A Note from Cottonwood Corners

Some years ago I read a story entitled “Christmas Time on the Frontier” which I regularly read at this time of the year.  It is the story of a frontier pastor’s wife’s very special Christmas when her faith was put to the test.  What follows is an edited version of her story:

“I remember a day during one winter that stands out like a boulder in my life.  The weather was unusually cold, our salary had not been regularly paid, and it did not meet our needs when it was.  My husband was away traveling from one district to another much of the time.  Our boys were well, but my little Ruth was ailing, and at best none of us were decently clothed.  I patched and repaired, with spirits sinking to the lowest ebb.

The people in the parish were kind and generous, but the settlement was new, and each family was struggling.  Little by little, at the time I needed it most, my faith began to waver.  Early in life I was taught to take God at His Word, and I thought my lesson was well learned.  I had lived upon the promise in dark times, until I knew, as David did, ‘who was for Fortress and Deliverer.’  Now a daily prayer for forgiveness was all that I can offer.

My husband’s overcoat was hardly thick enough for October, and he was often obliged to ride miles to attend some meeting or funeral.  Many times our breakfast was Indian cake and a cup of tea without sugar.  Christmas was coming; the children always expected their presents.  I remember the ice was thick and smooth, and the boys were each craving a pair of skates.  Ruth had taken fancy that the dolls I had made were no longer suitable; she wanted a nice large one, and insisted on praying for it.  It seemed as if God had deserted us, but I did not tell my husband all this.

The morning before Christmas, James was called to see a sick man.  I put up a piece of bread for his lunch — it was the best I could do — wrapped my plaid shawl around his neck and then to whisper a promise, as I often had, but the words died away upon my lips.  I let him go without it.  That was a dark, hopeless day.  I coaxed the children to bed early, for I could not bear their talk.  When Ruth went, I listened to her prayer; she asked for the last time most explicitly for her doll, and skates for her brothers.  Her bright face looked so lovely when she whispered to me, ‘You know, I think they’ll be here early tomorrow morning, Mamma,’ that I thought I could move heaven and earth to save her from disappointment.  I sat down alone and gave way to the most bitter tears.

Before long James returned, chilled and exhausted.  He drew off his boots . . . his feet were red and cold.  I brought him a cup of tea.  He took my hand, and we sat for an hour without a word.  I wanted to die and meet God, and tell Him His promise wasn’t true; my soul was so full of rebellious despair.

There came a sound of bells, a quick stop and a loud knock at the door.  James sprang up to open it.  There stood Deacon White.  ‘A box came for you by express just before dark.  I brought it around as soon as I could get away.  Reckoned it might be for Christmas, they shall have it tonight,’ he said.  He talked all the time, he carried in the heavy wooden box, and then with a hearty good night rode away.

Still, without speaking, James found a chisel and opened the box.  He drew out first a thick red blanket.  It was full of clothing.  It seemed at that moment as if Christ fastened upon me a look of reproach.  James sat down and covered his face with his hands.

It was eleven o’clock.  We piled on some fresh logs and began to examine our treasures.  We drew out an overcoat . . . there was a cloak . . . and we both laughed like foolish children.  There was a dress for me . . . and a pair of arctic overshoes for each of us, and in mine a slip of paper.  I have it now, and I mean to hand it down to my children.  It was Jacob’s blessing to Asher: ‘Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.’  In the gloves for James, the same dear hand had written: ‘I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.’  There were clothes for the children, and still there was one more wooden box.

It was a wonderful box and packed with thoughtful care.  There was a suit of clothes for each of the boys and a little red gown for Ruth.  There were mittens, scarfs, and hoods; down in the center — another box.  We opened it, and there was a great wax doll!  Close behind it came two pairs of skates, books for all ages, and an envelope containing a ten-dollar gold piece.  It was past midnight and we cried.

You should have seen the children the next morning!  The boys skated and Ruth took her doll and went into her room and knelt by her bed.  When she came back she whispered to me, ‘I knew it would be here, Mamma, but I wanted to thank God just the same, you know.’

My husband and I both tried to return thanks to the church in the East that sent us the box, and have tried to return thanks unto God every day since.

Hard times have come again and again, but we have trusted in Him — dreading nothing so much as a doubt of His protecting care.  ‘They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’”

NOTE:  Space does not allow me to quote the entire article which was written by an “unknown” author.  If you would like a copy of the entire story, send me an email at cshoemaker@goldenwest.net and I will send a word document to your email address.

Merry Christmas and “God Bless Us Everyone!”


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on December 21, 2022

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