I'll never forget the first time I saw him. His likeness to Frosty the Snowman was uncanny, yet somehow comforting. His name was Heber, the school crossing guard, and except for his blue police uniform and bright orange vest, he was the epitome of Frosty.
His plump shape was topped off with a smile that rounded his cheerful cheeks and set off his sparkling, blue eyes. Rather than a black top hat, he proudly wore his police cap set askew on his balding head. His short, plump arms were a warm haven on the most chilling day, and he could gather up several giggling children with one sweeping embrace. Aside from all that, Heber kept a serious vigil and gently, but bravely, escorted his young charges back and forth across the bustling street.
One day our children were left standing at the crosswalk because a car-pool driver forgot what day it was! Knowing he could lose his job by violating school district policy, Heber piled the kids into his car and drove them safely to their front doors. He became forever endeared to me after that. It was I who had neglected the kids, but he never embarrassed or chided me. He carefully reminded the children that he could never do that again and risked being fired.
December of 1984 looked bleak for our family, but I was trying to maintain my usual enthusiasm for the Christmas season despite the problems we faced. The last week of September I had prematurely gone into labor with our fifth child.
Consequently, I had been confined to bed at home. This meant I had to give up teaching aerobics, and that meant little money for Christmas. That paled by comparison to the deep concern over the welfare of our baby. The stress on my husband and our four young children was almost unbearable at times.
Adding to the roller coaster of emotions, our oldest daughter was chosen to dance in the holiday performance of "The Nutcracker." Because she was dancing with a professional ballet company, there were many rehearsals and performances. One of the biggest challenges was curling her thick, waist-length hair into perfect ringlets for every performance. It fell on her 11-year-old sister to wash, set and style the tedious coif!
On the evening of Dec. 11, our healthy little son, Lane, was born. God couldn't have given us a more precious gift. I had whiled away the months before making handmade gifts that, although inexpensive, would mean more than anything we could have purchased for friends and family. However, one heartache still remained. With the expenses of our baby and my inability to work, there would be no way for us to afford tickets to the ballet. Attending "The Nutcracker" had become a family tradition, but this season I would be the only one who could watch our Natalie dance from backstage. After years of dance lessons and myriad recitals and costumes, it seemed a disappointing ending to a dream come true.
Just before school recessed for the holidays, my husband picked Natalie up for a performance. It was snowing, and he didn't have a chance to exchange greetings with Heber. As Nat climbed into the truck, she handed her dad an envelope marked "The Nygrens." At the streetlight he opened the envelope and slipped out the shimmering card. As he opened it, he was astonished to see three $20 bills fall into his lap. The card read, "For 'The Nutcracker,' Love, Santa."
"Where did you get this?" he questioned Natalie.
"From Heber," she replied. "He said someone asked him to give it to you."
God had answered the pleading prayers of a mother through the gentle heart of a simple, loving man. Heber is gone now. But each December, as I hang the jolly snowman on our tree, I can't help the tears that well in my eyes as I recall his quiet gift.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav'n.
No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Pat Nygren was born and raised in Salt Lake City. She graduated from the University of Utah with a master's degree in speech pathology. She has been married to her husband, Brad, for 37 years. They have five children and nine grandchildren. Brad Nygren works at the University of Phoenix, and Pat Nygren is a drug prevention specialist at Olympus High School. She enjoys gardening, photography, spending time in the mountains and being with her family.