In a lovely essay*, Jean Gietzen wrote about a family experience in 1943. It was just before Christmas in North Dakota and her family had just bought a nativity set with small figurines. But Jean’s mother was deeply disturbed to discover the set included an extra Baby Jesus. “Go back to the store,” she instructed, “and tell the manager to put up a sign saying to call 7162 if a set is missing Baby Jesus.” For a week, Mom hovered by the phone.
Jean’s dad was annoyed. It was a simple packaging error, he said. Still, on Christmas Eve, when Mom insisted he trek to the store in 20 below zero weather to check on the sign, he did – complaining all the way. When he returnedhe received a phone call from Mom who curtly directed him to bring three blankets, a box of cookies and milk to 205 Chestnut Street.
When dad, Jean and her brother arrived, they found a woman and two young children in a cold, darkened home. Weeks before, the woman’s husband took the bedding and furniture and left; and now the furnace was broken. The demeanor of Jean’s father changed instantly. He stopped grousing and cheerfully set about to fix the furnace while his wife distributed the blankets, cookies and warm milk. He called some buddies and within hours extra oil for the furnace, clothes, bedding, two lamps and toys were delivered to the home.
How were they called to this mission of mercy? The woman had seen the sign posted in the store and figured that anyone kind enough to worry about a missing Baby Jesus would find a way to help. So she called 7162. And she was right.
* Included in Christmas Stories From the Heart, compiled by Alice Gray.