I always wanted a panda bear; you know one of those black and white stuffed ones. Not much of a gift for a guy, but I still liked it but never did get one. Tried at the fair a couple of times but the best I could do was a broken china doll. Somewhere about the ninth or tenth grade I bought a panda bear and gave it to the girl I was ‘dating’ not sure what else to call it, we saw each other at school and church, about the total sum but I got her a panda bear for Christmas. Not much of a gift, but give me credit, it was something I wanted so it was a nice gift in my way of thinking. Years later, about 15 or so I met the girl’s mother in downtown Jackson, we talked a minute, caught up with the last several years, telling things that both families had been doing, in the course of the conversation she told me that ‘Shirley’ (Not the real name- to protect the innocent) was shopping in a store down the street and would be out in a minute and I could see her and meet her four year old daughter. Boy it had been a long time. Sure enough in just a few minutes she came walking out of the store, holding the hand of her daughter who was dragging a panda bear in her other hand as they walked toward me. We greeted each other, talked a minute about old times and she said remember this and held up the panda bear, now with a pink tummy. She explained that her daughter just loved the bear and had worn his tummy out dragging it everywhere she went so she had patched it with a piece of pink cloth. We hugged, I stooped down and told the young girl to take good care of the bear and was off to my own world as they headed to theirs. Not bad I thought, not bad, the old bear turned out to a real plus for someone. I wish half of my Christmas gifts could have been loved as much.
I love the sounds, smells, scenes, and even the shopping of Christmas. God promised us a wonderful gift and He gave that gift of a savior to us and we celebrate that gift in this season of the year. When I was teaching school a small child gave me a gift wrapped in white paper and asked that I not open it until the class was gone. When I tore open the package I understood the reason, it was a one tusk missing elephant. It was not new, it had seen a lot of seasons but this child knew that I loved elephants and since her family had no money she had talked her mother into giving away a long used item from off their trinket shelf. I wrote the family a note and when we returned from the holidays that gift was on my desk sitting on top of a beautiful glass mounting. She gave me from her heart and I wanted her to understand that I had received it with all of my heart.
Needless to say old one tusk elephant mounted on the glass was the hit of our returning day to school. Everyone wanted to know what it cost, if it was expensive, and who had given it to me. I explained that it was very valuable because the person who gave it to me treasured it and that is what makes a gift expensive. I explained that it would not be polite to say who had given it and in time the questions stopped. But the child who gave it never stopped smiling and from that day on she was a great student always doing her best. A number of years later I was invited to be the graduation speaker at her High School graduation. I had a special box with sides of glass made for the ‘one tusk elephant’ and gave it to her after graduation. We simply hugged, smiled, and the last I heard she was a first grade teacher, married, with children, and a ‘one tusk elephant’ on her class room desk.
Long, long ago; and I do mean long when I was teaching school we would have a special program on the last day before the Christmas holidays as well as a party for the children and as much as we discouraged it some of the children would give the teachers gifts. It was a very thoughtful jester and as teachers we down played it all we could and tried not to make too much to do about it for the feelings of those whose parents did not send gifts with them. I had known Paul, a seventh grader, for five years or more and knew that his family was one of the poorest in our community. They were good people, just left out of life and never able to catch up with others so it was no surprise when he came to me after the other children had left the room and said that his family was behind in their shopping and he would have my gift when we returned to school after the holidays. I hugged Paul assured him that it was not something for him to be worried about and wished him and his family a wonderful Christmas. A friend of mine and I got together and purchased gifts for Paul, his sister and brother as well as his parents and along with a large basket of food that our church had prepared we visited the family and delivered the gifts a few days before Christmas. I had been in their home a number of times, if you call standing in the door speaking with them, in their home, they were never comfortable with inviting me in so I was not surprised when the greeting was repeated as we delivered the gifts. They were very grateful and had too much to say about our sharing with them, I prayed standing in the door and we left. My friend said, I think Paul’s father will like the three pair of wool socks you got for him, I noticed he was barefooted on a cold day like this. I agreed and we took gifts to a couple of other places and called it a day. True to his word on the first day of school after the holidays there was the gift from Paul waiting on my desk. Wrapped in paper that had been used once before was a beautiful pair of wool socks, just like the three I had given his father. My heart was humbled as I hugged Paul and thanked him for the gift. I never knew if Paul’s parents knew about the gift to me or not and I was sure that Paul did not know where the socks had come from but it was not important, the value was not in the wool socks, but in the heart of Paul.
I met Bill Green when I visited my grandparents on Tucker Street in Dyersburg, TN. We enjoyed playing as young boys did in those days and I really liked Bill. He always seemed like a good kid and in our early years we spent a lot of my Dyersburg days with one another.
Sometime later just after Bill got out of high school his girlfriend told him that they were going to be parents. Now you have to understand the times in which we lived then, this was a big, I mean BIG no, no. Bill was broken, he thought about his parents and how they would be broken and humiliated by this news, he loved them and hated to see them go through the gossip, judgment, and other heart break that this would cause to the two people he loved the most. Sure he loved his girlfriend, at least he thought so, but at 18, what did he know?
Going by the pool hall that night he told a couple of his buddies, but instead of concern they just laughed at him and called him dad. He hit a couple of them and soon a fight broke out that left all of them bruised and bleeding. Bill headed for home, as he passed the downtown shoe store he saw his reflection in the window and knew that he could not go home looking like he did; so Bill made another bad choice he went to the IC railroad yard and caught the first North bound freight that slowed down enough for him to jump aboard.
Some almost three years later he left the store where he worked in Chicago, got on the L to go to the rooming house where he lived and heard someone say; Bill Green, is that you Bill? He turned to see a neighbor to his parents and admitted that the man was right, his name was Bill Green. “You need to go home boy, the man said, you really do need to go home Bill, your parents are worried to death about you.”
Bill caught the next train out of Chicago that went through Dyersburg and on that Christmas Eve walked from the station toward his parents’ home on Tucker Street. As he turned into the walk leading up to their porch he saw a baby crib on the porch and couldn’t imagine why it was there. When he knocked on the door his mother opened it and people all up and down Tucker heard her scream. His dad came running from the back of the house and he looked up from the entry to see his girlfriend brining a very small child down the steps from the upstairs.
When Bill told me this story years later at my uncle’s funeral he told how they had gotten married in Kentucky the next day and had added another child to their family. When his girlfriend’s parents had thrown her out of their house his parents had taken her in and cared and loved her for themselves and him. He said, “Ivan that was the longest train ride and walk in my life, but it turned out to be the best, for I learned that day what Grace is really about, my family lived their grace.” A little grace a Christmas, I think it goes well together.
David loved Christmas! Even though this was his first Christmas he had fallen in love with it at first sight. The light, everywhere there were lights, the music, the food, what was not to like, even the shoppers, it was a wonderful time and he enjoyed each moment. He stood to the side inside the store watching the children lined up to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, they were excited, some bashful, some cried and many of them hugged the white bearded man and ran quickly back to their parents. He could see Bobby asking Santa for a remote controlled fire truck with a long ladder on the back. He saw to the side in a crowd of parents Bobby’s mother trying to get Santa’s attention and shaking her head no. But no matter what Santa requested Bobby came back to the fire truck. David watched her count out the money for the picture the girl handed her of Bobby and Santa; it seemed to David that it had taken most of her money. She clutched the picture, placed it in her bag and followed as Bobby drug her to the stack of Remote Controlled Fire Trucks in the center aisle. He saw her looking with almost tearful eyes at the $69.95 price on the sign and then gently direct Bobby to another part of the store. David, got the attention of a clerk, gave her a box with the fire truck in it and handed her a large box of Logos; He asked if she could get it wrapped in a hurry and she assured him it would be done in a flash. With the package in hand he went out to the front of the store and asked the Santa there who was collecting funds for something, to give the box to the lady coming out with the small boy in tow, with that he placed a $10.00 bill in the pot and stood against the wall of the building. Santa handed the box to the lady and she jumped as though she was afraid, “Not to worry Miss this is a gift from Santa, please take it but you can’t open it until Christmas morning.” She started to talk, but Santa said, “On your way now Miss, Santa is very busy, Merry Christmas and Ho, Ho, Ho”
I was born on Lexington Ave, in Jackson, TN two doors down from Hampton Street then when I was still a baby we moved next door to the corner house and from there we moved to 246 South Lindsey Street in November when I turned four so my memories of those days are very few but I do have some memories that my mother and father told me about that seem to be very real.
Our church was just across the street and a couple of houses down toward the east so it was always in sight and as long as I can remember that was my church. I loved Calvary Baptist Church at the corner of Lexington and Tomlin.
My dad said that one Sunday morning as we were all getting ready to go to church that he heard several cars blowing their horns out on Lexington and decided to go and see what all the horn blowing was about. There I was in all my Sunday best standing in the middle of Lexington Avenue holding a stick in my hand stopping all of the traffic. Of course it only took dad a moment to realize the problem and he rushed into the street, picked me up and on the way back to the house asked what in the world I was doing. He said that I told him that I wanted to be the first person in church that Sunday so I decided to block the traffic so that no one could get there before I did. I guess we should have known then that I was going to become a pastor, I have always loved church, mother said that after we moved to Lindsey Street if we drove by the church and lights were on that I would pitch a fit because we were not there. It didn’t matter to me if it was a ladies meeting or a deacon’s meeting, if someone was in church I wanted to be in church.
I have wonderful memories of Calvary, as an old man I can say for certain that they knew how to love a little boy there. It was there that I made my profession of faith at the age of nine and was baptized and it was there that I preached my first sermon when I was sixteen years of age. I always wanted to pastor a church named Calvary and said that I would buy up every billboard around and put on it – Life Begins at Calvary, Corner of Lexington and Tomlin.
The church family moved some years after I left, I preached the last revival in the building and then took part in the first revival at their new building. The building is still there and when I visited one day about five years ago it stirred up so many memories that I had to weep. For life did begin for me at Calvary, there at the Corner of Lexington and Tomlin. To all those who made it possible, and I know they are all now in Glory, thank you, thank you for knowing how to love a little boy.
I love Christmas, there I go using that word again, but ‘like’ does not get it so love it shall be, the smells, the sounds, the scenes, and it is all so very wonderful to me. I don’t mind the Black Friday Shoppers, I just don’t go but a lot of people love them so let it be. When I was a boy we always had a cedar tree for our Christmas tree so that is the one I smell and the one that is best to me. Even in the war when light were difficult to get, dad was able to keep a few burning on our tree. After the war we had those bubble light, looked like candles and really did bubble, they were great. Mother filled the house with the aroma of Christmas food being cooked; I can still taste and smell tangerines, in my boyhood we only had them at Christmas. The songs, wow, too many to count and to recall but I enjoyed them all. In one of the churches I pastored we had a huge ‘Living Christmas Tree’, it was glorious. As a boy, Santa is coming to town would get me and then the letter sent to Santa and read over the radio, man that was good stuff. I would fold down the corners of the pages of the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue where I had circled the gifts I wanted. Never received many of them but it was a lot of fun to search and mark and dream.
Christmas was never complete without the gathering of the family on Christmas Eve and the opening of all the gifts except those from Santa. The room was full of paper, bows, children, parents and Mom and Dad; Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve. Dream on Old Man, dream on.
I was a high school student selling Christmas items door to door that senior year. I was unprepared for what I saw when the door was opened. A one room house, filled with the smell of smoke from the open bucket of burning coals. Around the wall were six small children, dirty, poorly dressed and fed, eating bread dipped in syrup, using the tops of the syrup cans for plates?
I spoke to the lady, started to mention what I was selling, but paused long enough to catch a glimpse of the despair, poverty, and hopelessness of the moment. I told her I was with Santa and wished to know what she needed for Christmas. She looked at my young white face in a tone of shock and uncertainty. I said, “I really am, I would really like to know what you need for Christmas.” That was the start of one of the best Christ Seasons I shall ever know.
I entered the house with caution and some reservation. The children looked at me with wide eyes of wonder. A small one came and hugged my leg. I was surprised and a bit shaken. Remember this was West Tennessee in the fifties. It was a different world, (wrong), but different. I am sometimes surprised that God did not remove all of us for our actions and attitudes. That is a message for another day. God is merciful even when we are not.
The mother said they did not have anything in the house to eat and very little coal left. Since I was 16, I was more interested in why there was not tree and no Christmas decorations. Time would answer that question. I said I knew where to get food and I thought I could get some coal.
I raided our home at 246 South Lindsey Street for food, got coal from the place where my father worked and headed back to the, smoke and children filled one room of a house. This was going to be a different Christmas!
I had worked hard that Christmas planning to make enough money to purchase a sport coat that I had seen Rock Hudson wear in a movie. It had leather patches on the elbows and I liked that coat. I got a small tree from back of my house, some lights from my brother in law, purchased some other items for the tree and made my way to the New York store where I knew I could get some great toys. My father’s 48 dodge was filled to overflow as I parked in front of my now familiar new friend’s home.
They popped through the door like a coke being shaken when they heard me close the car door. Never had so many hands clutched so many packaged. The mother stood and smiled in a wondering way at the then slim, tall, very white boy. Her name was Marilee. I asked what she wanted for Christmas and she said quietly, “I’ve got it.”
It was cold that December day in 1954, cloudy, dark, everywhere except over that small house with smoke coming out of the open top of a window and six bright, beautiful children all speaking at once in wonder at what was in the packages. There might even have been a small heavenly light over its roof.
Herman Lindsey, owner of the New York store had told me to come back if I needed anything else. I noticed that the total he charged for the toys was a lot less than I expected. I went back in the store and asked him if he had some things to cook in and also a stove that would stick out the window so the house would not be so full of smoke. He said for me to come back the next day and he would see what he could gather. That next day we loaded his truck with a bed, several mattresses, cooking items, and a brand new stove with a chimney for the window. This time the entire street turned out to help us unload the truck. Mr. Lindsey and I walked from the house with a bit of spunk in our step. It had been a great Christmas and it was only December 23rd.
I thanked Mr. Lindsey, gave him what money was left then turned and hugged him around his neck. I learned later that Mr. Lindsey returned with his truck loaded with toys and gave them to children up and down the street on Christmas Eve. I also realized later that Herman Lindsey was Jewish. But Mr. Lindsey knew who his neighbor was. I never did get that patched coat, and I never missed it. I never talked with Mr. Lindsey again. The store closed some years later and I lost contact with the family. But that Christmas of ’54 was wonderful.
Guest Author: Rob Dolder
He Came Home – To Go Home
“Not many of you will know this man, Will Thornburg. He was a very troubled man that lived in Tarpon Springs and was a part of the young adult ministries of the church in the 90’s and beyond. While he was not around much over the last few years, many of us still saw him and talked with him often. Recently, he became homeless and very ill. Last Monday, Will made it back to the place of the old Outreach center. The place I believe he remembered being loved and receiving affirmation, counseling and acceptance. Will returned one last time to this place and fell asleep to wake in heaven. I am not surprised that he chose this place to find his final moments of peace on this earth before going to heaven. It appears that he died of illness and natural causes rather than some type of foul means. He is no longer tormented in his mind and his failing body has been renewed. All of the desires that he felt for things of this world have now been replaced by the ultimate fulfillment of being in the presence of his Savior. Will spent many hours in the offices of Ray Owens, Eddie Taylor, myself and others at the church. Will was not just a no named homeless man that died on the streets of Tarpon Springs. He was important to a lot of us and we all wish there had been more we could have done to help him. We pray a blessing tonight for Will and his family. Thank you Lord for bringing Will into our lives. I am certain that we have all learned as much from him as he did from us. Will gave me a small gift of a meteorite that I keep in my office; I will cherish it and remember Will always. God bless you Will.”
David Bolton, Board of Directors, Family Discipleship Ministries, Tarpon Springs, FL
Here is the rest of the story:
The day before his passing, this past Monday, Will Thornburg came to church (The First United Methodist Church, Tarpon Springs, FL) after not having been there for many years. The Head Usher, Keith Thornburgh (no relation) knew Will Thornburg from past attendance at the church. Will Thornburg took a “Pew Envelope” and put a penny in it and gave it to Keith. Will said, “It’s not much but it’s all I have.” Keith put it in the offering plate. The following day, Will Thornburg was found on the church property, under a bush, deceased. He appears to have died from a heart attack, according to the authorities.
Tarpon Springs, FL
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning people from the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27
It never fails when I am driving down the highway and see a Law Officer’s car that I don’t take my foot off of the gas and check my speed. Now I am never going over the limit yet the symbol of his power causes me to check my speed.
Our world today needs a good healthy dose of awe for God. God is doing so much to get our attention and still we never check our speed or even take our foot off of the gas.
I believe so much that we see happening today is God’s way of seeking to get our attention. Can you not see the hurt, confusion, anger, and fear that all of us must surely feel each day. How do you listen to the news and not see that it is a call from God for us to pay attention. We must know that God is tapping us on our shoulders and reminding us that He wants to talk to us and to help us find our way in this world that has lost its common sense. We believe that if enough people think something is ok then it is ok and God has somehow changed His expatiations of us. He desires our attention but we will not give it to Him. We are paying attention; to everything and everyone except God. I still remember when I entered the Navy how my mother warned me not to forget who I was and to whom I answered. Now and then a, ‘good dose of pay attention and a reminder of who is in charge’ just might keep us out of real trouble. It might even help our nation find its way home.