From the Liahona, 25 December 1909. (FYI, the Grand Army of the Republic was the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. They held their national encampment of August 1909 in Salt Lake City. With tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors, Salt Lake couldn’t house everyone in hotels; the vast majority of old soldiers stayed as guests in the spare rooms of Salt Lake families, many 0f them, of course, LDS.)
The Lonesome Christmas
By Nephi Anderson
“You are not going to work today, are you?” asked the Something.
“Why not?” asked the Elder in reply.
“Isn’t today Christmas? People celebrate on this day.”
“And what do you mean by celebrating?”
“Well, not to work – to do something different. People stay home and eat big dinners – and – ”
“But I am not at home, neither can I go there; I can’t eat a big dinner because I haven’t any to eat; I am a missionary, and my business is to preach the gospel Sunday or Monday, holiday or common day – what else can I do, anyway?”
He brushed his hand over his eyes, and swallowed the lump in his throat. He kept on packing his grip with books and tracts, then he put on his hat, buttoned his coat, and started out.
“Now, you stay behind,” he said to the Something that had been holding converse with him, tempting him to remain in active on that day because it was Christmas.
The Elder was alone, his companion not having yet arrived. He was also lonesome. The reason for this was perhaps that, besides being alone, he was a young man – not much more than a boy – and had been in the missionary field a few months only – again, it was Christmas day.
The day was not very cold; the sky was clear; the sun shone warm. The road was firmly beaten, making the walking good. When the Elder left the last house of the town where he had stopped for the night, there stretched before him an unbroken road to the top of a hill in the distance. Not a house was insight in that direction.
As he trudged on, the Elder did not check his tears. He had a good cry, then he wiped his eyes, and laughed at himself.
“Mother’s boy is away from home,: he said, not to the Something, however– that had remained behind as bidden. “But I must move – do something, even if today were twenty Christmases piled into one.”He remembered the advice which had been given him before leaving home: “Work, Work, WORK! will cure the worst case of loneliness and homesickness.” He had tried this before with satisfactory results; here was the supreme test.
The top of the hill was reached. On it was a house with barns, which reminded him of his early home before they had moved to the city. Even the arrangement of the yard and stables was just like those he had known – but he mustn’t think of that. He hurried by.
He would drill on some scriptural passages: “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Except a man be born –” he repeated, prompting himself, now and then by glancing at his book.
At the first house which he reached he tried hard to sell a Book of Mormon. They treated him so coldly he had to swallow the lump in his throat again. At the second house, a troupe of children stared strangely at him. They were too poor to buy books, but they were grateful for some tracts. The third house, a poor tumbled-down affair, was guarded by a vicious dog, whose teeth the elder narrowly escaped. At the next stop he had a splendid gospel conversation, and by that time the lonesomeness was going – the rule was working beautifully.
Midday came, but the Elder got no dinner. He saw and heard and smelled much preparation to eat good things, but he was given no opportunity to gratify the other two senses. However, he walked on, singing and repeating scripture; he was fighting a gallant fight.
Towards the middle of the afternoon the Elder arrived at a large white house, set well back from the road with lawns and shrubbery in front — the home of a wealthy man. Everything was quiet around the place.
“The gospel is for the rich as well as the poor,” said the Elder. “The rich in purse are sometimes poor in soul – I shall go in.”
He knocked on the door. “Come in, come in,” someone shouted from within. The Elder entered through a large hall into a room where an elderly man was sitting by a blazing fire in a grate.
“Well?” inquired the man, as he looked up.
“A merry Christmas to you,” replied the Elder.
“Yes; all right?”
“I am an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – commonly known as Mormons.”
The man stopped smoking and looked intently at his young visitor.
“You are?– well– I’ll be – but sit down.”
The Elder placed his hat on a chair and his umbrella and grip on the floor.
“An’ so you are a Mormon?”
“An’ what are you doing out here? Why aren’t you home eating turkey and mince pie – don’t you know it’s Christmas?”
“Yes; I know; but I’m on a mission preaching the gospel.”
“An’ you think I need preaching to so bad that you have come all the way from Utah, and missed your Christmas dinner besides, to preach to me!”
“Yes, sir,” replied the Elder with a boldness that surprised himself, “that’s just it.”
“Well – but take off your coat and sit up to the fire – throw it across a chair. I’m alone today – the servants are all off celebrating – and I’m alone.”
“And lonesome,” added the Elder.
“Yes; you hit it right, I am.”
“So am I – or at least, I was earlier in the day. Now I am only hungry.”
“Had no dinner yet?”
“An’ today Christmas! Can you help yourself? My leg’s bad – getting old. There’s plenty in the pantry.”
“Thank you – but there’s no hurry. Let me get warm first.”
Though the Elder was not so cold as he was hungry, he had to have time to adjust himself to this unusual and unexpected hospitality. He drew his chair closer to the cheerful fire. On the table by which the old man was sitting were a bottle, pipes, tobacco, books, and newspapers.
“If you are a Mormon, I know you neither smoke nor drink, so I shall not invite you to do either. I expect some of the servants home shortly, and then we shall have something to eat.”
“Thank you. You seem to know something about the Mormons.”
“I do. I am a Grand Army man, and I was in Salt Lake City last summer at the encampment there. Went there with strange ideas, but was never treated so well in my life. I shall never forget it. I hear a lot about Mormonism, too.”
“You did? Well, that’s interesting.”
“Yes. – I’ll tell you about it. You know there was a lot of us old soldiers out there, and the hotels couldn’t take care of us all. I was given lodgings with a Mormon family, and they treated me as if I had been one of their nearest and dearest of kin come to visit them. An’ do you know, when I was ready to leave, they wouldn’t take a cent. No; they said if I would have a kindly remembrance of the Mormon people, and take in and feed any Mormon Elder that might come to my door, they would be amply repaid – That’s what they said – an’ I’ll remember it – was, in fact, just thinking about it when you knocked.”
The Elder’s eyes were dim again.
“Yes; I was thinking of that sweet-faced Mormon woman and her children – five of them, I think. I do believe if I’d stayed a little longer the younger children would have climbed on my knee and called me grand-dad – I do believe they would. The man talked Mormonism to me, and it sounded mighty good – I’ve been wanting to hear some more ever since.”
“What part of the city were you in?”
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t get on to your street numbering; but – here, I’ve the name of the lady in my notebook.”
The old man took from his pocket a small book from which he read. Mrs. Mary Jane Allenson, No. 722 East –”
“That’s my mother!” fairly shouted the Elder.
Both men arose to their feet.
“No,” said the old man.
“Yes, that’s my mother.”
The old soldier limped over to the Elder, placed his hands caressingly on his shoulders, and looked at him steadily.
“Yes; I can see it in your face. Well, I’ll be – My boy, a thousand times welcome to my home and what I have – but now, sit right down here and tell me all about it.”