Letters to Elias Stone


If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding … Then shalt thou … find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth … knowledge and understanding. (Prov. 2:3, 5–6.)

Letters to Elias Stone

Jonathan Wright could see a square piece of world from his bedroom window. He had seen the same square piece every day for the last year and a half. That’s how long he had been bedridden. The doctor had said that he had a rare blood disease and that he would die from it.

Jonathan had decided to take each day, each hour, each moment as special. And sacred. He also decided, after talks with his parents and his Heavenly Father, that since life and death, and life beyond death, are all a part of one great whole, it would be best to look for things to be happy about and to fill whatever time he had remaining with meaningful memories to keep him company in his lonely hours. Like memories of the smile his father gave him each day when he came home from the mill. And of the hugs his mother gave him, which soothed his very soul.

Reading the scriptures helped calm his occasional fears and strengthen his faith.

His little brother Spencer’s practical jokes—like putting his pet garden snake beneath the lid of the serving tray when his mother brought him supper—helped him to laugh. He was cheered, too, by all the little kindnesses that his family and others did for him. Spencer, for instance, saved all year to buy him a stereoscope so he could see three-dimensional pictures of faraway places.

Jonathan’s thoughts were distracted by the grinding of Mr. Walpole’s ice wagon. He always made deliveries on Tuesday. So, Jonathan thought, it must be Tuesday. And he would make it a grand Tuesday! The morning sun burnt gold off the Henry Mountains behind the small town, its misted rays stretching all the way to Jonathan’s street, Murphy Lane. It also shone on the sandlot next to Murphy’s Wagon and Automobile Garage, where each afternoon most of the children on Maple Street gathered to play ball. And it shone in Jonathan’s window—the best way for a day to start.

Jonathan wished he could help others the way he saw his father and Spencer helping Mrs. Beaufort across the street. His father was mending her picket fence. The week before, Arnold McKillop’s Model-T had crashed through it when Arnold swerved to keep from hitting Elias Stone’s three-legged dog, Tuff. Tuff had lost his leg from an infection, and Mr. Stone had yelled, “You’d like to see my dog trying to drag his leftovers around on two legs, wouldn’t you, McKillop!”

Jonathan had seen it all from his window. He looked now at Mr. Stone’s run-down house on the corner. His weed-filled yard matched the house—and Elias Stone himself, somehow. But maybe Mr. Stone has cause to look that way, Jonathan thought one day as he watched the tall, bearded man walk down the crookedy path to his mailbox. Elias jerked open the box to find nothing but blackness inside, as he always did. Then he shuffled back into his grim, paint-chipped house, the screen door whining shut behind him.

One day, Jonathan watched as Elias shooed away a child who was fetching a ball from the old man’s yard.

“Get out of my yard, you little snippety-snap!” the man bellowed. “The next time you throw your ball over here, I’ll feed it to my dog and that will be that!”

“Why is Mr. Stone so grumpy, Dad?” Jonathan had asked.

“From what I hear, Mr. Stone was the first one to move into the area,” Jonathan’s father explained. “His wife and child died when some epidemic came through town, and it changed him. As people moved in, he started shutting them out. He just sort of gave up on life and most everything else.

“Many have tried to be friendly, including your mom and me. Your mom baked bread especially for him more than once, but he refused it each time. I went over to see if I could help fix a wheel on his wagon about a year ago, and he told me to mind my own business. It’s sad, but one can only do so much. No one can force someone to change, Son. All a body can do is try.”

I haven’t tried yet, Jonathan thought. But what can I do?

The next day Jonathan saw Mr. Stone again trudge from his house to his rusty mailbox by the road and gaze into its usual black emptiness. He closed it slowly, turned up his collar against a little blast of wind that rolled a wave of autumn leaves up the street, and was about to start toward the house but then turned to regard the sight. He stared at the tumbling leaves as if they were scattered pages from a sad book, discarded, coming back to haunt him.

Suddenly the screen door was banging shut and Mr. Stone was gone again. Jonathan gazed at the shabby mailbox. “That’s what I can do,” Jonathan said out loud to himself. “I can write Mr. Stone a letter. No one else ever seems to.”

So Jonathan did. He wrote a letter introducing himself as the boy in the window. He wrote about his going to die and about how he didn’t have any time to feel bad about his circumstances, because the people he loved kept him busy feeling good about himself. He wrote that maybe if Mr. Stone let others into his heart, he could be happy too.

He ended with an invitation: “If you ever want someone to talk to, you could come and talk to me. Bring your dog if you want to. I’m always here. And if you don’t like to talk, I have lots of puzzles. One has two cowboys trying to rope a bear in the woods. Another one has a clown wiping tears from a child’s face. I live across the street in the green house. You can’t miss it.” Jonathan signed his name, folded and slipped the letter into an envelope, and asked Spencer to stamp it and take it to the post office right away.

The next day when Elias went to the mailbox, he opened it as usual and was about to close it as usual, then paused and reached inside, withdrawing an envelope. He opened it and read the letter. Then he looked across the street. Jonathan waved a tentative little wave. Elias narrowed an eye, grunted, and went back inside, the screen door closing with its customary bang!

Jonathan sighed and leaned back against the stack of pillows. Maybe writing a letter wasn’t such a good idea, after all. But mustering fresh courage, he opened his tablet and began another. Maybe, Jonathan thought, like one little match can’t melt an iceberg, one letter can’t get past all the pain of Mr. Stone’s misfortunes. But maybe two, or three, or four will.

In his second, third, and fourth letters, Jonathan wrote about how he knew that beyond the grave families could be rejoined, that if each of us tries daily to live God’s commandments the best we can and extend ourselves to others, the Lord will also help us now.

Each day Jonathan watched Elias Stone take his letter from the mailbox and read it. And each day he saw the tall man’s look softening.

One day a knock came at the door of the boy’s house. Through her surprise, Jonathan’s mother smiled pleasantly at Elias, who stood there holding up a handful of letters. Tuff sat at his feet.

“Your boy has been writing me letters!”

“I see. And you want him to stop, is that it, Mr. Stone?”

“What I want, Mrs. Wright,” he faltered, his eyes lifting slowly toward hers, “is to talk to him … if I may.”

Jonathan’s mother studied the bearded man for an uncertain moment; then, moved by a tear he quickly blinked away, she nodded and smiled again. “You may.”

“Can his dog come in, too, Mama?” Spencer, who was standing close beside her, begged.

“Of course.”

“Don’t play too rough with Tuff, boy,” Elias cautioned bluntly but not unkindly. “He can’t afford to lose another leg.”

Jonathan’s mother tapped on his bedroom door. “Someone’s here to see you.”

“OK, Mama.”

The door opened and Elias Stone edged into the little room.

“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Jonathan’s mother said respectfully. Elias nodded appreciatively, and she was gone.

Jonathan swallowed hard and greeted his visitor. “Mr. Stone.”

“Mr. Wright.” Elias held up a handful of letters. “I lost my wife and child many years ago,” he blurted out with a kind of embarrassed desperation.

“Yes, I know.”

“You do, do you?” Elias seemed surprised. A burning need drove out more words almost on top of one another. “You also said that you know there’s a uniting of loved ones after death. How can you say you know that, boy?”

Jonathan picked up his Bible and Book of Mormon from his bedside stand. “The scriptures tell me so, Mr. Stone,” he replied.

Late that night a light was still shining from beneath Jonathan’s door. Elias Stone had gone in at five o’clock and had not come out. When the door did open, Jonathan’s family beheld a man whose eyes were red from the scouring effect of tears working upon loosed bitterness, eyes now filled with peace. His mouth trembled with a ragged smile and these stumbling words: “Sorry to have kept your boy up so late, good people.”

Jonathan’s father struggled past his amazement. “Are you all right, Mr. Stone?”

“For the first time in years.”

After Elias Stone left with his three-legged companion, Jonathan’s family hurried, wondering, into his room. Jonathan was at the window, watching Elias’s dim form moving across the dusky street with Tuff at his side. Elias’s step seemed lighter.

“Tell us what happened, honey,” Jonathan’s mother said.

Jonathan looked back to his family, then tapped the scriptures lying open beside him on the bed. “A kind of miracle, Mama … a kind of miracle. …”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mark Robison