After 60, a time to begin

Terry Petersen, grandmother and writer


won subscribers’ vote award

Published in “Explorer” Magazine, December 1995


by Terry Petersen


The harvest had been poor.  Joseph and Faith's crops did not survive drought followed by flood.  The couple had barely grown enough food for their own winter supply.  There was little produce to sell, and certainly no money for Christmas presents that year.

            "We'll cut down one of our fir trees and decorate it with ribbons, nuts and dried apples," Faith said.  "There will be a better harvest next year.  I'm sure of it, and if not, we can't control the future anyway."

            Joseph grumbled.  His wife couldn't possibly be satisfied with the little they had.  Moreover, after ten years of marriage they had produced no children.  Joseph saw the sadness in his wife's eyes when she watched the village children squeal and run through the town streets.  Yet, she never complained.  Sometimes his wife's simplicity puzzled and annoyed him.

            December arrived and Joseph grew more and more sullen.  Then one night he had a dream.  In the dream an angel appeared as Joseph was milking the cow.

            "You can give Faith a Christmas gift, Joseph," the angel said from a light that hovered above the hay.  "Hide the largest box you can find in the barn.  Each day you must speak into that box and give Faith the best of what you find in your soul that day."

            The angel's message bewildered Joseph, but the next day he found a large box and sat before it.  The only thing he could find in himself was sadness, and he spilled abundant tears into the box.

            When he left the house on the following day, his wife delayed him at the door.  She said nothing, but smiled as if the smile were its own message.  Joseph milked the cow then told stories over the box, about his life as a child, his love for his wife, and hopes for the future.  Each day as he left the house, his wife smiled her unspoken message and he gave what he had in himself into the box:  laughter, hope, joy, reverence.

            On Christmas Eve Joseph could not explain his own eagerness to share his secret with Faith.  There was nothing in the box that he could see, but he wrapped it carefully and brought it into the house.  Faith met him at the door.  A golden aura surrounded her.  Joseph relayed the message of the angel while Faith opened the package.

            When the box was opened they re-experienced their lives together.  They sang and talked and felt the spiritual energy that Joseph had gathered for his wife.  Finally, the tears in the lining of the box arose and Joseph hesitated.  He suddenly realized Faith was as poor as he was.  He had not considered how his wife would feel about having nothing to give him.

            Faith smiled.  In that night's magical moment she knew what he was thinking.  "I do have a gift for you," she said, "but you cannot see it now."  She took his hand and placed it on the small rise of her belly. 

             "Merry Christmas, Joseph," she said. 

             Joseph felt the barest quivering in response to his touch and he knew richness beyond measure.

The Message

An early morning ice storm wrapped the village in frozen mirrors. The sun, fresh on the horizon, reflected itself on every twig and blade of grass. Inside and warm, the master of the house watched with both hands shading his eyes like a canvas. Awe filled him. Then he remembered his prize horse in the barn. Albert, his stable hand, came every morning to tend the master's animals. However, Albert was slow-witted and the master wondered if Albert had been able to maneuver the distance from his little shack up the slippery hillside. Albert never accomplished a day of schooling and the master prided himself on his open-mindedness and generosity because he hired Albert.

The master visited the barn. Albert met him with a smile as bright as the whitened horizon. "Did you see it, master? Did you see it?"

The master chuckled in his heart. Of course he had seen the ice. How could he get to the barn without seeing it? "Yes, Albert, the trees are lovely."

"The letters on the side of the barn. Tell me what they say."

"The letters?" the master said as Albert pointed out a word written in ice through a maze of vines on one side of the barn. GOD glowed in crystal prisms over a bleak tangle of barren twigs. The master stood in amazement. Advent began that day. And the message appeared on the side of a stable. On the side of his stable! "It's a miracle!" the master thundered. "I must gather all the educated men and women of the village to study this. There isn't much time before Christmas."

Word traveled swiftly. All the professors, clergymen and scientists met at the long table in the master's house. They argued about the creation of the world and spent six hours defining existential.

Albert appeared in the doorway. "What do you need, Albert?" the master asked in a voice he meant to deliver with patience, but irritation leaked through anyway.

"I need to help you with the word, master."

A few at the table snorted through stifled laughter. "No, Albert," the master said. "Your work is in the barn. Come back later."

Within hours Albert returned. "I need to help you with the word, master."

The master put his head down on the table. "Albert," one of the professors said. "Explain prevenient grace."

Albert shrugged without losing a moment's smile and the master ordered him out of the house.

"But his heart is good, better than most," one of the clergymen said and all agreed. The next day came and left while discussion ensued. Another snow and ice storm fell the following afternoon. The wind howled as if a great power had been unleashed.

When the storm abated Albert entered the dining room one more time. "The angel finished the message in the vines," he said.

"What angel?" the master asked.

"The angel who told me to help you with the word."

"How can you help us with a word you can't read?" the master asked.

"The angel said that you could tell me what it said, and I could show you what it meant," Albert answered.

The learned people of the village followed Albert over the sound-swallowed ground to the master's barn. The message sparkled over the bare branches with miraculous simplicity: GOD IS LOVE.

by Terry Petersen 11/16/96  published in "Dreamweaver Magazine"