Christmas Eve: Circa 1934
A Country Church
Jack and Shug Carriker, their six kids packed into their old 1928 Star Car, pulled into the bare dirt parking lot of a little church located in the countryside about halfway between Drumright and Oilton, Oklahoma. Had they been flying a flag on their fenders such as diplomats and generals use, it might have read “Poverty R Us.” They weren’t just poor. They were destitute. Often Shug wondered what she could find to cook for their next meal.
The small church, which if packed to the gills would seat maybe 75 people, was beginning to fill with folks who all knew one another. It was a simple wood frame building and the people filing into it were equally simple. They had been surviving, some fairly well, others barely, a “Depression” that had begun in 1929. There was no steeple, no bell, no stained-glass windows and no sign out front identifying the building as a church. Above the door a modest wooden sign with the words “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” on it told anyone interested what the building was used for. Twice a day on Sunday and once each Wednesday evening “The “Saints,” as they liked to be called, gathered to worship the way their martyred founder, Joseph Smith, had said they should.
But this evening was different. This was Christmas Eve. There would be singing, a short burst of preaching, then a Christmas program featuring the children. When all that was done, “Santa Claus,” would burst through the door carrying a 50-pound sack that had once been filled with flour but was now filled with candy canes, homemade popcorn balls and taffy wrapped in waxed paper. All for the children, who rarely tasted any of these treats any other day in the year.
But before that, the children had to glorify the birth of Jesus by singing a song, reciting a poem, presenting a dramatic reading, or making music. When it came little Willard Carriker’s turn he went with his head down up onto the platform. He was wearing clean, neat but well-worn overalls. Very shy by nature, Willard didn’t look up as he pulled a little sheet of paper from his pocket. Keeping his eyes riveted on that paper he read the following well-rehearsed poem:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part.
But what can I give Him?
I’ll give Him my heart."
When he finished a few people could be seen wiping their eyes. They KNEW the Carrikers.
After the program was finished and Santa Claus had emptied his bag, “The Saints” said their goodbye’s and headed for their homes. When Jack and Shug got to their front door they found two bags filled with groceries. Food enough for Christmas Dinner and then some. “Santa” had been there.