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A small Christmas gift that bonded two people generations apart

‘Christmas I Remember Best’

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“The Second Coming,” by Harry Anderson.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

By Almy Hollis

This is the eighth of 10 essays chosen to be published in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”

It was December 1986 and my missionary companion and I stepped off the train in the small town of Ramstein, West Germany. We had an appointment with a local family to share a brief Christmas message about the birth of Christ and the events leading up to it using the Book of Mormon.  We explained that these were just a few examples demonstrating how the Book of Mormon truly was a second witness of Christ.

As we sat down in the simple one-room wood-framed train station to wait for our ride, I noticed that we were alone except for an elderly woman. She was probably in her 80s and her slight, frail body seem to grow older with every passing minute. Her thinning gray hair was covered by an old worn out shawl and her plain dress showed the marks of time. She sat alone, waiting for a bus to take her and her few bags home in one of the tiny neighboring towns. 

As I studied her, my mind ran through the countless older people I had met in the past year. I recalled all the hidden stories of the wars they had been through — their hiding of a war-torn past. I had spoken with so many of this older generation, but I never could find common ground with them. Their past seemed forever distant compared to my short 20 years, yet it seemed so vivid in their eyes as they tried to relate their feelings, fears and disappointments of past trials. 


As my mind wandered through these thoughts, I began to wonder what she had seen in her long life. What had she experienced in her life that included two wars, and a twice rebuilt life? A trio of F-16s from the local American airbase pulled me back to the present as they roared past on their daily practice run to some unknown location. I wondered how she felt about this invading force of jets and machines. What did she think of this world that had left her behind? A new generation of computers and modern technology?

As my mind wandered through these thoughts, I remembered a roll of posters in my bag. We had been giving 12x18 prints of the “Second Coming of Christ” to our investigators — a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. My thoughts turned into action, and I pulled a poster out of my bag.

I slowly made my way across the timeworn wooden floor to the woman on the bench. I sat down beside her, and she looked up with a blank stare.

My confidence faded, but was rekindled as I introduced myself as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that I had a gift I wanted to give her for Christmas. I held up the poster.

She reached down for her modest purse to pull out a few coins. I quickly said, “No, it’s a gift. No money, please.” She looked up, surprised at my comment, and I handed her the picture. Her small, frail hands trembled as she took hold of it.

Her eyes looked first at the Christ reaching outward, and then to the angels along the sides blowing their magnificent call of the Second Coming. She then quietly read the inscription at the bottom, “Come unto Me”. Her eyes started to moisten as tears formed, and her time streaked face turned 60 years younger. 

There, on that bench, a bond between me, a young 20-year-old boy from a far-away land that to her was only a dream, and her, an old woman with a past that could easily be read in every wrinkle of her face, formed.

This connection opened a flow of happiness and joy as she quickly exclaimed how beautiful and meaningful that one 12x18 picture was to her. She described to me how she would mount it in a beautiful wooden frame with a piece of glass in front and how beautiful it would look hanging above her bed in her simple, two room home. 

As I got up to leave, her warm gentle hand reached up and clasped hold of mine and her eyes sparkled as she thanked me for the beautiful gift. A lump formed in my throat as I smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.” 

While walking back across that old wooden floor that had endured the footsteps and goodbyes of generations, our ride pulled up and honked. As I left the station, I glanced back one more time to see the woman, with whom I had grown so close to in just those few words, gently place the gift into her basket.

That was when I realized that “this” is what Christmas is really about.

Almy Hollis lives in Pleasant Grove.