CHRISTMAS, and, pathos in Tin Can Valley. Pathos, but not because it was the Yule Season, for a pathetic condition always was found in Hollis Hollow. Ragged and dirty children, ragged and dirty women, ragged and dirty men; careworn housewives trying to make their poorly contrived shacks worthy of the appellation “home.” Discouraged fathers trying to provide for their families on the city’s dumping grounds. Large cities are familiar with the scene and it is not uncommon to find back in the more remote sections of the thriving town or village those places where filth and dirt breed disease, crime, and pathos.
Tin Can Valley derived its name, not from the empty cans thrown away by its inhabitants, but from the rubbish from the better parts of the city hauled out and dumped in a heap where it partially filled up a huge hollow near the beginning of the residential district. Time and time again the city authorities had planned to clean up the place and convert it into a beauty spot. But as sight of the population of this area, one-room huts running over with children, cats, dogs and rats, they invariably lost heart and broke up in a dispute as to the method of providing houses for the ever-increasing number of people.
Tin Can Valley was never meant for a residential district no matter how menial the type of residents. It started as a rubbish heap, but not long after the city began to use Hollis Hollow as a dumping ground the poorer element drifted in and gleaned from the rubbish such things as might be used for their physical sustenance and shelter. Crude shacks were reared of store boxes and discarded sheets of tin; old stoves were patched and propped until they were able to give out a little warmth and heat for cooking. Discarded bricks and stones were fashioned into crude fireplaces and chimneys. Other bits of materials considered useless in more prosperous sections of the city were eagerly seized by the inhabitants of Tin Can Valley and placed here and there, rigged up with boards, blocks, bricks, and sticks, until various pieces of furniture were peculiarly manufactured out of practically nothing.
Being a resident of Tin Can Valley was nothing of which to be proud. Although the unique originality of its people might be commended, so many contagious diseases, so many criminal acts, and so much disturbance had been traced to the Valley, that no one looked upon it with any degree of approval or approbation. That is, not until the City Mission took it under its scope and sent house-to-house workers to call upon these miserable creatures who had heretofore been so woefully neglected.
Now the Christmas season was approaching. The large city stores temptingly displayed their gorgeous merchandise. Eyes grew large. Ears opened wide. Little minds were active and imaginations were stretched to the widest possible extent, as children, watching and wondering eagerly anticipated the joys of Christmas morning and the reception of the lovely toys they saw in shop windows, on laden counters, and in overflowing show rooms. The season was a time of joy for everyone. For everyone but the residents of Tin Can Valley . Little eyes were just as wide, ears could hear just as well, little minds were also active, and imaginations were plentiful, but there was no joy of anticipation. Tired mothers and downhearted fathers had brusquely informed their inquiring youngsters that gifts only came to those who were wealthy, those who had nice, beautiful homes like those on the hill, and never to Tin Can Valley. And as far as the older children could remember, gifts had never come near Hollis Hollow. Occasionally some well-meaning church society had sent a basket or two w ith food and a few discarded toys, but discarded things were so common among the wretched boys and girls that it was nothing to be excited about. Nothing like they saw in the brilliantly, lighted windows of the business section.
Jimmy lived in Tin Can Valley. His was one of the store-box shacks of one room. One small window let in a little light by day and an old lamp gave light at night. When Jimmy could sell a few papers, or Mother could wash a few dishes in a small restaurant where she sometimes worked as an extra, they could buy oil after other necessities had been provided. Just like any other eight year-old boy in the Valley, Jimmy was filled with natural pep and vim, but dampened by the depressing environment. They were all wretched looking representatives of glowing childhood.
One day a lady visited the little shack where Jimmy and his widowed mother lived. She smiled so sweetly and spoke so kindly that Jimmy wondered where she had come from. Surely not from the city. His little playmates had told him those people were all cross and mean. Finally he ventured the question, “Wh – where did you come from?”
“Not far from here, Sonny,” she had replied; “We call it City Mission. I came to help you people here in the Hollow.”
“How?” This was something new to Jimmy. No one but Mother had ever offered to help him before.
“First by telling you a beautiful story,” she answered, and immediately began the story of the first Christmas.
Jimmy listened intently. This was so strange, so unreal, so impossible, and yet – why, this Babe must have been born in a place something like Tin Can Valley , he decided. But this lady had said that wealthy men brought Him pretty gifts, costly gifts, because He was a King. After the lady had gone, the boy thought over and over the words she had spoken. That night he crept out under the stars and looked up. It was bitterly cold. He shivered and drew his coat more closely about his body. Not noting the crunching steps in the crisp snow that lay on the ground, he gazed intently Heavenward.
“Whatcha doin,’ Jim?” a gruff voice spoke close to his ear as a figure halted near him.
“Lookin’ fer the star,” he answered.
“Hadn’ oughta have any trouble. Plenty of ’em up there,” the man replied.
“Not the star that showed where the Baby was on the first Christmas Day,” Jimmy explained.
“Better go in an’ git warm,” the neighbor advised, and trudged on to his own little shack, but thinking – a Baby and Christmas. Yes. There was meaning to Christmas after all. He remembered the story when he was a boy, but he had forgotten about the real heart of the story. He straightened up as he opened the door. One time he had happiness when he knew that story. Perhaps he could find it again.
It was the day before Christmas. The Mission lady again came to see Jimmy and his mother, and this time she invited them both to come to the Mission that night. And such wonderful things she promised. Lovely music and the Christmas story, but best of all – gifts, real gifts for each of them! Jimmy clapped his hands with delight. “But won’t you tell me about the Baby again right now?” he entreated.
“It is because of Him,” she had finished after repeating the narrative, “that I am here today and that the Mission is giving gifts to you tonight. He has told us to go and tell others.”
Jimmy had never seen anything so wonderful in his life. It was even better than the shop windows and stores. He and his mother sat very near the front. A large number of boys and girls sang joyously that old Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” and then a man arose and spoke a few words, after which a lady, his Mission lady, sang all about the little town of Bethlehem . Then he remembered. That was the town where the Baby was born. But the man was speaking again. He was telling the story all over again, only he didn’t end with the wise men; he told how the Baby grew into a little boy and became a man, and did wonderful things, helping people, healing them when they were sick, and teaching them how to live. And then, Jimmy’s eyes filled with tears, then some cruel men had killed Him. But that wasn’t all. The man said that this Man, whom he called Jesus, had risen from His grave, and was living that very moment, that He could see that meeting, and men and women worshipped and obeyed Him.
Jimmy listened intently. At last the minister had finished and some other men were passing out baskets filled with good things to eat. Also each boy and girl from the Valley received a new toy and a box of candy. It was all so wonderful, and yet Jimmy kept thinking of the story. While mother was talking to the Mission lady, he slipped up to the man who had told it so carefully. “Say, Mister!” he exclaimed, “Did you say that Baby died for people?”
The man looked down with kindly eyes at the upturned face, “Yes, my boy.”
“Then He died for me?”
“And I should tell others who don’t know it, shouldn’t I? ‘Cause my Mission lady said that’s why she told the story to me.”
The man nodded and patted the boy’s head. Then mother called, and soon Jimmy was nestling up against her in the city truck as it took its load back to the Valley. Tin Can Valley was happier that Christmas Eve than it had ever been before. The City Mission had made it possible for each little hut to have a bit of Christmas cheer, but Jimmy was happiest of all. There was a newfound peace and joy in his heart that only Christ could give. His heart was filled to overflowing, and he repeated the story over and over to his care-worn mother until she, too, caught a glimpse of the joy offered by the Saviour.
Christmas morning was ushered in by a blustering wind, bearing upon its wing bits of stinging sleet and snow which, as the day lengthened, turned into a blinding blizzard. Jimmy was up early. Drawing on his thin coat and worn cap, he kissed his mother and darted out into the snow. At length he returned cold and shivering, but smiling and happy.
“My boy, where have you been?” his mother asked, drawing him toward the little stove that was struggling bravely to radiate a little heat in the poorly fashioned shack.
“Telling all the folks in the Valley about Jesus,” he replied.
The Christmas dinner was greatly enjoyed by mother and son. The big Mission hamper had been so thoughtfully filled that there was food to last for some time. After the meal Jimmy was very quiet. Suddenly he rose. “Mother, do you suppose those people up in the nice and pretty homes know of Jesus?”
“Of course, James.”
“But how can they? They never told us. Maybe they didn’t know. I’ll tell them.” Before his mother could stop him, he had pulled on his cap and rushed out into the blizzard.
Fighting bravely against the fierce wind and stinging snow, the lad made his way up the hill and across the streets to the big houses on the hill’s crest. A tendering lady gazed curiously at the ragged waif who had rung her doorbell.
“Missus,” he ventured, removing his cap, “do you know Jesus?” Too astonished to answer, the woman had only stared at the boy.
“What is it, wife?” A man appeared behind the woman.
“Did you ever hear about Jesus and why we have Christmas?” the lad repeated.
“Of course, Sonny, better come in and get warm,” the man invited, pushing the door open.
Jimmy looked inside. He could see the glowing fireplace and feel the inviting warmth, but he shook his head.
“No, sir. If you know, then I must tell others.”
On and on he went from house to house, always asking the same question and invariably receiving an affirmative reply. At last he came to a house much larger than the others and much more beautiful. A man with an annoyed countenance opened the door. Jimmy asked his question.
“Have you ever heard of Jesus?”
“Yes,” was the short reply, and the man was about to close the door when the persistent child leaned forward and asked the question that had been troubling his heart ever since he had been on the hill. “Then why didn’t you ever tell us down in Tin Can Valley?”
“Why-er,” the man stammered, then noting the cold form before him his countenance softened. Throwing his arm about Jimmy he said, “Come in, Son, and we’ll talk it over while you get warm.”
“Oh, no sir! I have to tell others. Jesus told all who knew about Him to tell others. I must obey Him. Thank you, Mister,” and he tore himself free and darted again out into the snow.
Recovering from his astonishment the man ran down the steps, but the deepening twilight and blinding snow hid the boy from his sight. He was unable to determine which way the lad had taken. “He can’t go far,” he muttered, “he is almost frozen to death now.” Plunging into the blizzard he pressed forward. Finding no trace of the lad, he at length ventured to a door and rang the bell. “Has a little boy been here recently?” he asked.
“About half an hour ago,” the lady who answered the door explained, “and I have been so worried ever since he left. He will surely freeze.”
Murmuring a hasty “Thank you” the man retraced his steps and rushed on. Finally he saw a small figure just ahead. He ran forward. It was the little missionary. “My boy,” he said, grasping his shoulder.
“Don’t stop me, Mister,” he answered, “I must go on and tell others.” He swayed, and would have fallen, but the man’s strong arms were about him. The cold was too much for the thinly clad form. Rushing him into the nearest house the man summoned a doctor, while others rendered first aid. But it was too late. Jimmy’s work was done.
The result? The wealthy homes were stirred. Hearts previously cold and indifferent were melted. The inhabitants of Tin Can Valley were provided with more habitable dwelling, were given work, and helped to get a foothold in life. The Hollow was cleaned up and beautified. A Mission church was built at the top of the slope. Over the pulpit were written these words: “If you know Jesus, why don’t you tell others?” – placed there by the man who built the church and encouraged and directed the work done in the Hollow, the man who found Jimmy.
Are we as thoughtless as these people who lived comfortably while Tin Can Valley suffered? How often we fail at the Christmas season to spread the real thought of Christmas, the thought, which God would like to reveal to us and to have us pass on to others. Instead of the mere exchange of gift and greeting, of benevolent deed done and charitable act performed, let us add the message of the Gospel. Let us not be satisfied with our human manufactured mode of celebration, but let us magnify that great Gift that God gave on that first Christmas Day almost two thousand years ago. After all, many have not yet heard, many who do not know that Christ came. In our own country there are those who celebrate Christmas with little thought of Christ. May God help us all to witness for Christ constantly.