The Lost and Found Christmas


A Friend's Gift to Me



Below is a short story that is based on the true events involving a young man who was like a son many years ago.  What I narrate happened after I had known him for maybe three years.  He lost his beloved mother and a missing Christmas gift from her, the latter becoming associated in his mind as the loss of love and good will in general and also Christmas and spiritual values as well.  It attempts to narrate the early costs and the eventual recovering joys. 

As I say, the events inspired what I present here. It is my creation, both by omitting much and by fictionizing more.  Instead of real names, I use the names of “Lin” for the youth and “Mr. Thomas” for the stranger who visits me.   One related reason for the adaption is my lack of memory - it all happen so many years ago, some over fifty years ago.  I, however, strongly remember the youth and his losses.  I welcome your comments (but be kind; this is a second draft and I “never” share those).



“Lin” in his adult career grew out of his unhappiness.  His spirit became that of a giant, a man with much humanity with his daily life becoming one sharing joy and happiness with all open to those feelings.

He somehow found a job, and then a long career, at an institution housing angry and troubled youth.  He lived in a small cottage, one of several built for single employees living on campus.  In time, he almost never left the campus, his goal in life gradually becoming that of helping the troubled youth.  There, he served "24-7." 

The number of happy residents doesn’t grow much because, once our subject has helped them, they with a ‘change of heart,’ do ‘maturate,’ and soon are no longer residents.



When I first knew Lin, he was a normal kid who lived with his parents and two sisters and a brother.  I have forgotten how we met, but most lively it was at an area Boy Scout event.

He was working on his Eagle project, an achievement he later that year enjoyed.   However we met, he soon was often helping me with my BSA volunteer activities.  I was District Chairman and served over 60 BSA units.  We would help the local units with their projects, such as conducting merit badge lessons and assisting with honor ceremonies.

During those years of my Boy Scout volunteer service, my son Erik and I started taking other youths to camp with us.  I mean that he and I would arrange to serve on some district summer camp and also arrange to take with us another Scout or two.  ‘Lin’ was often one of those.

We had known Lin for several years when 'it" happened.

The year Lin lost his spirit was in the fall that his mother died suddenly.  His father asked me to keep Lin busy and to take him to camp in the coming summer.  Lin, perhaps being the youngest child and his mother’s ‘baby,’ was devastated.  Much family detail I never knew, and would not have chosen to know; but the father who drove professionally was often gone and the children were placed in the nearby grandmother’s home.  I do believe that she was a kind and loving person who tried to be both the mother and father to the three children  -- however sincere her efforts, they had little effect with Lin.



Now let me advance to the summer that Lin joined Erik and me, for the third time, 1985.  That year we were traveling way out "West!"  It was in an area near beautiful Yellowstone National Park, forty miles west of Cody, Wyoming: a setting that welcomed troops from all over the U.S.A. and a few other countries.  To be a staff member at the camp required successful past service at other BSA regional summer camps.  So we three, Erik, Lin, and I, were glad to be serving at a special camp known for excellent staff members and programs.

Our service separated us, as Erik was on the swimming team and Lin and I were the co-leaders of the backpacking program.  You may know that Yellowstone is a beautiful place  -- it was even more so for us who spent our days and nights in the ‘wilds’ that still were very much still as they had been hundreds of years ago.  I can’t word the wonderful feelings such created in me.  

Every night we’d camp at a new location, prepare our meals, at times, when allowed, over a real campfire, and then, after cleaning up, share some short evening program usually related to the visitors’ merit badge needs.  Imagine!  We even over-nighted once a week in one of Theodore Roosevelt's camp site.

One evening after all the youth had retired to their tents, perhaps sleeping, Lin and I were lying on our backs and he was pointing out star formations to me.  I mostly watched and listened.   I was enjoying a moment of his sharing personally with me.  He was an excellent leader for the youth, sharing with them as needed in his duties.   But he had not opened up to me, nothing about his mother’s death and his unhappiness.

I was looking at the stars, trying to see the formation he was ‘drawing out’ with his hands and fingers  --  when he suddenly stopped talking.

You may know the silence that one hears in the ‘wild.’  It is very, very silent.

I rolled over on my side and looked at Lin; my face was inches away from his.  He was not crying, but his body was shaking and his face was very red.   Then he told me about ‘it.’   I can’t, and will not try, to mimic his tone.  He told me that his mother had told him months before Christmas that she had already gotten everyone’s Christmas present and his was the most fun for her to have to offer him.   Lin went on to share that from time to time she’d tease him, maybe while they were washing dishes, teasing that she just was certain he’d love it. 

Suddenly she died.

Christmas that year finally came; his sisters and brother got nice gifts that they enjoyed, both from their mother and father.  Lin was confused.   Yes, he got gifts from his father and others, but not from his mother.  His father tried to explain that he could not find Lin’s.  He tried and tried.  And for months later Lin tried.  Such was never found.

I was silent for awhile and Lin repeated his lose and said “I will always believe that Mother got me something every special.”

I repeated his comment about searching. 

“Yes, my whole family – Dad, sisters, brother, grandmother -- all of us searched everywhere!  I even went to the attic, throwing insulation aside."

"We never found anything.  Dad wondered from time to time, if she’d had bought it at a store, making payments -- or if it were some sort of pet, like a parakeet.  I know Dad made a lot of phone calls to shops around the area.  Store owners were very sympathetic – one even offering a pet.   We found Nothing.”

For the rest of the summer, we took different Scouts out of camp weekly backpacking the same trails, same camping sites, same routines, same teaching -- but Lin never brought up the subject again.  Not even as I drove us home to Illinois.  He returned to his school and I to mine; he as student, I as teacher.  Then we both got pulled into our required routines and tasks – years began rolling around.  I lost contact with him.  I never thought that would happen, but my activities, and I assume his, commanded attention and we conformed.



Then one day while at my desk in my office at the college, a young man, maybe in his early forties, tapped on my door.  In short, he wanted to know if I once had been a friend to a fellow -- and he named Lin.

“Yes,” I almost shouted, “yes, he meant much to me but our lives separated and we lost contact.”

“Well, your college is right off the highway here that I’m using to return home.  And I just had to see if the man Lin admired still taught here.  Lin talked about you a lot; anytime we were in a situation that remined him of an event out of his past, he’d give an example.  You dominated his illustrations.  So, I figured it was worth my time to take a chance on meeting you.”



It was near noon and I had no classes for several hours and so I said to the stranger, “Look, you’ve got to eat somewhere.  Let me take you downstairs to our dinning room and we can talk while we eat."

We did that.   I learned much that noon. 

“Professor Williams,” he said after we had finished our meals and were still sitting at our table.  “We were hard nuts to crack, having lost all hope for any meaningful future.  I personally could see no future for me; no good job; no young lady to love me.  All I could see were endless days of working-till-death at some machine, a totally hopeless and loveless life ahead of me.

“Lin never gave up on me.  Weekly he’d smile at me; greeting me with a friendly yell.   He 'bribed' me with cigarettes, as we were not allowed any.  He'd come when I was alone and tell stories.  He often challenged me to play checkers which, in time, we did several times a  week! 

"In time he told me about his lost Christmas."

“He met me down in the deep rabbit hole where I was hiding and hating.  He had delt there for years, he told me.   He told me how his grandmother before she died prayed for him to accept her love, to live in that family-time, part-time love offered to him every time he returned on his rare visits to her. 

“He said that he told his grandmother that he loved her, of course.  And she told him that could not be true as he was too angry about losing his mother – losing her love - to love anyone.  And somehow his grandmother got him to think about that – in time, seeing that he did love her -- and that meant he could love.  Then he could love his mother in memory. 

"And then ...   His grandmother died unexpectedly in too short a time for Lin to see her alive and tell her that he did love her.  So I guess Lin was, in his way, telling his residents that he did care about them; kinda saying to us what he’d like to have said to his grandmother.

“Sir, Lin turned me around.  I am traveling because I had returned to the institution to visit him one more time before he died.  He had been very ill, of cancer, I think.  I wanted him to know that his life mattered  to me:  He saved my life!  As he’d saved so many other residents!  We were lost; he helped us find ourselves.



Mr. Williams, one final thing to share.   Each Christmas, Lin gave us a present.  The first time, when we registered surprise at the unexpected gift, he said that he had found ‘it’. That 'it' had been lost and now was found.


Bettie Jane Hurley, Class of 1939


Richard's note #1:  The lost gift is a based on true events and man.  For about ten years, he became something like a young son to me for the years of his youth.  I am pleased we had shared some life together.   For years I wondered about the lost Christmas gift  -- and you can tell by this page, it is still in my memory. 

Maybe I'm imposing my own lost, having lost my Mother when she was only 68 and I 50.  I still miss her and think of her all the time.   She wanted to be a French teacher and finally got to teach for a year or so before she died suddenly of a brainstem stroke.   She wanted to teach at the Olney college but died before that could happen.

Richard's note #2:  My visiter to me in my LLCC office visited me again this past week (December 26, 2021) while traveling to visit his family members took him to within 14 miles of our home, giving us a chance to enjoy a visit.  He had his immediately family with him and I had taken Barb: very pleasant Christmas surprise for us.  We loved meeting his wife and their children.