Wednesday, December 2, 2009


In my schedule for the YW YEAR LONG SERVICE PROJECT I talked about a December lesson where we would focus a lesson on service and then tell them about our service adventure for 2010. My friend Michelle has an amazing true story about her grandfather's family (Her grandfather is one of the little boys in the story) and how they were served. Not only is it a wonderful, touching Christmas story it helps demonstrate what service can do! The hope for this lesson is they would walk away inspired and motivated to do some good. After reading the story I was ready to do exactly that! We are going to read this story to the YW and they are going to get an ornament that goes with the story to help remind them the power of service. I will be e-mailing this story out to those who have requested to be involved. If you would like to be on the e-mail list let me know! Here is the story...

(My friend Michelle said this story has been made into a book but the story was changed in the process. The book's name is "A Christmas Dress for Ellen". I also asked Michelle if I have permission to share her family story and she agreed :) )


This Christmas story has been compiled by Marian Jeppson Walker from memories of hearing the story told by her mother, Mary Thomas Jeppson, It has been over thirty-five years since anyone has heard the story from her lips, so memories of details have grown dim. However, the spirit of the story remains the strong. For many of her last years, Mary Jeppson was asked by ward Relief Societies to come and retell her beautiful true Christmas story. The retelling of this story was always an emotional drain on her but an emotional uplift for all those who were privileged to hear her tell the story.

It was December of 1927 in the remote prairie town of Hillspring, Alberta, Canada. A young mother by the name of Mary was getting her six small children ready for bed. Her heart was so full of sorrow and concern that she felt it would surely break—and yet she felt that it was too laden down in grief to even have a chance to break. It was Christmas Eve and all of the children except for the eldest, Ellen, age ten, were dancing around excited to hang their socks for Santa to come.

Ellen sat very subdued and sullen over in a corner of the cold, small two-room house. She felt that her mother was cruel and wrong to let the children build up their hopes and excitement for Santa to come because actually there would be no Santa. There was nothing to fill the socks. There would be only a little mush for breakfast. There was very little wheat and corn left. The winter had just started and already it was cold and harsh. The milk cow had died last week from starvation and harsh weather conditions. The last two or three chickens had stopped laying eggs about a month ago.

Times were hard and Ellen being the oldest had too much responsibility put on her thin young shoulders. She had become very cynical and childhood hopes and dreams and excitements had had to be put out mind much too early.

Mary helped each one of her children hand a little darned and mended sock. She couldn't persuade Ellen to hang one, however. All Ellen could say was, “Mom, don't do this. Don;t pretend.”

After the socks had been hung, May had read the Christmas story from the Bible to the children and then recited a few Christmas poems to them from memory—memories of her own happy childhood living in the United States. She was the next to the youngest of a very large and loving family. Her mother and father, although pioneers in a remote area of Idaho, made life—and especially Christmas—very happy., loving and warm times.

As the children went to bed, everyone except Ellen, had visions of sugarplums dancing through their heads. Ellen turned to her mother with one last last plea, “Mom tell them tonight. Let them know tonight that there's not going to be anything there in the morning for them. Don't let them go to bed thinking that they are going to be able to get up and have some surprises. They'll just be disappointed.”

But Mary turned to her daughter, kissed her goodnight and whispered, “I can't Ellen. Don't ask me why.. I just can't tell them that.”

It was midnight now. The children had been asleep for hours, and Mary's husband Leland had gone to bed feeling like a broken man., like he had failed his family completely.

Mary sat by the dying fire reading from the Bible the story of Christmas over and over again. Her mind drifted off to think about her plight here in this God-forsaken land of ice and snow. It was the beginning of the Depression and her husband had heard wondrous stories about the opportunities in Canada. He'd heard that anyone could come to Canada, homestead some land, and , if he had a good team of horses, could hire out to clear other people's land. There would be good money to be made. He'd heard that the opportunities were unlimited.

After two years of not being able to find work in the United States, and after a flood had destroyed their small farm in Willard, Utah, he had moved his family to Canada. But when they arrive, they found that they were five or six years too late to cash in on the great opportunities they had heard about. They did homestead a small piece of land, however. But Spring had come very late for the last two years and Winter had come very early. They had been left with only part of July and part of August for a growing season. All of their crops had frozen and failed for two years in a row.

In October, May had received a letter from her family in Idaho. Her sisters living in Malad and Pleasant View had written to her and told her that they knew times were very hard for her and although the Depression was causing many hardships for themselves, they wanted to know what they could send the family for Christmas.

Mary hadn't written back to them real soon. In fact, it was quite a long time before she did write back. She had much too much pride to tell them how poor and destitute the family really was. Finally, in November, seeing that things that things were not going to get any better, in desperation she had written.

Mary had requested only necessities. She had told them how desperately they needed food, especially wheat, yeast, flour and some cornmeal. She related to them how long it had been since she had been able to bake a cake or cookies because they had no molasses or honey and, of course, no sugar. It had been a year since they'd had any salt to use on their food. She also added that if they could ship just a little bit of coal it would help because it was so cold there, and their fuel was almost down to nothing. She finished her her letter with a request for some old used quilts. All of her own had worn thin and were full of holes, and they could not keep her children warm. Also, she requested some old worn out pants that she could use to cut up for patches to repatch the pants that her boys were wearing. She told them of their desperate need for socks and shoes and gloves and warm hats and coats. And at the very end of her letter she had stated, “If you could find just a dress that someone has outgrown that I could makeover to fit Ellen, please send that too, Ellen is such a little old lady for such a young girl. She worries about the family and about our needs and she carries the worries of the family on her shoulders. She has only one dress that she wears all the time, and it is patched and faded. She's outgrown it, and I would like to fix something that is nicer up for her.”

The week before Christmas had found Leland hitching up the horse to the sleigh and making the three-hour round trip from Hillspring into the town of Cardston everyday to check at the train station and at the post office to see if a package had come for the family from Idaho. Each day he would receive the same disappointing answer.

Finally, on the day of Christmas Eve, he left early in the morning from Hillspring and went into Cardston and sat around waiting for the daily train and checking at the post office to see if the box had come from Idaho. He left at noon, however, to return home to Hillspring before dark, and he left without a package. He had to go home and tell Mary that maybe it would arrive the day after Christmas or some time next week, but it hadn't made it before Christmas.

Mary woke up out of her reminiscing sleep with a chill. The old clock on the wall showed that it was 3:30 AM. The fire in the old stove was all but out. She decided to put a little more fuel into the stove so that it wouldn't take so long to start in the morning so that she would be able to cook the last little bit of wheat that she had for breakfast. She looked up at the sad little mended socks still hanging empty and felt that her heart was hanging just as empty.

Outside, the wind was blowing about seventy miles per hour and the snowstorm had intensified. After she added a few lumps of coal to the fire, she was about to put out the lantern and go to bed for a few hours when suddenly there was a knock at the door.

Mary opened the door to find a man standing there. And, for all the world, he looked exactly like what she would expect Santa himself to look like. He was covered with frozen snow and ice. His hat, his gloves, his boots were all white, and for a moment she was startled into believing that Santa had really come and knocked on the door,

It was the mailman from Cardston. He belonged to the Church and he knew the plight of the family. He told her that he knew of their waiting for the package from Idaho. He knew that there would be no Christmas without it. That evening as he was finishing up a long day of delivering mail all around the area of Cardston, he was glad to be in. His horse was exhausted and cold. It was one of the worst days they had had so far that year with the blizzard and the cold wind and he was very anxious to put his horse in the barn, park his sleigh and go home and spend Christmas Eve with his family.

Just after he got in and put the horse away, someone from the train station came up to him and told him that ten large crates had arrived from the States for the Jeppson family. It was only about four in the afternoon, but already it was dark. The storm was getting worse. The mailman told the man from the train station it was just too late. There wasn't anything he could do about it. He did say that the day after Christmas, though, he would see that those crates did get out to the Jeppsons.

He went home and was very disturbed. He talked to his wife about it and together they decided that the only thing he could do was to take the crates out to the Jeppson's little isolated farmhouse in Hillspring. He would have to find someone that would let him borrow a fresh horse and also borrow a sleigh with sharp running edges on it.

After he finished telling Mary about his decision to come, he brought the crates into the house. Mary told him to go over by the stove to get warm and thaw out. She took his horse out to the barn and when she looked at the poor animal, she knew there was no way that horse could make the trip back to Cards ton that night. She went back into the house and asked him if he wouldn't just stay until morning to let himself and the horse have a chance to rest.

He told her “No”, that it had taken him about eight hours to make a trip that could usually be made in about an hour-and-a-half, and he said that if he were to leave right now and go back, he would still be able to spend Christmas afternoon with his family.

Mary reminded him of the condition of his horse. She said that it had icicles hanging from its nose, mouth and ears, and that there was no way that horse could make it back. But, he still insisted on going, so Mary told him that she would harness up their horse because it was in a lot better condition to make the trip back.

She then went in and got some of Leland's clothes and had the mailman take off his wet, frozen clothes and put dry clothes on. While he was doing that, she went back out to the barn and harnessed up their horse. Back in the house again, she fed him what warm food she could muster up.

The mailman then headed back to town. It had taken him eight hours to get there because of the severity of the storm. By this time it was about 4:30 and going on 5:00 in the morning. He probably wouldn't get back till noon or after if he left now. Mary thanked him as best she could, but she always said that there just were not words enough to express her thanks. After all, how do you thank a miracle, and a Christmas miracle at that?

As soon as he left, Mary began to unpack the crates. She only had an hour or so to get ready before the children would wake up. At the top of one of the crates she found a letter from her sisters. They told her that quilting bees had been held all over the Malad Valley, and from these six thick, warm, beautiful quilts had been made to be seat to them. They told her of many women who had sewn shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls, and of others who had knitted the warm gloves and hats.

The donation of socks and shoes had come from people from miles around. The Relief Society had even held a bazaar to raise money to buy the coats, and all the sisters and nieces and cousins and aunts and uncles from all around had got together to bake the breads and make candy to send. There was even a crate half full of beef that had been cured and packed so that it could be shipped, and lo and behold there were two or three slabs of bacon and also two hams,

The closing of the letter had said, “We hope you have a Merry Christmas, and thank you so much for making our Christmas the best one we've ever had!”

When Mary's family awoke that Christmas morning, they awoke to what to them was a miracle. Bacon was sizzling on the stove, hot muffins were ready to come out of the oven. There were bottles and jars of jams and jelly and canned fruit that the younger children had never seen before in their lives, and they were not sure what it was. But oh, was it good!

Every sock that was hanging was stuffed full! Homemade taffy, fudge, divinity and dried fruit of every kind were in the socks, as well as cookies like the children had never seen. They weren't sure what to call them.

Later, Mary and Leland were to find tucked in each toe of socks that had been sent for them a dollar or two with a little note that the money was to be used to buy coal and fuel for the rest of the winter and to buy oats and wheat to feed the animals.

For each boy, there was a bag of marbles and each girl had a little rag doll made just for her. But best of all and the most wonderful miracle occurred when Ellen, the very last to get up, rubbed her eyes in disbelief as she looked at the spot where her sock was supposed to have been hung the night before and saw hanging there a beautiful red Christmas dress, trimmed with white and green satin ribbons.

Ellen turned around, walked back to her bed and laid back down, thinking it to be a dream. But in only moments she opened her eyes again and came back out to the joy of the most wonderful Christmas ever. For that morning, with the Christmas dress for Ellen, a childhood had been brought back, a childhood of hopes and dreams and Santa and the miracle of Christmas.


Motivated? I hope so. I know I am :) I guess there is also a story from the mail carrier's point of view. I would love to read it. It makes me smile knowing what amazing people live in this world. I'm not sure exactly of Michelle's plans for the ornament. I know she wants to do some sort of dress. I suggested something like this...

This particular dress is from "Say it With Letters". It is cut from MDF and then decorated. It might be cheaper to use chipboard or even paper and cut it out on your Cricut. There is an adorable paperdoll shape cartridge that has super cute dresses. Wouldn't a red dress go perfectly with this lesson? Michelle was even thinking about going to the craft store and getting small hangers to go with the dress. Adorable and cheap.

1 comment:

  1. I can't stop crying! Loved that story!!!!
    Love the ornament too!


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