Tons of Coal


(A true story)
And may our fast fill us with care For all thy children now in need. May we from our abundance share. (Hymns, no. 139.)

When I was a young girl, my family had a huge furnace in the living room, which made heat by burning coal. Every day one of us had the responsibility of going out to the coal shed behind our house and bringing back a bucket of coal. Then the small bits of coal were poured into one end of the furnace. Throughout the day the bits of coal slowly fed the fire.

Our coal shed held about five tons of coal, and, depending on how cold the weather was, we’d use a ton or a ton and a half every month in the winter. Anytime our coal shed became low, we knew that it was time to call the coal man to deliver more.

One year, however, we did not have enough money to pay for coal, so we didn’t order any. The weather had not yet gotten very cold, and we decided that we could keep warm by wearing our coats around the house during the day and by sleeping under a lot of blankets at night. I still remember how odd it seemed to be able to see our breath inside the house as we talked to one another.

Wearing our coats in the house worked well until the weather suddenly turned really cold. One morning, when we were wondering what we should do, we heard a familiar sound. The coal truck was coming down our street. Everyone looked out the window as it pulled into our yard and began filling up our shed with rich, dark coal.

My mother quickly ran outside to explain that she had not ordered any coal and could not afford the fuel that the man was shoveling into our little shed.

The man just smiled and said, “I know,” and continued to fill our shed with five tons of coal—enough to last the rest of the winter. Then he drove away without saying another word.

Fast offerings had paid for the coal that day. Even now, whenever I see a bit of coal, I remember that others had fasted so that we might be warm that winter.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Harston