JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: A Christmas Story: A card from Millie

Mildred Johnson, or Millie, joined our class in November of 1953. I was 10 years old. After her house burned, her parents sent her to live with her aunt in my hometown of Waterville in southern Minnesota.

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Mildred Johnson, or Millie, joined our class in November of 1953. I was 10 years old. After her house burned, her parents sent her to live with her aunt in my hometown of Waterville in southern Minnesota.

There was something about Millie that made all of us kids take notice. If you would have asked us what it was, we couldn't have told you.

When Millie came to school that first day, our teacher, Miss Barslow, had her stand up and tell a little about herself. "My name is Mildred Johnson but my friends call me Millie and you can call me that, too. Until now I lived in a little town far, far away from here in way up in northern Minnesota called Margie. The town is very small but I liked it. I knew everyone in my school. I moved here because our house burned last week. We didn't have electricity so we used kerosene lamps. One of the lamps tipped over and our house caught on fire. I lost all of my clothes and playthings but I didn't have too much anyway. My parents thought I should live with my aunt until they could find a place for us to stay. My parents are still in Margie staying with friends. I like to read and I especially like to draw and color. I am happy to have you as my new classmates."

I thought that was a pretty good speech and everyone else did, too. It didn't take long for Millie to make friends. All of us kids felt kind of sorry for her because she lost everything in the fire. One day after school, Miss Barslow told a few of us to stay after.

Miss Barslow said, "Don't you think we should do something for Millie because she lost everything in the fire? Christmas is coming and now would be a good time. When we exchange gifts for our Christmas party, instead of her just receiving one gift from one person, everyone in class should give her a gift. It could be something to wear or a book or something she would need." We liked the idea and Miss Barslow told us to tell the classmates but to keep it a secret from Millie.


I said that there was something special about Millie but it wasn't just one thing, there were many special things about Millie. She could speak very well. She smiled a lot. She listened when others spoke. She seemed to feel what you felt. She was smart and was a good reader. Most of all she made us laugh and smile. Although no one said it, we could all tell that she was different but in a good way. It was as if she were all grown up but in a 10-year-old girl's body.

Now it so happened that when December came and all of us were beginning to think more about Christmas and our Christmas party, Millie became sick. At first we thought she just had the flu or a bad cold but when she didn't come for a week, we asked Miss Barslow if she knew why Millie was not in school.

Miss Barslow told us that Millie would not be returning to school because she had polio. All of us kids knew what polio was. We had seen pictures of kids with crutches and in iron lungs. Miss Barslow went on to say that Millie would be going to the Sister Kenny hospital in Minneapolis to receive special treatment for polio.

"What about the gifts we were going to give her?" we all asked.

Miss Barslow said, "Let's all bring our gifts to school and I will find a way to give them to her." So the next day we had 25 gifts for Millie. Miss Barslow said she would take them to her after school.

The next day we all wanted to know how Millie liked the gifts. Miss Barslow said she was overwhelmed. She had the biggest smile and that she had never felt so good. Then Miss Barslow said, "Millie has a gift for each of you, too."

Miss Barslow handed each of us a card that Millie had made. As we watched each other open the cards, we could see that each one was different. Miss Barslow asked us if anyone would like to stand and read what she said to us and we all did because Millie had special things to say about everyone.

Here is what Millie wrote to me: "Dear John, thank you for being my classmate. I think that someday you will find what you really want to do and you will be very good at it. You just have to find out what it will be."


Each of us was in awe as to what she told us. It's as if she could see inside of us and know our inner thoughts and feelings. We never saw Millie again. We heard that she got better after a year or so in the hospital and returned to a new home in Margie.

We had our Christmas party on the last day of school before Christmas vacation. We talked about Millie and how she made our class better. Someone asked Miss Barslow, "What did Millie's card say to you?" Miss Barslow opened the drawer and took out her card. She read, "Wish all of my classmates a very Merry Christmas for me and don't forget to make them laugh and smile."

I hope each of you have a Christmas filled with laughter but most of all smiles.

Riddle: How do Christmas trees keep their breath fresh? They suck on "orna-Mints." With all of that laughter and smiling, you may need a mint or two.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

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