Merrie Riggs and Julie Wilkins…were young girls in North Dakota. It was in November 1964. They were the Oltersdorf sisters then. Julie was fourteen and Merrie was ten.

"We were living in an old farmhouse that seemed to have more cracks than Daddy could patch with tar paper," Julie remembered. "We had lost our farm the year before, and we lost Mama to typhoid fever that summer. There were four of us kids Steve, twelve, and Karl, eight - besides us two girls who had to snuggle next to the old oil burner in the front room and try to keep warm enough to do our homework at night."

It was just after Thanksgiving when Merrie came down with a terrible fever. The kids had but one blanket apiece, but they all piled the covers on Merrie when they were doing their chores or their homework. Normally, they walked around the old farmhouse with blankets wrapped around them to ward off the cold, but they wanted Merrie to get warm enough to break her fever.

Since late October, their father, Gus, had been working at the grain elevator in town. During planting and harvest he had been a hired man for Miles Hanson, but the elderly farmer had no need for help during the winter months. The Oltersdorf family, however, still had need for food, regardless of the season, so Gus worked at the elevator.

Julie remembered that their father was really depressed. It would be their second Christmas without the farm and their first Christmas without Mama. "We used to have really nice Christmases," she said. "We were never rich, but we were well enough off until Daddy had that run of bad luck. But, of course, more than our nice home and the presents, we would miss Mama terribly."

All the children noticed the deep melancholy that had possessed their father, so Merrie had not wanted to concern him with her illness. She knew that he had enough on his mind with the bills and all. "I lay and prayed for one solid day while the other kids were at school," Merrie said. "I prayed that we could have some more blankets and just a little extra money so that we could have a nicer Christmas and so Daddy would not have to work so hard."

Merrie was lying next to the oil burner that afternoon…She knew that her fever was getting higher, and she so wanted Julie near her. Julie was the oldest and, just like Mama, always seemed to know what to do.

Merrie was startled to hear the door open, for she knew that Julie had locked it when she and the boys left for school that morning. Merrie was even more surprised when she turned to see a "beautiful man" walk into the farm house.

"He was fairly tall, well built, and I will always remember his long blond hair and his bright blue eyes," Merrie said. "I started to say something about trespassing, but he smiled and lifted a hand in a friendly way that seemed to say 'I won't hurt you.'

"He had four thick blankets under his arm, and he set them down on the kitchen table. For the first time I noticed that he wore hardly anything at all against the terrible November cold. He wore no coat, just a thin white shirt and blue jeans. I knew that he meant to give us those blankets, so I spoke up and said, ‘You had better keep those for yourself, mister. You'll freeze to death in this cold climate.' "

"I've always thought it interesting," Merrie said, "that young as I was - just ten going on eleven - I somehow felt that he had come from some warmer place. That was why I said 'climate.' "

The stranger smiled again and spoke for the first time in a voice that sounded as if he were singing and talking at the same time. "I won't need the blankets. They are for you.

Just before the blond stranger left, he took five twenty dollar bills from inside his shirt and set them on top of the blankets. "You'll be better soon, Merrie," he said as he walked out the front door.

After he had gone, Merrie was convinced that she had seen an angel. "I just knew that the stranger was the angel that I had prayed for to come and help us," she said. "And I will believe that until the day I die. And then I know that I will see him again."

Julie resumed her account of the incident: "When we got home from school, we found the front door locked just as we had left it, so we were really surprised when Merrie told us that someone had walked in on her that afternoon. And when she said that an angel had brought us kids each a new blanket and some money for Daddy, I felt her brow and got really scared. Her fever felt so hot. We covered her with those new blankets wherever they had come from and poured steaming hot tea down her throat until the fever broke.

"Daddy always felt that some nice young man in town or on one of the neighboring farms had learned of our plight and had given us the blankets and the money," Julie said. "One hundred dollars might not seem like much today, but in 1964 it was just enough to give Daddy the buffer he needed to get caught up with some bills, and he was even able to afford some Christmas presents for us.

"We kids always believed Merrie," Julie stated. "Even then she was a good artist, and she was able to draw a really good picture of the benevolent stranger. We had lived in that community all of our lives, and we lived there another eight years, and none of us ever saw anyone who had looked the way he did.

"I agree with my sister that an angel helped us survive that terrible winter of sixty four." -- “Angels Over Their Shoulders – Children’s Encounters with Heavenly Beings” by Brad & Sherry Steiger

All the best to you for a prosperous and happy New Year in 2010!

Home        December 2011