From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1932 –
The Stranger Within the Gates
by Laura M. Jenkins
Emma Ames sat wrapping packages in brightly colored papers, red and green, which she carefully tied with gayly decorated ribbon.
“There’s mothers’s,” she said quietly to herself, for there was no one else in the room, “and there’s father’s – and there’s Hazel’s – and Wallace’s – and these mittens – the pink ones for Margie and the red ones for Bobby.” A sigh escaped her thin lips. “Always making presents to someone else’s children,” she thought, “how would it seem to make Christmas presents to a child of your very own?”
The opening of the kitchen door and the noise of heavy buckets being set on the kitchen floor roused her from her reverie.
“There’s John with the milk. I’d better go and take care of it at once and finish these Christmas packages afterwards.”
She hurried into the kitchen where her husband stood in the doorway sweeping the snow from his boots.
“Snowing pretty hard outside?” she inquired.
“Sure enough is, I’ll tell the world,” he replied. “Going to be a white Christmas this year.”
A gust of wind sent a whirl of snow flakes over the kitchen floor and the door shut with a bang. John Ames hung up his coat and hat and seated himself by the kitchen fire.
“There’s the evening paper to look over while your thawing out a bit. It’s going to be a cold night, I’m thinking,” Mrs. Ames picked up a bucket of milk and poured it into a tall milk can then another bucket followed. She tied a clean white cloth over the top of the can and set it in the pantry and closed the door. Then with a brisk step she proceeded to clear up the table and wash the supper dishes. When the kitchen was tidied up and she was ready to return to her Christmas packages, the hands of the clock on the shelf above the table pointed to eight.
John and Emma Ames were thrifty, hard working middle-aged people. They owned the small farm on which their cottage stood, a few cows and horses, some turkeys and chickens, and a small truck with which they hauled their produce to market eight miles away. They were fairly well to do and comfortably fixed, but the love of a little child had never entered into their hearts to gladden or sadden them, and the merry voices of children ha never echoed through the quiet rooms of their little home. It had been a busy day, they had dressed a dozen turkeys which John Ames would truck to the Christmas market early in the morning, for tomorrow was Christmas Eve.
The evening’s work finished, Mrs. Ames seated herself in her easy chair to rest a few moments before resuming her work with the Christmas parcels. The kitchen door opened and shut and she knew her husband had gone out to look once more to the comfort of the animals at the barnyard before retiring for the night.
Suddenly, without warning, the front door opened, footsteps sounded in the hallway, and a youngster, not much more than a baby, walked into the room. A pair of striped overalls covered his short legs, a faded red sweater was buttoned around his little body, and a red woolen cap drawn down over his ears completed the costume of the small intruder. From under the cap a pair of blue eyes stared wonderingly around the room, then turned their startled gaze to her.
Emma Ames sat starting at the little stranger expecting someone to follow him but when they did not do so, she rose hastily and went to the front door and looked out. There was no one in sight, but she thought she heard a passing automobile. In the new fallen snow on the porch, were footprints which led to the front gate.
She returned to the room; there stood the boy just as she had left him, still looking around with his big wondering eyes.
John came rushing in asking excitedly.
“Who drove away in that car just now?” As he caught sight of the boy he questioned, “Who is he? Where did he come from?”
“I really don’t know. I was sitting in that rocker by the fire, when the front door opened and he walked in. When no one followed him, I hurried to the front door and looked out, but there was no one to be seen,” Emma answered.
John rushed to the door and looked outside. There was nothing to be seen, but the prints of a man’s boots in the new fallen snow. A small bundle just inside the door caught his eye, he picked it up and opened it. It contained a pair of tiny worn overalls, two little faded print dresses, a pair of dingy white stockings and a note which read:
“A Christmas present from the boy’s daddy. Care for him and he will make you happy. He’s a dear little fellow. It breaks my heart to part with him, but I cannot give him the care he needs. I lost my job, then my wife took sick and died. I was taking our boy home to my mother, but I got word today that she is dead too. The baby is under-fed, and it’s too cold for him traveling over the country at this time of the year. He needs a mother and a home and I can give him neither. I cannot see him die, too. As you deal with him, so will the Father in heaven deal with you. When this depression is over and times are better again, perhaps I can do something for him myself. He will be three years old Christmas day. His mother called him Keith.”
Tears rolled down the cheeks of both John Ames and his wife. She picked up the baby and took off his cap and jacket and sat down with him beside the fire. “Daddy, daddy,” he called. “I want my daddy.”
John wiped the tears from his eyes and bent over the boy to give what comfort he could.
“Sit down here and hold him,” said his wife, “and I’ll warm him some milk and get him some bread; I expect he’s hungry.”
Next morning the turkeys went to town in the truck, and John Ames and his wife and little Keith went also. When they returned the boy was wearing a new warm sweater suit of dark blue trimmed in red and a woolen cap to match; new stockings and shoes and tiny red mitten on his little hands. The big bundles they carried into the house led one to believe, Santa Claus would be quite certain to visit the Ames home.
When the table was set for supper and they knelt for the family prayer, among other things John Ames said:
“Father, we thank Thee for the little stranger Thou hast led within our gates. Help us to rear him in the ways of truth and righteousness. Remember, we ask of Thee, the absent father where ever he may be tonight, we ask Thee to provide for him the comforts of life; cheer his wounded spirit and bleeding heart, and give to him the prosperity and success with which Thou dist remember thy servant Job, after his trial and his adversity.”