Sweet ‘tater pie: A Christmas story

By: J.A. Bolton - Storyteller

December of 1944 had many mixed blessing for Mrs. Mary Ann Brown and her family. The year had brought despair and rejoicing to the Smith family.

Mr. Brown had been able to land a job at the Norfolk ship yard in Virginia. This was a blessing because the family was running low on financial funds — plus Mrs. Brown found out she was expecting a new baby in June of the following year.

In January of 1944, their oldest son, Bob, had volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army. It was a sad day as the Browns watched Bob’s train pull out of the station. They didn’t know if they would ever see their son alive or not because the War in Europe was going strong. Mrs. Brown told Bob to write as soon as he found out where he would be stationed. Come to find out later that Bob had his basic training at Fort Bragg and was then shipped directly to England to prepare for the invasion of France and D-Day.

Their only other child, Little Jimmy, was a strong-willed little boy, but, at age 5, had contracted polio. The disease had left his little legs weak and the only way he could walk was with crutches. With his older brother and his dad gone, Little Jimmy did what he could to help his mom around the house.

On the cold winter nights, Jimmy and his mom would set and listen to their old Sylvania radio for news concerning the war in Europe. They hadn’t received any mail from Bob in months and were really worried about him. They did, however, like so many other parents of other service men, have a small flag with a star for each person serving in the immediate family placed in their window.

“Times are hard, Christmas time is coming, but God and Mr. Roosevelt gonna save us all,” says Mrs. Brown to her neighbors. Mary Ann was a strong woman and depended on the Lord, but she had cried herself to sleep many a night worrying about her country and her family. She had prayed that God would send a sign or a miracle letting her know that he was still in control.

During this war, as in others, each person in our great country was called upon to do their share in the war effort. Mrs. Brown would bake pies and cookies to send to the troops overseas. Little Jimmy, why, he had himself a chair on the corner selling newspapers.

It was Christmas Eve. Mrs. Brown had baked several sweet potato pies and was sitting them on the back porch to cool before boxing them up for shipping. As she looked out in the back yard, she saw a stranger appear carrying a large tool box. The stranger was dressed in dirty work clothes and had a pair of rough looking sandals on his feet, but he also wore a big smile on his face.

“Good morning ma’am. “My, don’t them sweet ‘tater pies of yours smell mighty good,” said the stranger. Mrs. Brown was kinda sizing the stranger up and asked how she could help him. “Why, I’m just a carpenter and someone told me you might need a little help around here.”

Now the jobs had piled up since Mr. Brown and Bob had left, but Mary Ann was still a bit wary of the stranger. As she looked into his eyes and looked at the nail scars in his hands, something told her this stranger might be a godsend.

She told the stranger that she needed some wood cut, the roof needed patching and the fence needed mending, but she didn’t have much money to pay him.

“That’s alright ma’am, won’t be no charge, but one of your ‘tater pies would eat mighty good.”

Well, Mrs. Brown told the carpenter to have at it and went back inside. The stranger got out his tools and went right to work.

Later, as Little Jimmy hobbled down the street on his crutches, he heard the most beautiful singing coming from behind his house. As he made his way to the back yard, he saw the stranger chopping wood as he sang those beautiful hymns.

The stranger greeted Jimmy with a big smile and said, “Merry Christmas, little man.” Little Jimmy also managed to smile and a conversation began that lasted most of the evening, as the stranger continued to work.

As the sun was going down that Christmas Eve and the jobs were finished, the stranger picked up his tools and followed the little boy into the house. “Mom, Mom, can the carpenter stay for dinner?” asked Little Jimmy. Mrs. Brown said, “We haven’t got much, but you are welcome at our table.”

At the dinner table Mrs. Brown expressed her wishes that there would be peace in the world so her son, Bob, could come home safe and that cures would be found for diseases like Polio. The Stranger just sat and listened and then bowed his head. He prayed the most beautiful prayer asking for peace on earth and good will for mankind.

When dinner was over the Stranger said he had to take his leave. He thanked Mrs. Brown and then laid his nail-scared hands on Little Jimmy’s head. Then he reached up and took Bob’s picture off the wall and kissed it.

Just as Mrs. Brown turned to get the stranger’s sweet potato pie, she turned back around and the stranger had disappeared. Mrs. Brown said, “Why, he forgot his pie.” Without hesitation, Little Jimmy jumped up, grabbed the pie, and ran to the door after the stranger. It was a miracle! Little Jimmy hadn’t been able to walk or run on his own for over two years.

In the following months, Mrs. Brown received a letter from Bob telling her he had made it though the invasion of France, but only by a miracle had he survived the Battle of the Bulge in Europe (which took place in December of 1944 and January of 1945). He had been wounded twice, but somehow God had brought him through.

You see, Mrs. Brown’s prayers had been answered. The Lord had surely visited the Brown’s house that Christmas Eve in 1944.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, my wish is that you will let our Lord and Savior into your house and don’t forget that our God is still in the miracle-making business.

“Merry Christmas to one and all and to all a good night.”

J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and co-author of the new book, “Just Passing Time Together.”

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J.A. Bolton

Storyteller