This is the fifth of nine winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best."
I rubbed the frost off the window with my coat sleeve so I could see the German countryside streaming past the train.
As I looked at the colorless landscape, my mood matched the somber scene along the tracks between Stuttgart and Bayreuth, Germany, in 1966 — grey chimneys breathing grey smoke that hung over grey houses next to grey rivers.
I pulled the envelope from my pocket and re-read the letter. Over my mission president’s signature, a few short sentences let me know that my first Christmas away from home would be spent with strangers. After six months in Germany, I was leaving people I had grown to love and traveling to a cold new place.
My companion met me at the train station. Together we walked several blocks through week-old snow blackened with the grime of automobile exhaust and chimney smoke to our one-room apartment.
A fire had been burning for several hours in a small coal stove in the corner. I could see my breath as I asked Elder St. John if the apartment ever got warm. He explained that our rosy-cheeked Hausfrau aired out the apartment every morning. She cheerfully threw open the windows and exclaimed, “Frische Luft macht gesund” ("Fresh air makes one healthy").
The little stove could not overcome the daily blast of arctic air.
I felt cold and lonely. My Christmas package from home would likely arrive in Stuttgart and even the efficient German postal service wouldn’t deliver it to me before Christmas. In spite of the brightly decorated store windows we walked past day after day, I felt a growing sadness.
My companion and I often stopped at a street vendor’s sausage stand for lunch. On top of everything else, it looked like two thin Nuernberger sausages might serve as Christmas dinner this year.
A few days before Christmas, the church custodian’s 8-year-old daughter called to us from the alley near the sausage stand. Kristina reminded me of the beautiful porcelain dolls in the shop windows. She had a clear white complexion with a hint of rose in her cheeks. Fine blond hair tumbled over her shoulders and sparkling blue eyes lit up her face. Kristina looked like she could step into a doll display in the finest store window except for two details: Porcelain dolls had full round faces and wore costumes of the finest fabrics; Kristina was whisper thin and wore hand-knit sweaters and wool leggings.
Kristina, her somewhat elderly father, her much younger mother and two brothers lived near the vendor‘s sausage stand we visited most days. Brother Timian earned a small wage caring for the hall we rented each Sunday for services.
Kristina told us her father wanted to speak to us. We took her hand and walked down the narrow ally to their front door. Brother Timian greeted us warmly, then extended an invitation. “Please join us on Christmas Eve. We would like to provide you dinner.”
On Christmas Eve, the weather turned colder. We arrived at the appointed hour, gave Brother Timian our hats and coats, and stepped into the living room. A small Christmas tree with homemade ornaments and real candles stood in one corner. The children were seated on a sofa, the only furniture in the room other than a small table set with two plates.
Brother Timian asked us to be seated at the table. Christmas music played on a radio. Sister Timian carried a pot from the kitchen from which she took two plump sausages. She placed one on my plate and one on my companion’s along with a few boiled potatoes and carrots.
The children folded their arms and Brother Timian blessed the food. He asked the Lord to help and comfort the missionaries who were far from home and away from their families.
We asked Brother Timian if they were going to eat in the kitchen. He said no, they had already had their dinner. We offered to share our meal with them, but they said they would rather just visit with us while we ate. We finished our sausages and shared the love of a humble family as they gave us their Christmas gift.3 comments on this story
Following dinner, we sang a few songs, held the children on our laps, and listened to Brother Timian tell the story of the first Christmas.
We said warm goodbyes, put on our hats and coats and stepped out into the cold night air. Neither of us spoke as we walked to our apartment. We realized the Timians had probably spent a large portion of their week’s food budget to provide Christmas dinner for two missionaries.
I think of that night often and reflect on the widow’s mite when I remember the richest and warmest Christmas dinner I ever ate.