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‘Christmas I Remember Best’: A fishy missionary tale

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Pelican Lake will be closed to the public from Oct. 10 through Oct. 31 as crews with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources rid the lake of carp.

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By Randy Ayre

This is the fifth of 10 winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”

My companion and I were Mormon missionaries serving in Eutin, a small village in northern Germany. We lived in very humble conditions — a World War II wooden box used to ship a U.S. tank to Germany. The box had no heat and no hot water.

It was a couple of days before Christmas 1957 and extremely cold. We stopped tracting to go into a small store to warm ourselves and eat a marzipan bar. A young man entered after us and noticed our American style coats. He was very outgoing and we immediately got involved in a friendly conversation. We learned that he was a student at a university in Kiel and had just arrived home for Christmas.

He asked us what we would be doing for Christmas. When he realized that we didn’t have anything to do or anywhere to go, he invited us to come over to his mother’s home on Christmas Eve. He told us to plan on staying the night. We were delighted and quickly accepted his invitation.

Early on Christmas Eve we knocked on the door of a beautiful villa overlooking Eutiner Sea. Hans invited us in and introduced us to his mother, the Baroness. She was a widow, having lost her officer husband during the siege of Stalingrad. We found her to be most gracious, and after showing us around the villa she took us to our bedroom. She mentioned that on both sides of that room were bathrooms. She suggested that we take a bath or shower before dinner.

Wow!! A bath or shower with hot water. That alone was a great Christmas gift. My companion said he would take the bathroom on the left and I could use the one on the right.

I went into the bedroom, took of my clothing and put on a plush, warm robe. I then hurried into that heated bathroom and peeled off my robe. Without thinking, I pulled the shower curtain partially aside, stepped into the tub, which already had water in it, and sat down. I immediately felt something slimy thrashing wildly against my legs. Eek!! I leapt out of the tub. What the ...??

After partially regaining my wits, I dared a quick look into the tub. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Swimming back and forth was the biggest, ugliest blue carp I had ever seen.

Several hours later and after a shower in the other bathroom, we were invited into a formal dining room. The lovely table was set with crystal glasses, porcelain plates and silver serving trays. In the middle of the table was a large silver tureen.

After a prayer, which my companion said, the Baroness rose from her seat and lifted the silver lid on the tureen. I was in shock. There with its beady eyes glaring directly at me was my tub companion — the blue carp.

She asked if I would like to cut off a piece of the fish and put it on my plate, or would I prefer if she did it. Stunned and speechless, I nervously handed my plate to her. Later in the meal she asked me why my face had gone so ashen when she took the lid off the tureen. Embarrassed, I explained what had happened.

She and her son couldn’t help but chuckle as they apologized for having failed to tell me to use the bathroom on the left. She explained that it is tradition in this part of Germany to always have fresh carp on Christmas Eve. Hence the live fish in my tub.

After dinner we were ushered into the parlor where a fresh pine tree stood. We were invited to place white candles on the tree and light them. Talk about a beautiful sight with the gleaming blue lake in the distance, crystal white snow in the yard and the twinkling of candlelights from the tannenbaum.

We gave them a Book of Mormon and they in turn gave us a lovely book about Eutin. The evening ended with us enjoying luscious dark chocolates while listening to melodious, sacred Christmas music.

Randy Ayre lives in Salt Lake City.