From the Children’s Friend, December 1936 –
The Christmas Treasure
By Ruth Ostegar
Early one brisk, bright, October morning, Mary Margaret, clad in overalls and a straw hat, and armed with a huge knife, ran out the gate to join a group of similarly dressed friends headed for old Peter Jensen’s beet field. Thus armed, and with adventure running high in her veins, she thought of herself as one of King Arthur’s knights, going forth for the first time to prove her skill at the tournament.
In a sugar beet region it usually takes all the available man, as well as girl and boy power, to top the beets and prepare them for the factory. In fact, the general exodus from the school. room to the beet field becomes so great in October, that in many places a vacation of a fortnight is held, when the sword, or at least the beet knife, becomes mightier than the pen. It was the first day of beet vacation, and although Mary Margaret was fifteen, this was the first time she had ever been allowed to top beets. In spite of the prediction of her two older brothers that she wouldn’t last three days, she felt confident that she would be able to “stick it out” for the entire two weeks, and earn the much needed $25 which was to make possible her first trip to Salt Lake City.
During the summer just passed, her two best friends had left the farm, and with their parents, had moved to the city. now plans and invitations were coming in every letter for Mary Margaret to spend part of her Christmas holidays with them. But things had been going poorly at the Anderson household, and they were trying to keep Pete on a mission, so Mary Margaret foresaw that if she were to accomplish this cherished desire of her heart, it would be necessary for her to earn the money with which to go. Persuading father and mother had been no little task, but her brothers, Andy and Jim, had come to her rescue, and the pleadings of the three had finally won the day.
The group reached the field where the long rows of beets had been plowed and lay, waiting to be topped and piled. It was not without a slight feeling of excitement that Mary Margaret attacked her row. Grasping a beet firmly with her left hand, with one stroke she severed the top, and with a toss threw the beet ahead a yard or two for the proposed pile. But she soon discovered that this was not play. The sun became warmer and warmer and the unaccustomed muscles of her back began to ache. She raised up to rest and gazed away to the cool mountains with their patches of bright color, showing where the frost had been at work with his paint brush on the quaking asps and maples. She pictured to herself how they would look loaded down with snow this Christmas when, with her lovely new clothes, she would head down the valley for Salt Lake City. Her task of counting chickens before they were hatched was rudely interrupted by Andy’s voice, calling:
“Hey, Jim, she’s a loafing on us, I think she’s about ready to quit.”
And Jim’s comment, “Well, she would.”
“Don’t kid yourselves,” she replied, and fell to work with a new energy.
At the end of the two weeks, the hand in her right overall pocket closed tightly around five $5 bills, as she returned home tired but triumphant from the beet field.
“Look at this, mom,” she called, waving the bills as she entered the house. “How’s that for your baby daughter?”
“Well! Well! So my little girl was no quitter after all,” and mother left the stove where she was preparing the evening meal and gathered her little girl in her arms.
“Believe me, mother, I know where this money came from, and I’m not going to spend a cent of it. No, sir, not a cent until Christmas! when I want to go to picture shows I’ll coax Andy or Jim to take me.” And away ran Mary Margaret to her room to securely hide this precious treasure which meant so much to her.
Mary Margaret was not only the youngest, but also the only girl of a family of six children. The other members of the family were: John, the oldest, who was married and lived near and who was the father of two rollicking, healthy children; Albert, the second son, who was likewise married; Pete, the missionary in far away Norway; and Jim and Andy who, like Mary Margaret, were still in school and lived at home. The family owned only a small farm, and their income was mainly derived from the milk sent to the cheese factory each day.
If things had gone poorly during the early part of the autumn, they grew even worse as winter came on. First, Father Anderson received a severely injured leg while hauling rock from the mountains, which made it both impossible to pay for the new wagon he had just purchased, and to continue the hauling, by which means he intended increasing the family income and paying the taxes on the farm. The turkeys Mother Anderson had raised so carefully and with so much labor and trouble all summer brought much less than they had anticipated, and then shortly after Thanksgiving their best milk cow died.
But the little family, feeling that God would aid them in keeping their son on a mission, set to work undaunted, to raise the $40 a month which was necessary for keeping Pete in Norway, and the additional money to buy coal, groceries and winter clothing. Andy got a job doing chores night and morning, and Mary Margaret took his place with the milking of their own cows. Mother started taking in washings. The family objected at first, but mother insisted that with her electric washer, a present from her two boys two Christmases before, washing was scarcely any trouble at all, and she continued to put several large washings on the line each week, sometimes wading in snow as she hung the clothes.
But nothing could daunt Mary Margaret’s hopes and plans for her Christmas vacation. She read every scrap of information she could get about Salt Lake City. She imagined the windows of the large stores, much larger than any she had ever seen, loaded down with their Christmas decorations and Christmas cheer. She dreamed of the parties, dances and Christmas gaiety in which she would have a part. And looked forward with the keenest interest in seeing the Temple and the huge Tabernacle for the first time.
Every night she slept with the little purse containing her money under her pillow. “I’m not afraid of being robbed,” she told her mother, “but I like to wake up in the night and feel it there. It seems then that all my dreams will come true. I just couldn’t stand it if something happened and I didn’t get to go.”
It was little less than a week until Christmas, when suddenly Mary Margaret was awakened in the middle of the night by the howling of the wind. She felt a little chilly, and decided to get an extra quilt from the closet in the hall. She slipped noiselessly out of bed and quietly opened the door of her room, when she was surprised by seeing a light shining under the door of her parents’ room. She also heard low voices, and wondering if someone were ill, she stopped and listened.
“I just don’t see how we’re going to do it,” her father was saying. “I think I can get Jones to wait for the payments on the wagon, if I go over and have a talk with him, and I may be able to borrow enough at the bank to pay the taxes, but where we’re going to get the money for Pete, and to celebrate Christmas is beyond me.”
“How much have we got?” her mother’s voice inquired.
“Well, scraping together every penny possible I have just $32, and the money must go to Pete tomorrow.”
“And Mr. Bryce wouldn’t buy the little mare?”
“No, he said he was short of cash right now. I can’t seem to sell anything.”
“Well,” replied mother, “I don’t believe the boys have anything, they’ve been practically buying all the groceries, and of course John and Albert have about all they can do meeting their own expenses.”
“I hope I haven’t come to the place where I have to beg from my children,” and father raised his voice.
“Never mind, father, come to bed, I’m sure God will hear and answer our prayers. We’ve been married almost thirty years now, and seen some very hard times, but we’ve always managed to have some sort of Christmas. No, God will not forsake us now.”
For a moment all was still, then came her father’s voice, “Twenty-five dollars would see us through, yes, twenty-five dollars.”
A very serious little Mary Margaret slipped back into bed. Twenty-five dollars1 Just what she had under her pillow. She thought of her hopes and plans for her own Christmas, and she thought of the family coming home for Christmas and father explaining that they had nothing in the house and could not celebrate. She thought of kind, generous Pete in Norway. Again she thought of her trip to Salt Lake City and all it meant to her. She wondered if she had been terribly selfish, and the struggle of the elements outside, was forgotten by a greater struggle which was going on in Mary Margaret’s soul.
The next morning the storm had abated, the weather had cleared, and the entire world had donned its holiday garments. Mary Margaret arose slowly and counted out the five $5 bills. Feeling each lovingly, she once more slipped them back in her little purse, but instead of returning them to their usual hiding place, she clasped the purse tightly in her hand. Opening the door of her room, she ascertained that her father had gone to the barn and that her mother was in the kitchen, so she slipped quietly to the desk in the living room, procured an envelope and transferred the $25 to it. On the outside of the envelope she wrote:
“To Mr. and Mrs. John Anderson, A Merry Christmas, with all the love in the world.”
Then she slipped quietly into her parents’ room, and a few minutes later she was headed for the barn, with her eyes shining with a newly found happiness, and smiling in spite of the tears that crowded into her eyes.
Mr. Anderson’s leg bothered him some, and so he made a habit of coming in as soon as his chores were done and changing his boots and rough shoes for a pair of warm slippers, which he wore while “getting thawed out,” as he said. This morning he went to his room as usual, and a moment later he aroused the household with an impatient:
“Mother! Mother! Where’s my other slipper?”
Mother left her cooking and went to help locate the missing article, and Mary Margaret tiptoed nervously behind, but stopped outside the door.
“Well, now, that’s strange,” said mother. “I’m sure it was right here in the closet with the other one. Why, look, here it is on the dresser. You must have put it here yourself.”
“No, I never saw it,” and father stooped to put on the offending slipper, but halted halfway with – “Well, what nonsense is this?” and raising up extracted Mary Margaret’s envelope from the toe of his slipper.
Mary Margaret, peeping through the crack, saw her father and mother stare at each other in dumb amazement as the envelope was opened and the precious bills came out. Then mother’s eyes filled with tears as she breathed, “Mary Margaret!”
Two seconds later found Mary Margaret in her mother’s arms, and that morning as the family kneeled in prayer there was not a dry eye around the table as father prayed with almost a sob in his voice: “Oh, Lord, we thank Thee that we have a kind Heavenly Father who hears and answers prayers, and we thank Thee for the unselfish love and true nobility of our children.”