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It was 1929 and the Great Depression had closed bank doors and forced people out of work?effectively paralyzing the country. And the tiny mountain town of Spruce Hollow, North Carolina, didn't escape its crippling grip. The Depression had reached over the mountains and grasped the simple lives of those tucked into the rocky ridges. As Pastor David Allen looked over his flock he wondered how anyone with holes in their shoes and no food to put on the table could be thankful during this holiday season. The worst ...
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It was 1929 and the Great Depression had closed bank doors and forced people out of work—effectively paralyzing the country. And the tiny mountain town of Spruce Hollow, North Carolina, didn't escape its crippling grip. The Depression had reached over the mountains and grasped the simple lives of those tucked into the rocky ridges. As Pastor David Allen looked over his flock he wondered how anyone with holes in their shoes and no food to put on the table could be thankful during this holiday season. The worst part was that neither he nor his wife, Sarah, could do anything for the people of Spruce Hollow. Or could they? This inspiring story tells of a pastor who sold his family's most precious possession—an antique Bible—to buy shoes for the children in his congregation. But when things grew worse by the next Christmas, David sunk into despair. There was nothing more he could do. No way he could help. And there was seemingly nowhere to turn for encouragement. But Pastor Allen had no concept of how God would use the heirloom he had courageously given up. In the years that followed, letters appeared addressed to the man listed in the front of the Bible. Each letter became a pillar of hope in their dark world.
David sighed, brushing white hair
from his brow. The Great Depression of
1929 had closed bank doors and paralyzed
the country. Refusing to spare
even the most isolated communities, its
greedy fingers reached over the mountains
and grasped the lives of those who
dwelt in David's western North Carolina
For months he had managed to keep
up his spirits, and those of the people in
his area. Now he found himself bone-weary
and hard pressed to be cheerful.
How could he ask his congregation to
remain thankful when all signs predicted
that times would worsen long before
they got better? A wistful prayer rose
from David's heart up through the
rafters. Father, please help me deliver the
message these people need most.
Somewhat comforted, the minister left
the window, jammed another log into
the glowing wood stove, and prepared to
welcome his flock.
Most came on foot. Many who
owned vehicles had reverted to walking
since the Great Depression began. Even
Doc Reynolds often left his Ford V-8 in
a shed and rode horseback or used a
horse and buggy when making calls.
After greeting the stragglers, David
stepped behind the pulpit and picked up
his Bible. Touching the lovingly worn
cover never failed to remind him of his
heritage. Visions of his wild-haired
grandfather traveling the circuit preaching,
and of his gentle father kneeling
with his own parishioners, filled the
third-generation preacher each time he
held the Book. Just before David's first
sermon his father had taken the Bible
from the where it graced its
homey, but simple, surroundings. He
penned "David Allen, Minister, Spruce
Hollow, North Carolina" and the date
below his and his father's names before
handing the Bible to David. "I hope you
will preach from it and cherish it as I
have," he said. "It's my most valuable
"I know." David reverently touched
the cover. "It provides guidance and
shows the way to eternal life."
"Aye." A bit of Scottish burr crept
into the older man's voice. "But it also
has worldly value. A line in the concordance
was originally printed upside
down, and a few copies were run before
the error was discovered. Those copies
became collectors' items. By happen-stance,
your grandfather purchased one
of them." A reminiscent light came into
his eyes. "Father found it amusing. The
Bible he had been preaching for years
had more spiritual value than anything
else he owned, and also turned out to
have more earthly value. Remember, if it
ever becomes necessary, the Bible can be
sold for a goodly sum."
"Sold? Unthinkable!" The younger
man set his lips firmly and shook his
head. "This Book belongs in our family."
His father smiled. "Your grandfather's
dream was for the Bible to be
handed down from father to son, as
long as there were Allen men. Now it is
A slight cough from the waiting congregation
roused David from his reverie.
He hastily announced the number of
the first hymn, admiring the strength in
the faces turned toward him. Faces
etched by hardship. Life had battered
these mountain folk. Fire, flood, and
crop failures had not defeated them, but
this Depression ... could they withstand
what lay ahead?
Thinking about the struggles of
those he had grown to love, David's
throat tightened. To hide his emotion,
he opened his Bible. A verse-Psalm
118:24-caught his attention. He
silently read, "This is the day which the
Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be
glad in it." His heart sank. Wasn't this a
bit like rubbing salt into an open
wound? Could this be the message he
was called to deliver? "Hunker down
and endure," maybe, but "Rejoice and
be glad"? It couldn't be. Yet, he had
prayed for wisdom.
David took a deep breath, offered a
simple prayer of invocation, and read
the verse. A single "amen" came from his
congregation. Then, uneasy silence.
The shuffle of feet drew David's
attention to the front row. Three clean
but poorly clothed Bascomb brothers
stared up at him. One gave his pastor a
gap-toothed grin and swung his foot.
David could see bare toes through the
holes in his shoes. A little girl next to
the urchin carefully examined the pulpy
mass of wet cardboard working its way
out of her own shoe sole. David's shabby
boots were at least intact.
At a loss for words, he
managed to ask, "Would
anyone like to share a personal
story of God's blessings?"
He sent a wordless
plea to his faithful wife,
Sarah. Unfortunately, her
brown head was bent and
she missed his look.
What felt like an eternity
later, Granny Bascomb, the
town matriarch, stood. The wisp of a
woman's shoulders were bent from years
of hoeing corn when her man was sick
and couldn't work. "I do, parson." Her
faded gaze swept the congregation.
"There's no use bein' mealy-mouthed
and denyin' times are bad," she stated
flatly. A stir of agreement whispered
through the church. It didn't faze
Granny. "I say, long as we got our families,
church, each other, and food
enough in our bellies to keep body and
soul together, we need to be thankful."
The indomitable woman's practical
philosophy inspired several others to
stand and give thanks for the simple
blessings in their lives: the completion
of a barn before snow came; game animals
in the forest; an announcement of
a betrothal. David called for songs
between the testimonies and ended the
service with a fervent
prayer for God's blessing.
This time the amens were
plentiful and heartfelt.
Folks clustered around the
stove afterward, telling each
other it was a "mighty fine
service" and prophesying
that things were bound to
get better soon. If some felt
things couldn't get a whole
lot worse for them, no one voiced the
After the last person shook David's
hand and left, the minister dropped to a
seat in the back pew. He felt drained.
His parish stretched far beyond Spruce
Hollow, and David conscientiously visited
every home for miles around. It didn't
matter if the families attended church.
They were still his people. He could
name each adult, child, dog, or pig that
resided in the area. He knew in which
fold of the hills every cabin lay, and
the easiest way to get there. Sarah
often laughed and accused him
of loitering. In spring and
summer he brought her wildflowers
and berries. In
autumn, he stuffed his pockets
with hickory nuts.
Sarah. The thought of her
brought warmth to David's heart, even
in his darkest moments. She was undeniably
the joy of his life. His lips curved
in a smile. God had blessed Sarah with
the gift of discernment, especially concerning
David Allen. She recognized and
respected the times he needed to be
alone, such as now.
David bowed his head, seeking the
peace that had settled over him in the
past, like the warm quilts the women
stitched and pieced from leftover fabric.
Despite his best efforts, peace eluded
him. He finally stood, dosed the
dampers on the stove, and strode down
the street to the building he and Sarah
called home. Too humble to be dignified
by the name parsonage, it offered welcome
to all who entered. The contrast
between its warmth and the images in
his head of children's bare toes and wet
cardboard inserts haunted him.
He hunched his shoulders against
the growing cold. Would the snow
continue until Christmas or even
longer? An icicle formed in the
pit of his stomach. It grew
with each step between the
church and his front porch.
David stomped off snow,
stepped inside, and placed his
Bible on the mantel. He shrugged
out of his damp coat and abruptly
called through the open arch that separated
the kitchen from the living room.
"Sarah, what are we going to do about
Christmas?" He walked over to warm
himself at the open fireplace.
Sarah's busy hands stilled. She left
her dinner preparations and came to
him. A streak of flour from her biscuit
dough dusted one rosy cheek. "I assume
we will celebrate Christ's birth as we
Frustration rose in David. "How? In
these times, folks can't even afford the
necessities, let alone baubles or toys."
He sighed deeply. "All four children in
the front row and most of the others
will be barefoot this Christmas. Or
wrapping their feet with rags." He sank
to a chair and buried his face in his
hands. "What kind of shepherd am I? A
shepherd looks after his flock. It's hard
enough to see the adults suffer, but I
can't stand seeing the children this way."
He raised his head and looked into
Sarah's soft brown eyes.
"You are a good pastor, David Allen!
Don't let me hear you say otherwise."
Sarah planted her hands on her aproned
hips and frowned at him. "You've written
so many letters to larger churches
asking them to help our people that
we're almost always out of stamps. It
isn't your fault or theirs that they can't
contribute more. These are hard times.
They're trying to care for their own jobless.
At least we can grow crops. Many
people in the cities are forced to seek
food from garbage cans."
"I know, but there must be some
way we can do more." David's shame for
complaining gave way to discouragement.
"If only we could figure out what
it is!" His lips twisted in a wry grin. "We
can't cut many more corners or we'll be
the worst paupers in Spruce Hollow.
You've put patches on patches to keep
from buying new clothing. Young David
has picked up yet another job at college
so we won't have to send him money.
What's the answer, Sarah? What should
"I don't know." She paused, glanced
at the flickering flames in the fireplace,
then returned her gaze to him. "I suppose
that's something you will have to
find out for yourself."
The spunk that attracted David to
her when he was a young man flashed
across Sarah's face. She raised her chin.
"How do you usually find out what you
need to know?"
"Not by asking you," he retorted.
"Even if you knew the answer, you
probably wouldn't tell me."
Her trill of laughter brought a reluctant
smile to David's heart and lips.
Then Sarah sobered. "Even if I knew
what God wanted you to do-and I
don't-it isn't up to me to tell you.
That's His job, not mine." She headed
back to the kitchen and her biscuits,
leaving David to reflect on what she had
He leaned back in his chair and
stared into the heart of the fire. How
and when would the poverty and suffering
Then shall the King say unto them on
his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my
Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for
you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungered, and ye gave
me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me
drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick,
and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye
came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him,
saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered,
and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave
When saw we thee a stranger, and took
thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or
when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and
came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say
unto them, Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of
the least of these my brethren, ye have
done it unto me.
David pondered the passage, especially
the part about clothing the naked. He
thought of the skinny, poorly dressed
children in his congregation. Because he
was unable to solve their problems,
Sarah's determined cheerfulness annoyed
him. Why didn't she understand? He
knew he was being unreasonable, of
course. Every tender service Sarah performed
for her husband showed that she
recognized his feelings. And she shared
his love for the parishioners. Yet he
couldn't help but wish she would offer
One bleak mid-December day, the
troubled minister returned home after
visiting an isolated family with sick children.
He reached the hogback above
town just before dusk, and looked down
on the scattered buildings below. Spruce
Hollow-such a lovely name for such an
unlovely settelement, although the mountains
and hills surrounding it were awe inspiring.
As primitive as it was, the
Hollow housed people made in God's
image. This alone made it beautiful in
A wintry wind rose, threatening
more snow. It chilled his body, but his
love for the people, which had intensified
since Thanksgiving, made David
oblivious to the cold and brought him
to his knees. He thought of Jesus weeping
over Jerusalem, longing to gather
His children as a hen gathers her chicks
under her wings to protect them. Was
this how the Master had felt?
"God," he cried to the
metallic gray sky, "show me
the way, if there is one. I'll
do anything to help ease
the pain and need in my
The wind increased. It
furiously tore at his woolen
cap and blew through the
patches in his coat. It
whirled around him like
mocking laughter. David fancied he
heard "Anything?" echo back at him as a
He responded to the unspoken challenge.
"I will do anything," he vowed.
After waiting a time but receiving no
further direction, he left the observation
point that had witnessed so many of his
inner struggles, and started down the
twisting road leading to Spruce Hollow.
Supper was over and the kitchen
tidied. Sarah removed her apron and
settled into the hand-hewn chair beside
the fireplace. Flaming logs chased away
any chill that dared sneak in from the
thickly falling snow. David took the
family Bible from the mantel and settled
into a matching chair opposite Sarah.
Before opening it, he quietly said, "I
made a promise today." He shared his
experience on the crest of
the hill in a few well-chosen
words and ended
with a rueful laugh.
"I can't imagine what
'anything' will be. We don't
have long-lost relatives to
leave us riches." He
grinned and added, "Any
long-lost relatives of ours
wouldn't have riches!" He
sighed and absently stroked the cover of
the Bible. "God knows, this is the only
thing we ..." Invisible claws grabbed at
David's heart. It constricted even more
when Sarah gasped. Her brown eyes
looked enormous, and her soft mouth
David clutched the precious Book in
suddenly sweaty hands and leaped to his
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
he demanded. "Surely you don't-you
can't think ..."
Excerpted from The Heirloom
by COLLEEN REECE JULIE REECE-DEMARCO
Copyright © 2002 by Colleen Reece and Julie Reece-DeMarco.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 17, 2009
No text was provided for this review.