempted to install the new wristband for the growing boy, but didn’t have the patience of a watchmaker.  So, instead of wearing it, Matty kept it in his pocket. At least he had a way to keep track of the time and he had always been distressed if he had given his word, but was late.

        The blond boy turned to his younger brother. “Gerry, why don’t you go over to the diner and get us  2 donuts and a big orange juice to share, while I wait for the bank to open… I have to talk to Mr. Richardson for a few minutes anyways. Wait for me there and warm up- I’ll meet you as soon as I’m done. Here… Take this dollar… and, these quarters. It’s on me. Just make sure you eat only one of the donuts! Oh, and make mine an Apple Cinnamon, OK?”
        “OK… I’ll meet you there, but, what if I want an extra donut? Don’t forget I have my 10 dollars!”
         “Nope!! Only one! That’s enough of a reward for the work we did! You need to save that money! Don’t forget– Christmas is almost here! You need to get Mom and Dad something, or did you forget?”
          Gerry frowned, but nodded his head. “Oh yeah… Well, OK, then. I’ll see you there…”
          The 12 year old was still in sight as the bank president arrived, escorted by a friend with a plow-equipped Jeep. He greeted Matty the same way as everytime, with a pat on the back, and a firm handshake, that had the boy scrambling to remove his glove. It was during that greeting, and the walk to the door of the old bank that Matty asked the man’s advice. He was one of only a few men, that the teenager trusted on matters of finance, but, what he heard was less helpful than Matty had hoped… The rather large sum that the boy had saved in the brick- walled bank impressed Mr, Richardson, but, because of his age, would not allow for the type of loan that could be used against tuition costs for his sister… He had no collateral, a term he was learning about for the very first time, and a personal loan might be arranged against the amount that Matty had stockpiled, but, it would freeze the assets that it was drawn against until the money was paid back… Collateral. A dirty word that day, in the hard working boy’s mind.
           But the middle aged man had listened, and was as gracious and supportive to the 15 year old as ever, and told him that if there was anyone he could break the bank rules for, it would have been the boy. He listened to the angst in Matty’s story about his dad’s lack of work and it seemed to sadden him to hear about the problem, but as Matty realized the futility of his plan, he decided that there was little use going on about it, and became quiet and thoughtful.  
          The man had allowed the boy into the building a little before the official opening hours, but now, the doors were unlocked by an employee and the bank was getting the first of the Saturday’s customers, an older lady, dressed in a heavy overcoat and fur hat, that caught the boy’s eye. It was startling to see the large hat perched atop the tiny woman, but, what made the boy choke back his laughter was the glass eyes that peered out at him from the front of the cap as if the mink that had given his life was alive and resting, curled up on the lady’s head. Mr. Richardson saw the hat at the same time, and the two exchanged glances and furtive laughter as the boy made his way to the teller’s window with his passbook. 

            Matty was determined that somehow, the holiday would be happy, despite the setback of his dad’s employment, so he took the cash he withdrew and asked for an envelope, into which he sealed the hard earned sum, and tucked it carefully into his shirt pocket under the sweater and parka that he wore that cold December day. 
            Mr. Richardson saw him to the door, and then did something that embarrassed the boy a little. He grabbed Matty’s hand and shook it firmly and then pulled the boy to him and hugged him. Matty had never hugged the man before. In fact, it was very unusual in his life, for a grown man to express his affection that way, so, he was startled and unsure how he should react. But, ever the diplomat, he recovered in time to thank the older man and then turned and left the bank to meet  his younger brother, before all the donuts vanished…. 

     It was a good thing, too, that he arrived at the empty diner when he did, because there was little left of the donut that Gerry had selected but a trace of confectioner’s sugar on the boy’s mouth and the apple cinnamon donut that Matty had requested was already being harassed, so the 15 year old split it in half and offered a half to the younger boy.
     “Are you sure?” Gerry asked.
      “I guess… Wouldn’t want you to drop from starvation before you get home! By the way, the bank has it’s own guys to shovel, so, we’re out of luck, but, I’m heading over to St. Mary’s to see if they need any help. You want to tag along?”
        “You mean, to shovel? Uh, Matty… I’m kind of tired… I don’t know, maybe I’ll head home… I’m cold, too!”
        “Yeah, I figured. Well, go ahead then. I’ll let you off the hook because it’s so cold, but, go on straight home! That 10 dollars should still be in one piece when I get back, OK?”
        Gerry rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yeah, OK, Matty.”

        So the two boys went their separate ways. Matty headed northwest, towards the massive, new church that the parish had built, a cathedral, really; Almost too big for the little town of blue- collared workers and farmers. Gerry headed southwest, back down the winding, snow- covered streets, through the neighborhoods of festively decorated houses and excited kids that the season had brought.

        It was nearly noon, by the time Matty knelt in the pew of the empty church, his role complete in the snow removal arena. His knitted hat sat on the mahogany bench near him, along with his sheepskin- lined mittens. He looked at the modern looking cross that was suspended from the upper reaches of the towering structure and then bowed his head in prayer.

        He prayed, at first, for the health of his baby brother, DJ, who had been hospitalized with a very bad case of the ‘croup’ a few months prior. It had shaken the family and upset the 4 year old boy, who was now very sensitive to little things and needed constant reassurance that he was all right. So, Matty prayed for that feeling of health and comfort for the little boy… 
        Then, he prayed for the safety of the entire family that now had him very worried, because of his dad’s unemployment. The stresses around that often seemed to reach a boiling point at the worst possible times, so Matty asked for help that the bad times would pass quickly and that the family would be kept together, even if there wasn’t enough money. 

        He stayed in the quiet church, with his head bowed, until he felt safe again. Then, he left by a side door, and retrieved his ancient shovel, and headed home with the envelope of money giving him some hope that things would get better. 

        If he was clever, Christmas still might be saved, but, it was going to be tricky and the tunnel seemed longer and darker than ever. To spark the flame and light the way, he needed help, in any possible form. What was once in the hands of Caesar, now fell into the realm of Faith. Matty understood that, but he was weary of the constant testing that his Understanding entailed. And, as badly as he wanted to share his plan with his brother, if it was to be successful, none of it could ever be revealed. He had prayed, and asked forgiveness already for the deceit  he was about to commit. After that, it was in God’s hands…

          Continued in Part 3…