Unexpected Gift

Unexpected Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Unexpected Gift

The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious.

Martin Luther

During 1956 and 1957 I worked in the various refugee camps near Linz, Austria. As a male volunteer under the auspices of the service arm of my denomination, the Church of the Brethren, I worked with people who had lost their homes and possessions in Eastern Europe during World War II or after the war when they fled from areas under Communist control. Although they desperately wanted to immigrate to a country where they could begin a new start in life, many were still stranded in dreary refugee camps.

My experiences with the survivors of World War II led me to enroll in college upon my return to the United States because I wanted to discover what had caused the terrible war that caused so much death, suffering and dislocation. In the summer of 1958 I organized and conducted a tour group of Americans visiting the tourist points of Western Europe, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and the Swiss Alps. In order to show these first-time visitors another side of European life, I also took the tour group, which included my mother and aunt, into a refugee camp (Camp Haid) to visit one of the refugee families living there. I was both glad and sad to see an elderly woman with whom I’d worked two years before.

About a week later, on August 14, 1958, a portion of the tour group departed for home on a regularly scheduled KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) flight. Tragically, this airplane was the first plane to go down in the Atlantic Ocean since World War II. Among the ninety-six casualties were twenty of my tour group, including my mother and aunt. I was devastated.

Two years later I took another tour group on the same itinerary. Although hoping that by this time all the refugees would have been permanently resettled and no longer living in a refugee camp, I again took the group into Camp Haid. When I knocked on the door of the family’s area of the old barracks, I was again face-to-face with the same elderly woman with whom I had renewed a friendship in 1958. Upon seeing me, the color drained from her face and the ashen-faced lady whispered, “Herr Kreider, I thought you had died in that airplane crash.”

I explained that only a portion of our group, including my mother, had been on that particular flight. I shared with her that tragic period, but then said I had much better news to share. I told her that I had just learned by telephone that very morning that my wife had given birth to a little girl in Kassel, Germany.

The refugee lady froze and just stared at me in apparent disbelief. What was going through her mind? She then turned and walked to the other side of the room. Reaching up, she grasped a white puppy made of yarn. The cute, handlooped poodle was about ten inches high, with floppy ears, sharply defined eyes and a pug nose. She walked back, handed the puppy to me and said, “This is a gift to the little baby—from her grandmother.”

What a flood of emotions swept over me. How could this be? She explained that back in 1958 when I was showing other parts of the refugee camp to others in the tour group, my mother had remained in this lady’s home and admired her handiwork, a handmade puppy. Despite her inability to speak German, Mother had communicated with the lady, ordered a puppy to be made, paid for it, including postage, and left her address. The old lady heard of the fatal accident and, assuming the worst, never mailed the puppy.

Now, on the day her first grandchild was born, a gift from Grandma was presented to her little granddaughter.

J. Kenneth Kreider

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