On a Christmas Errand
For years I had sent out packages of clothing at Christmas time to families whose need I had read about in a New York newspaper. I had also included some spiritually oriented reading material.
One holiday season my husband, Will, stopped to watch my preparations. “You’re spending a lot of money on postage,” he noted. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I drove into the city with the packages? Our station wagon would hold a lot of them.”
I was excited at the idea! If he did that, I could send heavy winter clothing, too expensive to mail, and also food. Happily I went about gathering all I could, while Will got maps of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, and began to locate and schedule the stops on his route.
Early the day before Christmas, Will and our teenage boys loaded the station wagon, packing it to the roof. The day was cold and grey, but the only concession to the weather Will would make was to wear a cap. He held an office job and rarely spent time out of doors, yet he was confident that he’d be warm enough.
As I watched him back the loaded car out of the driveway, I was assailed by sudden doubts. What if the car broke down? What if he got lost? Or chilled? He was going into some of the most crime-ridden sections of the city—what if he were assaulted?
Turning back toward the house, I noticed that snow was lazily drifting down—an added worry. I went into the house and knelt down to pray for Will’s safe journey. “Dear Heavenly Father,” I began, “Will has gone on an errand for me—.” Then I stopped. I had the sudden impression that I had said something wrong. The thought came, “No, he has gone on an errand for Me.”
I was taken back by the thought. I had been thinking too highly of myself in assuming that Will had gone just for me, and that his safety depended on my prayers. At that moment, I realized that delivering the packages was his service to God, and he would be protected.
I got up, determined not to worry about Will any more, and went on with my holiday preparations. The snow that had begun so lazily in the morning was a blizzard by lunch time. In the afternoon I tried to walk to a nearby store but had to turn back because of the drifts. If they were impassable here, what must the roads be like in the city?
Dinner time came. Still no word from Will. He had said that he’d call me. My resolve not to worry was getting harder and harder to maintain. In the evening, when our sons came in from shoveling snow, one of them asked, “Isn’t dad home yet? Where can he be?”
“Mom,” said the other, “he can’t still be delivering packages at this hour. No one would let him in. I don’t want to worry you, but—.”
“He’ll be all right,” I assured the boys, but I was beginning to panic in spite of myself. Resolutely I worked at wrapping gifts, trying to ignore the kitchen clock which was now creeping toward eleven P.M.
Then one of the boys yelled with relief, “Mom, dad’s car is turning into the driveway!”
Excitedly, I grabbed a coat and went to meet him. As Will got out of the car, I noticed that he wasn’t cold and exhausted as I had pictured he would be. He looked as though he had been outdoors for a pleasant half-hour, instead of just having spent fifteen hours on snow-clogged streets, driving around abandoned cars and lugging packages up unshoveled walks.
“I didn’t have a bit of trouble,” he assured me, “and I found every family.”
That evening I gave thanks for my husband’s safe journey and for my increased understanding of the Lord’s ways.
Carols in Colombia
My husband and I were teaching our small choir in Bogota, Colombia, some Christmas carols. They were thrilled to be singing of the Savior and of Christmas. Then, suddenly, at 7:30 in the evening, the lights went out, leaving us in total darkness. Since this often happens here, people carry candles for just such emergencies.
While they were getting out their candles, I began to play on the piano the only tune I knew from memory, “Silent Night.” Soon, in the darkness of the chapel, I heard a beautiful sound—a harmonica playing in perfect pitch right along with the piano. When a candle or two were lit, I looked up to see where the music was coming from.
We have a family of Otavalon Indians from Ecuador in our ward, converts to the Church. They have a nineteen-year-old boy who was born without arms. It was he who was playing the harmonica while his devoted brother held the instrument to his mouth. As the candles were lit, one by one, we continued our duet while tears splashed down my cheeks.
Oscar is one of six children in the family of Luis Enrique and Rosa Elena Albancando. They have lived in Bogota for twenty-seven years. Oscar finished high school last year and hopes to attend a university to become an engineer. He writes and paints with his toes. He was fitted with artificial arms, but they were too heavy for him. He knows lightweight arms are made, and he is trying to earn money for them. I asked him if he was planning to go on a mission, and he said, with a twinkle in his eye, that he wants to but he will have a hard time shaking hands.
Oscar paints Christmas cards to earn enough money for his artificial arms. The cards sell well, but they are expensive; last year, working twelve hours a day, he was three months painting his design. He also works in the family business of manufacturing artesian wall hangings and designs. Oscar’s contribution is helping his father create designs for the hangings.
When Oscar bore his testimony to me, he said the part of the gospel most special to him is his faith in the Resurrection, because then he will have two precious arms that he has never known before. An elder now, Oscar bears testimony of a loving Father in Heaven. “We find ourselves in this world working for our own salvation,” he says, “and each of us passes through special trials according to our own abilities—which is why we have the best Father, who is always ready and willing to help us.”
Wind-up Monkeys for Christmas
My most unforgettable Christmas was one spent in Korea in 1970. Each missionary’s family sent him a big Christmas box through the army mail. Christmas day came and everyone opened his box. Some got electric blankets, others got shoes and coats. But my box was different. My folks had divided my box in half. In one half were my favorite foods: salami, dill pickles, cheese and crackers. In the other half were four wind-up monkeys. All lined up they formed a band. One played the drums, one the guitar, one the trumpet, and one danced. Everyone laughed. “Why did your folks send you wind-up monkeys for Christmas?”
Why indeed? I knew, even if my parents hadn’t said why.
The next day my companion and I left for a train ride to Chun Ju, and we stood most of the way. When we arrived, we raced from the train station over a familiar trail for two miles to where four little Korean children lived in a tiny, two-room house. We told the father why we had come, and he called the children in. He said the missionaries had a surprise for them. Wonder filled their eyes, and tears filled ours, as they watched in amazement as the wind-up monkeys performed.
My parents had been thrilled as their son had been made a senior companion. They had read in his letters of how he had met a man who wanted to know more about the gospel. How that man had left his job as minister of another church because he didn’t believe he was teaching the people the truth. How he, his wife, and four children were living in poverty, struggling to make ends meet. How that family had accepted the gospel and been baptized, except for the two little ones who were too young. My parents had loved that family and had wanted to give them a present to let them know of their love.
They did. The little ones laughed and laughed at the monkeys. And their laughter was the greatest gift of all.
One Shiny Dime and Three Pennies
The K-Tom Cafe didn’t look very impressive that first day—a small, yellow, box-like structure with a pop sign in the window. I was to find, however, that it communicated exactly what they took pride in: a working man’s cafe and a “decent place to bring the wife and kids.”
I can still see the bored young man at the employment office peering over his horn-rimmed spectacles. “Hmmm, sorry, Ma’am, we haven’t any openings for graduate home economists … perhaps in a few months? We’ll keep your name on file.”
“What do you have now? I need a job!”
“Oh.” Again the drumming fingers shuffled the pitifully small pile of job cards: “waitress, short-order cook, housekeeping—”
“What do they pay?” I interrupted. The pay, as could be expected, was minimum wage but anything was better than nothing. The short-order cook paid 10¢ an hour more than the others and allowed Sundays off, so I put it at the top of my list.
The card for the K-Tom read: “Wanted: short-order cook, manage grill and other duties as assigned; morning shift, 4 A.M. to 1 P.M.; experience preferred.” I was good at interviews, I had cooked all my life for a family of ten kids (I was second to the oldest and the first girl), and I had worked in the dorm kitchen. When the K-Tom called me back to report to work Monday morning at four A.M., little did I realize that the card should have read: “Wanted: short-order cook with eight arms, dexterity of circus acrobat, memory of elephant, and ears of an owl—can distinguish rustling of mouse in dry grass at one hundred yards.”
It started out bad and got worse.
I think everyone else who worked there must have been at least six feet tall. The other employees seemed to enjoy watching me push the closest canister over to the shelf and stand tiptoe on top of it to reach something. Then they would slowly shake their heads and chuckle, “I do believe you’re a little short on one end, but for the life of me, can’t tell which end. …”
And there was this whole ghastly thing about eggs—one must never break the customer’s egg. (Odd how one expects—and demands—the perfect egg in a care.) I would awaken trembling in the middle of the night from dreams of a huge, black grill reaching out long black arms to burn me; or leering three-foot eggs, breaking and running across the grill, cackling with laughter.
No matter how hard I tried, it seemed I couldn’t get all the orders straight nor get them fast enough. As December rolled around, things didn’t seem to be getting any better.
I think my employers sensed how hard I was trying: I arrived early, worked hard and cheerfully at any project, and struggled earnestly with the grill and orders. At least they didn’t fire me.
Two weeks before Christmas, and only one week before our first anniversary, my husband and I put our total cash assets on the couch between us: thirteen cents—one shiny dime and three pennies. It had all seemed so easy: we married, I finished my last year of college, and LaMar was promised a good job with a new furniture store starting as soon as we could move. We moved—only to find construction was behind schedule and his job wouldn’t be available for a month. He went to work at another job. Then came eye surgery and the verdict that he would probably be unable to work for two years. He was flat on his back with excruciating pain in his head. Our savings lasted through the first month as I nursed him, but were soon gone; only his patience and love kept us going. That’s when I became a fry cook.
My journal entries for that Christmas tell the story best:
December 18—Our first anniversary, and the weather is miserable. Between the grey skies, sleety snow, and tears, I could hardly see the road on my way home. When I got there LaMar was actually out of bed and had made it to the door. His face was pale with bright spots of color burning in his cheeks—I fear a fever. He was eager to get me over to the couch. I sat down quickly so he would—he still cannot stand without trembling. Like a mischievous schoolboy, he pulled a candy cane from behind the pillow. Laughing and crying, we fed each other little bites. Gradually he told me how, resting every two or three steps, he had walked two blocks to get it for me for our anniversary. Two blocks! It probably seemed like a thousand miles with the pain he has been fighting, the pain that even now makes him tremble.
December 24—One of the waitresses told me that Kay and Tom usually give everyone a small Christmas surprise. I told myself it wouldn’t include me—the newest employee. I hadn’t even been there a month, and I was doing a terrible job. Surely they wouldn’t include me. But on the way to work my hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly I noticed the whiteness of my knuckles. With every swish of the windshield wipers I prayed, “Let it be some little thing I can give him. Please don’t let it be some girl thing, for I’ve nothing for him. Oh, Father, I can bear anything, only give me a gift to take home to my man.”
Kay and Tom, the owners of the cafe, gathered all the employees together. “Will everyone step out front, please.” I hesitated.
“Come on, let’s get moving, so we can get home a few minutes early tonight.”
At the doorway, I gasped. It couldn’t be—for us! I was almost in shock when they started passing things out: a huge basket of fruit and nuts, a box of chocolates, a five dollar bill, and some girlish trinket—I’ve forgotten what. I know I must have cried, and I know I said thanks.
But how do you truly thank someone who has given you, not only a gift, but Christmas?
Ten years have come and gone, and there have been many times we have wondered how we’ll ever get by. But in the back of our minds we always see one shiny dime and three pennies and taste again that crunchy candy cane and ripe fruit.
Thanks, Kay and Tom, not only for Christmas … but also for courage.
When I think about my most inspiring Christmas, I think of “Christmas angels” and turkeys. What a combination! But together they showed me the true meaning of Christmas.
As the 1970s came to a close, it seemed as though my husband, Ron, was out of work more than he was working. We thought our problems were over, though, when in 1981 he found a good-paying job to support our family of five. It seemed there was light at the end of our financial tunnel. In September, we had more cause to celebrate—we learned that our fourth child would be arriving the next April. Life was wonderful.
Then came the tenth of November, our son’s first birthday, and Ron came home to inform me that disagreements with his employer might force him to leave his job. Sure enough, on the sixteenth, Ron was again unemployed. Needless to say, money became nonexistent for a while as his employer refused us unemployment benefits. With only a couple of weeks until Christmas, we became depressed as we thought of how little we could do for our three children, ages six, three, and one.
A couple of days before Christmas, after an evening of Church meetings, we returned to our locked car to find a turkey and a box of groceries on the front seat. With the box was a card that told us our service to the Lord hadn’t gone unnoticed. The next morning, there was another turkey on our front step, and a large plastic bag tied with a poinsettia. In this bag there were presents for each of us. And before the day was over, we received another turkey!
Not only were we blessed by receiving, but because of the generosity of our anonymous friends, we were blessed in being able to help other unemployed families.
Now, as Christmas time rolls around, we have a family home evening just to do something special for another family. When I hang the plastic poinsettia on my curtains, I think of the greatest gift of Christmas—love—and how grateful we are to our “Christmas angels” for loving us through that difficult period of our lives.