The Year Christmas Came to Me
Just after I turned twenty-one, I was readmitted to the hospital for more intravenous antibiotic treatment of an infection that had been plaguing me for five years. I didn’t really mind, however, because Christmas was a month away. My doctors would have four weeks to clear my infection. Having spent three of the previous four Christmas seasons in the hospital, I felt nothing was as important as just being home with my parents for the holidays.
Unfortunately, the weeks passed by quickly with little improvement in my condition. On Friday, December 19, my doctors announced that I wouldn’t be spending Christmas at home after all. My hope for a Christmas filled with warmth and love seemed to disappear.
At the same time, however, a friend of mine from my hometown of Logan, Utah, was planning an excursion with some youth from her stake to Salt Lake City, where I was hospitalized. Their final destination was to be Temple Square, with its grounds aglow in lights and holiday decorations. Thinking that a detour in their trip might add joy to my Christmas in the hospital, Rae Louise contacted the nurses who cared for me at the medical center.
On the Saturday before Christmas, a large group of young women squeezed into my room in the hospital. Christmas carols rang out and changed my frown to a smile. Little did these youth know that their visit was only the beginning of my most inspiring and memorable Christmas ever.
For their concluding number, the youth sang “I Am a Child of God.” Tears rolled down my cheeks as I remembered that I, too, was a child of God, that he loved me and would take care of me. Suddenly, just knowing this fact made me feel better about staying in the hospital at Christmas. I wouldn’t be home in Logan, but I would be loved.
For family home evening the following Monday night, my sister, who was teaching school in Salt Lake City, and her roommates kidnapped me—with my doctor’s permission, of course. For two hours we cruised along the residential streets of the city, enjoying the lights strung from the many rooftops and the nativity scenes on numerous lawns. Though it banged continually against the back window, my IV bottle survived the evening.
Tuesday at noon my lunch tray failed to arrive on schedule. I didn’t think too much about it until fifteen minutes later, when the women from my doctor’s clinic walked in with pizza and garlic bread—the works. After four weeks of hospital food, that pizza tasted good.
Wednesday was Christmas Eve. Though many people had already done much to make my Christmas in the hospital special, I still awoke feeling discouraged. I was going to miss the traditional family Christmas that I love.
At six o’clock that night, however, my family walked in carrying a ham dinner with all the trimmings. They had brought the dinner eighty miles from home, and I enjoyed it as much as I would have in Logan. While I slept later that night, the nurses brought in my stocking and attached it to my IV pole. It was filled with gifts and goodies and, as always, had the traditional orange in the toe. Mom and Dad hadn’t forgotten anything!
On Christmas morning my family arrived early to open packages and spend the entire day at my bedside. It couldn’t have been much fun for them, but I have never heard any complaints about that Christmas. Each of us learned that it is not the glamour and glitter or the bows and packages that are important. If love is shared, Christmas can be celebrated almost anywhere.
The Wagon Pulled Us Together
After the funeral of Orson P. Callister, his eight surviving children sat surrounded by mementoes in their parents’ living room. The family had buried their mother, Annie Francella, a few years earlier.
Those items given to the parents by a particular child had been returned. However, a few special items remained, including a little cast-iron wagon that was old and battered.
The wagon dated back to 1921, which had been a tough year for the Callister family. They had little money for food and clothing, and they were barely able to hold onto their farm. Christmas morning dawned crisp and cold that year, but the children did not anticipate any gifts. When they meandered into the living room, however, they were astonished to see several presents under the tree. There was an apple for each family member, and a small gift for each of the two girls. The six boys all received one gift to share: the little cast-iron wagon. With a removable green wagon box that rested on a red chassis, the toy was an exact replica of the large McCormick-Deering wagons used by farmers early in the century. It was drawn by two little iron horses.
The brothers were thrilled with the beautiful wagon, but they wondered how six independent boys could share one toy.
For the first few days, the boy who finished his chores first would claim the wagon, and the next two would each play with one of the horses. Before long, however, the toy became a magnet that drew all six brothers together. They built dirt roads, leveled small fields and lined them with fences of stick and string. They erected miniature shingle barns and potato cellars. A real crop of grass was planted and irrigated with small ditches. Loading the wagon high with sticks, seeds, or grass, the brothers pulled it back and forth hour after hour, day after day.
As the years passed, however, the older boys played with the wagon less frequently. Soon Orson was off to college, then Hyrum and Eldon. Rulon found his way into the military, and Marion went to law school. After Lovell, the youngest, left home, the little wagon became the toy of a new generation: the Callister grandchildren seemed attracted to it by some magic. Most of the wagon’s green and red paint was chipped off by then. No one knew what had become of the two iron horses.
It had not been difficult to divide the other possessions. Even ownership of the house itself was easily resolved when the house was given to Orson and Edna in appreciation for Edna’s many months of caring for Grandma and Grandpa during their illnesses. But how could a toy all six brothers had owned and shared be given to only one? The wagon was a symbol of a family that had pulled together in times of poverty and heartache. It was an unselfish gift from wonderful parents who sacrificed much so their sons and daughters could experience educations, missions, and other opportunities.
Finally, Eldon broke the silence and suggested that the brothers draw straws for the wagon. The fourth son, Rulon, came up with the shortest straw. Reluctantly, he stepped forward and picked up the little wagon with his large, calloused hands. He returned to his chair but held the wagon fitfully as the evening wore on, recalling how one brother had loved the wagon more than anyone else loved it. It was Eldon who had inspired the building of miniature farms and who had played with the wagon with greatest delight as a child.
It was Eldon, too, who kept the grown-up family playing together by returning with his family to Idaho each summer and pulling the other hardworking Callister men away from their farms to enjoy family fishing trips and outings to Lava Hot Springs.
As the gathering was about to close, Rulon rose to his feet. With tears streaming down his ruddy, farm-worn face, he walked across the room and handed the little cast-iron wagon to Eldon. “You need this,” he said. “It meant more to you than to anyone else.” The room was quiet and the others silently wept as the two grown men embraced.
Once again, the little wagon had been shared. Once again it had pulled a family together in the midst of difficult times. Though the wagon is now held by the Eldon Callister family, it remains a symbol of unity and love that belongs to all the posterity of Orson and Annie Francella Callister.
Coming Home to Charity
Three days before Christmas, I wearily disembarked from an airplane with my two-year-old asleep on my shoulder and several carry-on bags hanging from my arms. I made my way to a pay phone and called my husband at work to tell him we would be waiting in the luggage area. After fishing a snack out of one of my bags for my son, Sam, I sat down to wait for our suitcases to arrive.
Behind us, two men were leaning against a rack of rental luggage carts. Without actually staring, I soon realized they were homeless. Glancing sideways, I saw that one wore clogs and the other wore dirty tube socks with thongs. Both were unshaven and odorous. I couldn’t help but overhear them discuss their plans for retrieving rented luggage carts from the airport parking lots and collecting the twenty-five-cent deposit for each. The two men weren’t waiting for a handout; they were trying to earn a little cash.
The luggage carousel started to move, and pieces of baggage began to emerge. I watched a woman load her rental cart with bags and pull it toward the exit doors. The man wearing the clogs followed her at a lengthy distance, waiting for an opportunity to retrieve her rental cart. The man in thongs stayed behind.
As I collected my suitcases, I wondered how a person could go from being properly sheltered and fed to living on the streets. How was it that while I was waiting for a loving spouse to come take me to our comfortable home, they were waiting merely for the opportunity to pocket some spare change? This was the first time I had ever seen less fortunate people trying to help themselves. I wondered how they would be spending their Christmas.
My thoughts were interrupted when I noticed an airport employee pushing a stack of rental carts into the area. As he loaded each cart into the rack, I heard a coin drop into the coin return tray. When all the carts were loaded, the worker scooped up the coins and put them in the pocket of his clean, white pants.
I looked at the man in thongs to see what his reaction would be. His face expressed only silent acceptance, as though he had expected this to happen. A part of me suddenly ached for him, and I pulled out my wallet and looked inside.
In my mind I could hear my mother’s voice say, “You don’t have much money to spare,” but still I picked out a bill and stuffed it into my pocket. When I looked up, I saw my husband coming through the doors. He, Sam, and I had a brief but glorious reunion, and then he picked up my bags and carried them to our car at the curb.
After the luggage was stowed and Sam was safely locked into his seat, I told my husband I had to run back inside a moment. When I returned, the man in thongs was still sitting on top of the luggage cart rack. He seemed so alone.
Taking a deep breath and whispering a word of prayer, I reached into my pocket for the bill and approached him.
“Why don’t you take this and get something to eat,” I said, handing him the money.
The man looked up. I expected hostility or sullen indifference, but he met my gaze squarely. With genuine gratitude and utter clarity, he said, “Why thank you, thank you so much!”
I was stunned. The eyes that met mine were clear and vibrant and warm. This unshaven man with dirty tube socks and mismatched clothes had a noble countenance. I felt that I should be thanking him for not feeling rancor at my having more and his having less.
I turned around and headed for the car. Next time, I will not be so hesitant to reach out, I thought, feeling a sudden rush of gratitude for the Lord’s blessings in my life.
Our Brothers and Sisters of the Snow
The moon was shining on that cold, desolate Christmas Eve in 1968, with the mercury at fifty-nine degrees below zero and twenty-eight feet of snow on the ground. We could hear the sounds of plows and trucks working unceasingly to keep the roads clear. When the Indians had named their fishing village on this site centuries ago, surely it must have been on such a night, for the name Kitimat means “People of the Snow.”
Eight months earlier, my husband and I and our two preschool-aged children had left our home in South Africa and immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. When we first applied for immigration, Canada was experiencing a shortage of tradesmen. Since then, however, the economy had slumped, and the country now had a glut of new immigrants seeking employment.
Therefore, we were elated when my husband got a temporary job for the summer. As his fellow workers discussed the slim chances for finding permanent employment, they often mentioned a small northern British Columbian town where electricians were always wanted but where the working conditions were atrocious. The men claimed that Kitimat got thirty feet of snow during its nine-month winters and that the other three months of the year were filled with rain. Work was apparently available, but no one wanted to live there.
Nevertheless, with the end of his three-month employment swiftly approaching, my husband sent an application to Kitimat’s aluminum smelter. Within weeks, we were settled into an austere yet adequate apartment in the small town. Money was still scarce, but we were grateful for a steady paycheck. Because we had joined the Church in South Africa four years before, one of the first things we did in Kitimat was become involved with the local branch.
As winter set in, we discovered that everything we had heard about the weather in Kitimat was true. We managed to dispel our longings for loved ones in sunny South Africa by writing many letters, but then a Canadian postal strike severed the ties between us and the outside world. To add to my misery, I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist. Used to the freedom of South Africa’s endless summers, our two housebound children became cranky. My husband’s working conditions were as difficult as the rumors had suggested they would be.
On Christmas Eve, we sat halfheartedly watching a secondhand television that my husband had managed to purchase for my birthday some months before. The small Christmas tree in a corner of the room looked sparse and scrawny, and the few wrapped presents we had purchased for our children, Lynda and Glen, appeared out of place in this bleak setting.
A knock at the door startled us. When my husband peered out, the hallway was deserted except for a large box adorned with bright paper and ribbons. When we saw that our family name was printed on it, we eagerly pulled it into our apartment.
Inside, we found a homemade Christmas cake, hand-dipped chocolates, a baked ham, a turkey, and boxes of sugar cookies. Farther down, we found beautifully wrapped gifts not just for the kids but for my husband and me as well. Though we found no note or card, we knew this was a gesture of love from our new friends in the Church. This was their way of making us feel accepted and loved. They neither expected nor wanted thanks.
As we sat marveling at the goodness of our fellow Saints, another knock came at the door. We opened it to find Pat and Manuel Cordeiro from the branch, along with their two children, who were the same age as our two children, and a charming if slightly bewildered elderly couple. Pat hugged me tightly and explained that their grandparents had just arrived in town for Christmas. Passing our apartment, the family had decided to visit us. “We brought your kids some Canadian grandparents to share Christmas Eve with!” Pat said.
Our attitudes about Kitimat changed: not only is the scenery breathtaking and the fishing out of this world, but the people there are among the best you can find on this earth. Twenty-five years have passed since that first Christmas in Canada. But the real spirit of Christmas has never been stronger for our family than it was that cold, wintry night when we shared in the bounty of the generous, loving people of Kitimat.