One of my most cherished Christmases took place when I was a young boy of 12 years.
I was given the Aaronic Priesthood and ordained a deacon on Dec. 2, 1945.
Bishop Taylor and the Aaronic Priesthood Committee had, because of the poverty brought on by World War II, determined to give some Christmas help to people in need.
I was excited. All I needed to fill my responsibility was to choose a family in my neighborhood who needed help, and I had to provide a large wooden apple box to fill with goodies for that family.
It sounds so simple now, but I didn't know any poor families, and apple boxes were very hard to come by after the war.
By the second Sunday, all the older deacons had turned in the names of their families and had apple boxes. All names had to be turned in by the third Sunday, and I was getting desperate. I had an apple box but no name, and I just had to be as faithful as the older boys.
The third Sunday came too quickly, so at quorum meeting in a moment of inspiration, I gave the name of the "Witch." I didn't know the lady and she wasn't really a witch, but when we played war too close to her small house she would come out and yell at us. She sounded just like the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," so we named her the Witch.
Christmas Eve came and we took our boxes down to the church where the Relief Society sisters began filling them.
There were home-bottled goodies of all kinds. There was bottled fruit and jams, homemade mince meat for pie, potatoes, flour and shortening for baking, and even a new apron for the mothers. In my box there was even a homemade Raggedy Ann doll.
On top of all this was a large home-grown roasting chicken.
All the boxes and all the deacons were loaded into the quorum adviser's pickup truck to make the deliveries.
What a glorious night. The stars were brighter, the air fresher, and the Christmas music sweeter, and we were happier, singing songs and calling, "Merry Christmas" to every one we saw.
All over town we went delivering boxes and, in one place, a Christmas tree and trimmings to a grandmother who had five grandchildren to raise, thanks to the war.
At last my turn came and a panic attack hit me. I was afraid to face the Witch. We pulled up to her cottage and it was all I could do to carry that heavy apple box the 30 feet to the front door. There was no porch, just three steps.
I sat the box down on the top step and timidly knocked. The mother opened the door just a crack to see who was there and I lost my nerve. I yelled, "Merry Christmas!" and ran for the safety of the truck.
The older deacons were yelling at me that I was supposed to carry the box into the house for the lady, and I looked back and she was looking at me and picking the things out of the box to take them inside.
Finally we left, but I had not heard the last of it. Every time we met we would talk about that wonderful evening, and every time someone would say, "Yes, and Lyle wouldn't carry this lady's box in for her and she had to take all the stuff into the house a piece at a time."
Summer came and the Witch's husband came home from the war. I will never forget the haunted look in his eyes.
My stepfather hired this war-hardened veteran to help me dig an irrigation ditch to part of our garden. Every once in a while when we would take a break, I would catch him looking at me in a funny way. It sent chills up my back.
When we went to lunch, I came back out first and I looked over across the street and saw him talking to the Witch and they both were looking at me. I thought of all the times the other deacons teased me about making this lady carry her own box into the house.
We went back to work on the ditch and when we stopped for a water break, he approached me and asked, "Are you the boy that brought that big box of goodies to my wife at Christmastime?"
I saw the hard look in his eyes and knew I was as good as dead, but I screwed up my courage and answered, "Yes sir."
Then to my amazement, tears started to roll down his cheeks and he said, "I'd admire to shake your hand," and he did.
He told me his wife and two daughters had been facing Christmas with no presents, no tree, and a cupboard totally bare of food. Not knowing where to turn, she had been praying. The Lord heard her prayers and sent one of his ordained servants to her home. In this case it was a young boy just ordained a deacon.
I have been grateful for years for that opportunity.
Many years passed. A mission was served, a temple marriage took place and six children had been born. It was Christmas again, but in a new home in a different city and a different state.
The children had gone to bed all excited for Santa to come. I had a good job, but the first paycheck paid for the house rent and the security deposit. We had a Christmas tree, but not one dollar for presents.
I knew how disappointed my children would be but I could not find a way to solve the problem. I walked out the door into a beautiful starlit night to talk to my Father in Heaven. I wept in agony, but somehow felt comforted.
I turned to go back in the house and saw what I had missed while coming out. Standing by the door was a brand new bicycle and next to the bicycle was a large green trash bag filled with gifts for the children. Perhaps it was the tears in my eyes or maybe the stars in my eyes, but somehow that big trash bag looked, for a moment, just like an old wooden apple box. This time I picked it up and took it into the house.
Lyle C. Tillett — Provo
Lyle grew up in Farmington, N.M., and Mesa, Ariz. He was married to his wife Leah for 51 years. After his wife passed away, he later married Coby, who is from Holland. They have been married for 18 months. Lyle has nine children, one of whom passed away as an infant, 27 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is a glazier by profession. His favorite pastime is fishing.