To Love Mrs. Land (A Christmas Story)

She had a sort of contorted smile, but we youngins did not realized why. A wheel-chair bound woman, probably in her 60’s when our mom became a friend of hers and began to interact with Mrs. Land, all that my sister and I knew was that we did not like her stories about her own children. She would weave some words, hard to understand at times because of her speech impairment, together about some experiences she had rearing her own little ones, from the handicap position of a wheel-chair. What really turned our hearts away from this lady who attended our church and worshipped with our church family every Lord’s Day was when she explained her form of discipline when a child had transgressed the law she had laid down for her household.  She did not have the advantage of other mothers who would go to get a belt or a stick off the lilac bush with which to give the disobedient kids a whack or two, so she did the only thing she could do; she demanded they kneel before her wheel-chair and then, when they were perfectly in place, she would, in her words, grab a fist-full of the woeful and wayward one’s hair and give it a brisk yank or two. Then, having spun her reminiscing yarn, she would, with a contorted grin, chuckle about it, looking intently as I suppose my sister, Cakie ,and I looked on with horror.

Now we had never heard of child abuse back in those “pre-enlightenment” days. We had never had too many meetings with the belt or stick and, for sure, never as many as we might have had. But when we heard of how those hapless little devils, children of this woman who hailed from California before she intruded into our quiet midwestern world, we were horrified. There were a few nights when we actually thought we could hear her creaky voice outside our upstairs bedroom door saying, “Come kneel down now; let’s get this over with.” Then, if we listened intently in what must have been our nightmare, we could hear that warped chuckle of delight coming from the little old lady who could not walk but who could rule her household from a mobile chair.

When she was not sharing part of a day with our family from her choice corner of our living room, she was engaged in long telephone conversations with, yes, our mom; and usually it was when we thought we needed mother to answer a question or to help find something or to give us permission to visit a friend’s house for an hour before supper.  Well, Cakie and I, (affectionately known as “Tonk,”) only thought we needed Mom because whatever dear old Mrs. Land was talking about—Mom hardly ever said anything–was far more important than the attention we thought we needed at that time.

So it was for a couple of years and finally, Tonk got his driver’s permit and then his driver’s license and boy did he think he was the “Cat’s Meow!” He actually got to drive an old 1948 Buick (think black Sherman Tank) to school and when it snowed that old Buick could make a path up the hills to the high school for the city snow plows.

But, not only that, the best thing was that Tonk now could drive to church and pick up the wheel-chair bound Mrs. Land! Well, in spite of the night visions of horror, Tonk could think of nothing he would rather do than to give Mrs. Land a ride to church, not now in the Sherman Tank but in the ’52 Studebaker that he was able to drive on occasion since the family car by that time was a more spacious Chevy.

And, it just so happened that the church, at Christmas, was having a special Christmas program about this time, with cookies and Kool-Aid and maybe some cakes and pies, in the Fellowship Hall following the program.  Mrs. Land of course wanted to attend and even planned to bring a pie, but she would need a ride.  No problem! Tonk’s mother volunteered the to your door teen-ager who would pick her up at the usual time.

The special night came, and Tonk, in the bright yellow Studebaker, drove into the driveway as usual and parked parallel with the door at the back of the huge, two-story, northside house in which Mrs. Land lived in an apartment. The youthful chauffer promptly put the car in park, went directly to the back door of the “mansion” and upon opening the door took his place behind the waiting woman’s chair; whereupon he carefully helped her into the front passenger seat, shut the door and placed the now empty wheel-chair into the trunk of the car. So far, so good. And, yes, he had taken the delicious looking pie (Tonk had never laid his eyes on any piece of pie anywhere that did not look delicious) into the back seat on the floor making sure that the pie would not slip or slide en route to the church.

What an exciting evening. Going to church to enjoy a special Christmas program with the music of angels ringing in our anticipation-laden hearts and with thoughts, dancing in our heads in between stanzas, of Christmas cookies, cakes and pies and fun and fellowship with the church family that we loved.

They were almost there, just another stop sign, routine corner to turn and then straight to church. But wait, after Tonk had stopped and was making the “routine” turn at the corner, the front passenger door, which had not closed securely when the precious human cargo had been loaded, flew open and the dear cripple, with a screech of a scream, fell out of the car onto the pavement. Tonk quickly stopped and horror-stricken, ran to the passenger side of the car, used every muscle in his young body that he could muster, and pulled the helpless passenger up and back into the car.  Was she all right? Yes! Any broken bones? No!  Just a bit shaken and disheveled but nothing more than her pride was wounded. And Tonk, well he never said an audible word the rest of the way to church after he had profusely apologized to the woman that he had for so long looked upon with a twitch of disdain.

The program was splendid everyone said as was the time of fellowship and feasting afterwards. But that night, that teen-age boy, could only repeat silent prayers of praise to His God for allowing that lady, fellow believer, friend of his mother, to fall out of the car that he had been driving and to be retrieved whole, unharmed and only thankful to be able to attend the special Christmas program.

It was a special Christmas that year with a gift from God to a young man whose heart was changed and whose mind was humbled by a way that no one could ever have anticipated. The gift? Oh, something that could never have come under a tree, but from the heart of God to the heart of a teen-ager who needed to see every person made of God as a special creation to be respected, treated and looked upon with kindness and with love, as all of us each with our own sometimes unlovely and unlovable ways, are and appear to others to be. That certain Sunday night just before Christmas a lad by the name of Tonk put his head upon his pillow and there were no nightmares, no voices outside the door of his bedroom, no screaming, no screechy laugh. Just a grateful heart to God for His protective grace and a thought of a special child of His whose life God had used to teach this young man a lesson that he would never forget, at least not for the next 60 or so years.

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for the other.” (I Cor. 12:25)

This Christmas story is fiction, based on fact. The names have been changed to protect the guilty! Have a very special Christmas, one and all!

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