On the Second Day of Christmas…

Day 2! Here is a story that always has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories.

The Secret of TPLOC

“Snow fell lightly on the cold, bitter Canadian landscape. Overhead a dome of gray, lifeless clouds blended with the bare aspens on the ground, painting a gloomy picture. I gazed listlessly out the window of our [pickup truck]. The scene outside matched my own downcast spirits. My companion, Elder Hancock, was humming ‘Joy to the World’ to himself, half smiling and lightly tapping his fingers on the rim of the steering wheel. Christmas, my first one away from home, was in three days. I’d always enjoyed the same sort of traditional Christmas each year at home. But that was behind me now and far away like my family. I wanted this Christmas to be the same but knew inside that it wouldn’t be. …

“… Our apartment was bare of any sign of Christmas. We didn’t even have time to put up a tree. At first we had agreed to spend the entire Christmas day in active missionary work, but Elder Hancock soon sensed my lack of enthusiasm and arranged for us to have dinner with some members that night.

“‘Elder,’ he said as we drove into town, ‘what you need more than a turkey dinner is a little TPLOC in your life.’ He grinned to himself as if he’d just made a very witty remark. I stared out the window, pretending to ignore him. I always wondered how he stayed so cheerful. Trying to teach me the discussions, along with keeping track of the area we’d opened up, must have been hard for him; yet I never heard him complain or get despondent. Oh well, I did enough of that for both of us. I wondered what he meant by TPLOC. Probably some new missionary term no one had bothered to tell me about.”

Write TPLOC on the chalkboard. Then continue with the story:

“We pulled off onto a wide street in the older part of town, parked our truck, and began tracting. The boardwalks raised above the frozen earth snapped in protest as we stepped on them. Houses on this street were rundown, unpainted, and inanimate. … Several houses were empty. At the first corner we encountered a small shack that, in comparison, made the other houses on the street look good.

“The house hid all signs of ever having been painted. There were no power outlets attached; here we would find no electricity. My companion knocked on the door. … Small timid footsteps started at the back of the house and worked forward toward the door. It creaked open, and I beheld a living museum piece.

“The woman stood four-and-a-half feet tall. Her face was full of wrinkles, so much so that it was only with effort I could make out two piercing, coal-black eyes peeking out of the crevasses. She invited us in. As I suspected, her home was also threadbare on the inside, yet it was spotless.

“Her name was Mrs. Ivar, and she was a 98-year-old immigrant from Poland. We tried to teach a discussion, but it was hard—she was so lonely. She had just learned that none of her children would be home for Christmas, and so she would be alone. I felt sorry for the lady, but we had work to do. We talked a little longer and then left.

“The next day we finished our preparations for Christmas. We had asked the Relief Society to bake us some cakes to take out to investigators. They responded in numbers, and soon our small apartment was lined with assorted cakes. One sister brought us three. She said she wanted to bake one for us, but reasoned that if she baked two we’d give them both away, so she had baked three. I smiled at that but couldn’t help thinking how bare our place looked without a tree.

“Christmas came swiftly, on a bright clear day. My stomach tied itself in knots at the thought of barging into investigators’ homes on Christmas day. If Elder Hancock was nervous, he hid it well. It took us most of the day to deliver our cakes. People were glad to see us, all of them, even one man who had thrown us out earlier. By dusk we had only one cake left, the cake that was ours, and our dinner was in half an hour. As we climbed in the truck I had visions of hot turkey and stuffing drenched in cranberries. Elder Hancock paused to look at something as he slid in. I looked and saw nothing—except that old row of houses we had tracted out earlier. They were leaning at crazy angles, Mrs. Ivar’s being the worst.

“‘That’s whose house he’s looking at,’ I thought to myself. I knew my companion too well. ‘He wants us to miss our dinner appointment and give our last cake to that old lady.’ He turned and saw me eyeing the house, too. His eyes met mine, and he waited; he knew me pretty well also. This would be my decision.

“I thought of the member’s home where we were expected—warm, inviting, full of life. It wasn’t our fault that none of the old woman’s kids could make it back home. She wasn’t even good for a discussion, so why bother?

“I shifted my weight and thought of home. My sister would be back from school, and my brother would be there with his family. But what if, for some reason, none of us could make it? What if that were my mother all alone on Christmas? A lump as large as a grapefruit grew in my throat.

“I glanced at Elder Hancock and said, ‘I never did go for cake much.’

“He grinned. We stopped to phone our excuses to the member family and then sped over to spend the rest of the day in the company of a great lady. She told us stories of her homeland and her Christmases as a girl. … Before we left, Mrs. Ivar had a new pile of wood for her stove and a half-eaten cake for her pantry.

“On the way back to our apartment I tried to tell Elder Hancock how I felt, but the words just wouldn’t come. The phone was ringing as we stepped in. Elder Hancock answered it while I put on some hot chocolate.

“‘Guess what?’ he announced, after a brief discussion. ‘I’ve been transferred.’

“I didn’t know what to say, there was so much. Finally I blurted, ‘Well, before you go there’s one thing I want to know. What does TPLOC stand for?’

“‘It stands for what you caught a feeling of today, Elder Johnson. TPLOC stands for “The Pure Love of Christ.” And it tastes much better than a turkey dinner.’ With that he began to pack” (Kelly Johnson, “The Secret of TPLOC,” New Era, Aug. 1979, 40–42).

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