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Clark Yospe

This Christmas story takes place many years ago. It takes place at a time the world was healing from the Second World War. It was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." The soldiers who had been fortunate enough to return home were finding new sweethearts. Others returned to waiting wives and families. Still more never made it back but were remembered and missed as their loved ones now approached the Christmas season.

Everywhere new neighborhoods were popping up. Little two-bedroom homes of every color were made available to the thousands who only qualified with special loans for returning veterans.

It was in such a little neighborhood that the snow was falling softly on a little yellow shake-shingle home. All the other homes on the street were dark as the long winter night dragged through its last hours. But the little yellow house had one light burning in the bedroom where two parents normally would be fast asleep. Only tonight, the young mother was awake and alone. Alone, awake and very worried.

The war had been long, and those years had brought with them difficult times. Everyone left behind had sacrificed as gas was rationed along with many of the staple foods like sugar and meat. Some of these even disappeared completely as the struggling nation put an enormous effort to the war. These foods and other pleasures would soon be taken for granted again — but now they were still cherished as they became more available.

The few years since the war had offered time for healing as memories faded on the hurt and death the far-away enemy had inflicted on the nation. Christmas this year would be a time of peace. But now another enemy had taken this young mother's returning soldier away from her yet again. An enemy no one could see. One about which little was known but one that could cripple all that it attacked — knocking the biggest off their feet and even taking the lives of the strong, leaving behind only weakness and pain.

This enemy had been around for centuries but was at its height of destruction in the early '50s — later to be almost eliminated by a serum not yet discovered. If one was fortunate enough to survive this enemy, you might find yourself living out your days on crutches or in a wheelchair. The name they gave this enemy was polio, and this foe had put the father of this little family in the hospital. Tonight, he lay inside the metal cocoon of a noisy iron lung while it sucked in and out each life-saving breath.

Yet if you were watching through the window in the early darkness on this winter morning, you would see from the light of the small lamp next to the bed the young mother of two on her knees in the act of prayer. It was a cry to God for help. What was she to do? Would he ever be OK? Would he ever be able to move his arms again? Would he ever be able to walk? Would he even live through the week, and would he ever return to his new job?

It was not a job for one on crutches or a wheelchair. Being a policeman was hard work with many hours spent on your feet. You had to have the strength to wrestle the meanest drunk or pull someone from a car crash. Would he ever have enough strength return so that he could feed himself, walk or be a father to his young children?

The question of how they could exist weighed on her mind. How could they pay for food, the heat, the lights or give the two children asleep in the next room something for Christmas? Being so young, they would believe that Santa had forgotten all about them. It would break their hearts. The new little yellow house had a payment due each month of $110. That seemed like a fortune when her husband made less than $3 an hour at his job — and even if he did recover, the job might not be there.

The house had been decorated for Christmas with hand-me-down tinsel and lights. The young mother had asked for the used paper sacrament cups from the church. She covered them with tin foil and hung them like little silver bells on the scrawny Christmas tree.

Even the tree had been a gift from a neighbor who knew how little they had and what they were going through. This kind neighbor had hoped this holiday symbol would bring to memory some Christmas cheer from better years gone by. He hoped the sweet smell of pine might be a welcome breath in an atmosphere of despair. He, too, had remembered bleak Christmas pasts in his own home. He had recalled the Christmas when he had been out of work during a long strike at the copper mine. He hadn't missed the lunches he had sacrificed to buy this little tree, and he would always cherish the look of joy and relief on that young mother's face when it was delivered.

There were others who had empathy for the mother in the little yellow house. One was the tall, burly owner of the local grocery store with the wavy hair and the deep, booming bass voice. He had known the family for the short time they had lived in the new little yellow house. They were much like his little family, young — excited about life and the community in which they now lived.

The store owner had grown to like the big policeman who often came shopping with his wife. Maybe this was why he had done something he had never done before when the mother had shown up with a child's wagon loaded with empty pop bottles she had collected from neighbors and friends to buy a few groceries. He had suggested to her that the store needed someone to bake fresh cakes that he could sell in his little O.P. Skaggs grocery store to other customers. So several times a week she would appear with more empty bottles, buy flour, sugar, cocoa and other groceries to take home. Then the following day bring in rich chocolate cakes just warm from the oven. It was his little secret that when other customers showed up shopping to redeem their empty glass bottles, he would load them up again for a late night drop on the porch of the little yellow house. And the cycle would continue.

And this night the little yellow house was slowly being covered in the soft, fluffy snow that had fallen through the wee hours. Soon daylight would come up like the curtain of a stage, revealing a winter wonderland scene much like those depicted on the few Christmas cards taped to the refrigerator. Every branch of every tree was covered in white as the dawn revealed the tiny neighborhood in a world of light and shadow.

Which would it be for the mother of the little yellow house? The light of hope that all would be OK or the shadow that nothing would ever be the same again? Today was Christmas Eve, and the little Christmas pine had nothing under it but a few foil covered bells that had fallen from their hooks.

Like every good Christmas story, there should be a happy ending. But why were there two police cruisers pulling up to the driveway of the little yellow house so early this morning?

The neighbor across the street had been up early getting ready for the carpool that would take him to the copper mine. Through the window he had seen the two police cars come with lights flashing but no sirens only to stop across the street. Surely news at this time of the morning could not be good news.

The young mother's heart was racing as she walked to the front door to answer the persistent knock of the four policemen standing outside. They had just come from visiting their co-worker at the hospital and wanted to be the first to bring the news. Things were looking good. The doctors had not been there, but they had observed their partner and friend was now out of the big iron lung machine and breathing on his own. Oh, he still had little use of one arm and leg, but with time they assured her that even that movement might return.

And there was one thing more. A big box in the trunk of one of the cars was removed and carried through the front door finding its final rest under the Christmas tree. "It was just a little something for the children from the other officers," they had explained. Everyone had chipped in a few dollars for a few toys, but now a second box was brought through the door filled and overflowing with cans of food. When asked they had said, "It was no big deal. Just a little gift from the boys." Nothing was mentioned about the real sacrifices that were made those weeks before to be able to fill these two boxes.

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This Christmas story was not over. It would still be many months before all was back to normal for the family of the little yellow house. There would be months filled with physical therapy and painful healing. But the thoughtfulness of all that was done for that little family will be remembered a lifetime. I was one of the children in the next room fast asleep as my mother sent up a prayer to God so many years ago. A prayer that the healer of the sick, the one who could make the lame to walk and the blind to see would also look down and remember another father going through some earthly trials. It was even this Only Begotten who had said, "Even if you have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me."

Even though it was so many years ago, it is the Christmas I remember as the best.

About the author

Clark Yospe of Centerville was born in Tooele and reared in the Glendale area. He attended South High and graduated from the University of Utah in journalism/communications. He has been married to his wife, Emma, for 35 years. They have six children and six grandchildren. Yospe enjoys U. sporting events, fly fishing, golf and travel.