Cover Story Good Advice Feature Video Hot Topics

Most Commented Video

Hot topic of the week

Hello everyone! What are some of your favorite things to do on Sabbath? I like to watch nature shows, listen to music, and read! :)

What do YOU think?

Click here join in the discussion.

Most Commented Articles

Angels With Brussels Sprouts (3)

The Interview (3)

Camp Meeting Ambush (1)

Hard to Be Good (1)

Carrying Calvin (1)

Cover Story

Add Comment :: Send to a Friend :: View Comments ::

 The two of us stood before the simple Nativity scene in front of the high altar in the old Norman church beside the river Dove. We gazed with something approaching awe at the representation of the birthplace of the One to whom we prayed before we slept every night.

A rough wooden manger cradled a baby doll wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” which we found, somewhat to our surprise, to be long strips of cloth bound tightly around the “baby.” Life-size plaster figures of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds guarded the manger, and in the background stood a lamb, a calf, and a donkey fashioned of the same material.

To Wendy and me, at 7 years old, it was a marvel.

It was cold in the unheated stone church. The warmth we had generated in our one-and-a-half-mile walk through the snow-covered North Derbyshire fields had dissipated. We could see our breath in the still air of the empty church, and we stamped our feet to stir the circulation in our toes.

The late-afternoon sun was giving way to dusk. Only a little light filtered through the stained-glass window behind the altar. It was time to be heading home. We placed the flowers we had brought for Him beside the “baby” and turned to go.

“I want to kiss Him,” said Wendy, hopping on one foot and looking at me for reassurance. “Do you think it would be all right?”

I considered the suggestion for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I think so,” I told her. “After all, He is a baby.”

Wendy knelt down, rather clumsily in her bulky winter clothing and snow boots. Tenderly she pressed her lips to the forehead of the baby doll.

“My, He is cold,” she exclaimed. “Do you think I should leave Him my scarf?”

“No, you had better not,” I advised her. “If you go home without it, your father will faint. You know how he is. He’ll be sure you’ll get pneumonia. Besides,” I tried to reassure her, “I’m sure He’ll be all right. I expect He’s used to the cold by now.”

“Yes, I expect you’re right,” she agreed. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll race you to the lych-gate!”

We left the church and trotted off in the twilight toward our homes. Most of the way we held hands, partly to provide mutual support and warmth and partly because we were best friends.


Time together

Wendy, just six days younger than I, was the daughter of Angus Macdonald, our head gardener. The slightly built, blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl was the child of his old age, the light of the dour old Scotsman’s life. Respected by all for his skill and integrity, feared by those who worked under him, the old man was putty in the tiny hands of his beloved last-born.

And because Wendy liked me and we were inseparable playmates, Macdonald liked me too. I had unquestioned access to his domain. I was welcome to help myself to whatever I wanted in the extensive gardens and hothouses, and he always greeted me when our paths crossed—a courtesy seldom extended to anyone else.

Wendy and I spent a good deal of our time together in those days, especially in the summer months when she was released for a few weeks from the village school and my tutor was away on vacation.

On those warm and lazy days immediately following breakfast, I would run to the big windows of the day nursery, which looked out onto rolling velvety lawns. Invariably Wendy would be waiting for me on the grass. She would wave and beckon and jump up and down excitedly; sometimes in an excess of exhilaration she would turn a cartwheel or stand on her head.

“May I, Nanny?” I would ask.

“All right, but keep your eye on the sun. Don’t be late for lunch.”

Permission granted, we would be off together on a tour of the neighboring farms or across the moors to wade in the clear, cold streams, happy in our freedom and content in each other’s company.

But in midwinter the moors were covered with ice and snow, and we couldn’t go far afield in the short days.

Christmas Eve was the highlight of the holiday in those days. All the children—of family and servants alike—were permitted to stay up until midnight to attend the watch night at the church across the fields.

This particular year, as usual, the service was unbelievably magnificent. It wasn’t just the organ music and the carols sung by the choir. The Nativity scene literally came alive for the special occasion. The manger held a real, live baby, and there were a real Mary and Joseph, real shepherds, and even a real calf, lamb, and donkey lying in the straw piled thickly on the flagged floor of the church.

But spectacular though it was, it did not stir me quite so deeply as that moment the previous day when just the two of us had knelt before the pretend Baby and offered Him our flowers.

I wanted to be with Wendy now, but I knew she would be with her parents in the body of the church. I was seated toward the front with my parents and sister on the cushioned seats in our family pew.

It didn’t take Wendy and me long to find each other after the service. I asked permission to walk home with her family, who promised to deliver me at the house in short order, in one piece, and unfrozen. Then Wendy and I ran off happily over the crisp snow. Wendy chattered away, telling me of the new ice skates “Father Christmas” was almost sure to bring her before morning.


In the morning

Father Christmas came through. He brought the skates. Wendy, however, never had a chance to use her long-awaited Christmas gift.

On the sixth day of the new year she died from what was known in those days as brain fever. Nowadays it would be called meningitis.

Two days after the funeral I was wandering through the kitchen gardens toward the hothouses when I came upon Macdonald sitting on a garden seat, alone in the cold. Since the onset of Wendy’s brief illness he had scarcely moved and had spoken to no one.

He saw me approaching and raised his head. He had tears on his face. I had never seen a grown person cry before. He held his arms out to me, and I stumbled up to him. He took me on his lap and held me tightly against his rough tweed jacket as we cried together. Neither of us said a word.

It was terrifying and yet somehow comforting.

Nanny—a remarkably understanding woman who had spent all her adult life loving and caring for other people’s children—didn’t say much. About a week later, however, as she watched me looking silently out of the nursery window at a lone robin pecking at a frozen holly bush, she said, “As long as you remember her, Wendy will never really be gone. She will always be there.”

Although there have been many Christmases since that night, I have never forgotten the wonder of that pilgrimage by two 7-year-olds through the snow-covered English fields to bring gifts to the Christ child.  


This story originally appeared in the December 20, 1986, issue of Insight. Arthur A. Milward grew up in a North Derbyshire village in England and wrote most of his life. His stories have been published in numerous magazines, including Reader’s Digest and Saturday Evening Post. He also authored two books featuring his true stories: I’ll Hold You While It Hurts and It’s Going to Be All Right. During his career he worked as a teacher and editor for Pacific Union College in Angwin, California. He retired in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where he lived until his death in 2009.

Add Comment :: Send to a Friend :: view comments ::


Sorry there are no comments for this article.

Top | Home