Margaret came to Winnipeg from the Province of British Columbia, Canada. When I first saw her, she was clad in a wool coat with buttons that were big and sleeves that were just a little too long. Her father had come to Winnipeg to work with his brother who ran a general store. He had expanded the store and premises to meet a demand for more goods by his customer base. At first glance one would not think of a general store on the outskirts of Winnipeg being a flourishing business, but it was and partly because folks liked the feeling around the store. Jim Whitley, who owned the business, had a way that endeared him to others.
His customers were farm folks. His store carried a variety of things that were useful and enough of them so one could pick up a large part of what they needed without running around town to get them. Jim was there during the depression and was a comfort to so many folks because of his kindness and thoughtfulness when the load they carried was almost too much. Jim helped those he could and was able to give enough folks credit from time to time to see them through. It was a strain on his business and yet he was as pleasant as anyone could be and well thought of by the community. Margaret’s Dad, Joe Whitley, joined his brother at the store. World War II was just finishing up so goods were needed and things were starting to get better economically.
That’s when I met Margaret. She was short and had an impish grin that gave you an instant liking of her. She had a way of talking that softened when she spoke about things that were close to her. Her voice had a funny pitch and one often thought, "Gee, Margaret, you said that just right with a touch of Heh!" That’s the way it was feeling.
Margaret was a worker and for a girl of 12 she could get things done. She was helpful around the store and took to it like water on a duck's back. She worked there on weekends and sometimes after school. It wasn’t long before her Uncle Jim was saying: "That Margaret finds time for everyone and has a handle on the inventory and promotes this store almost as good as I do." Did I mention that Uncle Jim and his wife Pat didn’t have any children so Margaret and her brother were welcome as rain on a hot summer day?
Margaret was soon in the swing of things. Her brother Skip, being seven years old, had more carefree time. Harry, his dad, thought the whole experience there was more than suitable and so a new chapter in their life began.
Margaret and I were instant friends and when she could get away we would often just enjoy each other’s company. I was also twelve years old so we were in the same classroom and took a lot of the same classes together. Having a friend like Margaret meant a couple of things. First, she was independent and second, she liked her independence. Sometimes one had to walk around her objections or differences for she could get a hold of an idea, work out the details, and clamp down on the direction with unshakeable determination. My nature was to not run interference but kind of go along and it made our relationship easier. Margaret once said to me, "How come you don’t get pushy or demanding about some things?" I would readily reply: "Because it doesn’t seem all that important, but if it ever does I’ll let you know."
Little did I know that down the road those words would come back to me with an emphasis on “let you know.”
Margaret came to me one day and said she had run into a situation that needed talking out. I listened as she began to relate how this family had come to the store looking like they were in stress and seeming quite nervous. The father needed a few things and Margaret said he was looking around the store until he finally selected a small purchase. Margaret was more attentive as she watched the daughter who looked about fourteen and the son who was Skip’s age. The daughter was very edgy and the mother stood quite still and stared at the floor. When it came time to pay, the Father asked how much, then opened his wallet and looked toward his wife. He said, "All right?" and she nodded. He paid for the goods and then asked a rather unusual question: "Do you have one work boot in the store?" Margaret, thinking she misunderstood, said, “We have several types of work boots." He replied, "No, I just need one work boot." Margaret thought for a moment and said: "You know, a while back a fellow brought in a pair of work boots where one boot had been damaged." They still had the one boot but she couldn’t remember where she had put it. She went and asked her Uncle Jim if he knew where it was and pretty soon they found it. The fellow asked how much and Margaret was just about to ask him, :How come just one boot?" when she got a glance from her uncle that said: "No, do not go there." She said: "Excuse me sir, I will ask my uncle the price." Uncle Jim told her to give it to the man at no charge. She did so and the family left. Uncle Jim came over and said: "I don’t know why I stopped you from asking the fellow about the boot but something told me to not ask questions."
Margaret thought about it and returned to her work. Still, she was really curious about the whole thing. A week later the same family came in and bought a few things and then asked if the store happened to have one woman’s work shoe. Margaret said she would look around and found a work shoe that was still in the box. Her uncle Jim explained he remembered years ago when he bought the store it was part of the inventory. Margaret returned with the shoe and again there was no charge. Margaret again never asked any questions. Some time later, the Mother of that family came in on her own. She asked if they happened to have any work shoes for children that were just one shoe but she needed two of them. Margaret was beside herself. She asked her uncle again if they had any single shoe in the store for children. He looked so surprised but scratched his head and said: "You know, some time ago we had a couple of mismatched children’s shoes and I think we still have them." After some time, he found them and gave them to the lady saying, "There is no charge."
Margaret related all this to me and said she was going to talk to the children to see what it was all about. She said she couldn’t stand not knowing. I said: "No, Margaret, leave it alone." She argued with me and set her chin as if to say: "I am going to do it anyway." This time I looked at her and said: "When it is time for you to know then you can ask. Right now is not the time. Do you understand?" Margaret flashed that impish smile at me and said: "Is this one of those times when you are letting me know how you really feel?" I said: "Yes and I think you should heed my words." She stopped for a moment and said: "OK, Digger, but you should know my curiosity will eventually get the best of me."
Several weeks later, Margaret said she knew the answers to her questions. She then played coy, leaving me in suspense with her silence. I couldn’t stand it. I said, “Are you going to tell me or what?"
She laughed and then began relating the rest of the story.
Several more weeks went by and finally one day the family came into the store and asked to speak with uncle Jim. He,thinking they needed something more unusual, came over and was about to speak when the father said: "Perhaps you have been wondering about our asking for those single shoes. We would like to explain but first we want to thank you for being so generous with us. You see, I have a new friend who has been putting together a tribute to my son, his wife and their two 5-year-old twin daughters. Some time ago my son and his family left to go on a vacation. They were in a 49 Ford sedan and climbing a hill when a car coming from the other direction, left its side of the road, and hit my son's car head on at 50 miles per hour. All of the family was killed. The fellow that hit them was good man who had a heart attack and the results were devastating. Our grief, as you can imagine, was horrendous. It seems nothing could comfort us and it began to take its toll on all of us. We were so wrapped up in our grief that the children were having a hard time coping with every day life. We were unresponsive to help from neighbors and others who went out of their way to be of service. I was very angry and my wife was in a bad state of depression. It was tearing our family apart. The children were having difficulty at school and something had to be done. One day while we were working outside, a young man came by about the same age as my son who was killed. He said he had heard of our experience. He was very good with his hands and could create a memorial for our son if we would let him. We talked about it and finally agreed. He said he would need some unusual things but if we were patient he would make it and he was sure it would help.
After a while he came back with this wonderful piece of work. He had fashioned the boots all in a row from the mother and father to the twins. They were embedded in bronze and had been lacquered and treated.
He carved the words, "Eternally yours" and had put their names on each shoe. Above the shoes was a sculpture of Christ standing with arms outstretched. Behind Christ, he had fashioned some special crystals which picked up the light that then shined through and around Christ. In one corner he had the words “Trust in the Lord.” He then said to the family: "What you have lost will be found again. You have each other. I have found throughout my life that forgetting ourselves and serving others can comfort us. This is my way of serving."
The father then said, looking at the young man: "What you have done is enough." Then, through tears of gratitude, hugged the young man with his family joining in. The mother asked the young man why he needed new work boots. Wouldn’t old work boots have been better, showing the journey they had taken in life? The young man replied: "I wanted them new as to show their journey now was beginning and everything was fresh and new just as our Savior had promised. It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit. And they are life."
The family related how his words comforted them and his presence brought them joy rather than sorrow.
Margaret then said the family was going to the cemetery this Sunday and they were going to bring along the memorial their friend had made. They would like to show it to us. Would we be willing to share that time with them and be there about 1 pm. We readily agreed and then they thanked us and said our kindness to them was very special. Margaret asked if I would like to come along. I said: "I sure would."
We met at the cemetery as planned that Sunday afternoon. It was a beautiful day and as we met with the family. They began to relate something to us. Apparently the young man was not to be found. They wanted to invite him and they searched the neighborhood but no one had heard of him. They widened their search and had not found him. Just before they were getting ready to come there was a knock on their door. They went to the door and opened it but there was no one there. However, they looked toward the road and there was the young man waving goodbye. He then turned and walked down the road. The Father and mother and kids rushed to the road to call him back but when they got there, there was no sign of him. There was a field on each side of the road and no one could have disappeared without them seeing it. They stood there for a while but to no avail. All of them said when the young man waved good by his countenance changed and there was a glow to him that seemed almost translucent. They will never forget the beautiful expression on his face.
We looked over the artist's sculpture and we found a moment in time that comes once in a lifetime. If there is a picture worth a thousand words, this was it!
We all stood around looking at the tombstones feeling quite private in our own thoughts but I am sure we all felt special somehow and blessed to be there. Margaret finally said for all of us. “I don’t think I will ever feel this good again."