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Hummel column: Christmas day paper found on March 28

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

As the snowbanks of the winter of 2018-2019 slowly melt, we are discovering what was buried beneath them. For example, the top of the little plastic Christmas tree located just outside our front door is now peaking through the slushy snow. We watched as one snowfall after another slowly covered it. We could still see the light shining through when it was totally buried.

But on March 28, I found a rolled up Christmas gift beneath a bush that had been under the snow for over three months. It was the Christmas Day issue of the Fargo Forum in its waterproof plastic package. We hadn't seen any part of that bush for months.

The paper warned that snow and cold weather were coming. And they certainly did.

When you get your daily paper 92 days late, do you throw it straight into your paper recycling pile? Not if it's the Christmas Day edition. As I read it, I uncovered good news I would have missed.

On the front page, I read about "Secret Santa." Thirty years ago, a guy decided life had been good to him and he wanted to give back. So, he placed a classified ad in the Forum for the names of children whose Christmas wishes would not be fulfilled.

Ever since 1988, he has been providing gifts anonymously to children in need. Not big gifts, but items like coats, caps, sweaters and mittens. He has a team of "Secret Elves" (who also remain anonymous) who shop, sort and deliver the gifts.

One year he delivered the gift of an engraved headstone for a couple who had lost a child but couldn't afford a headstone. Another year, Santa lined up a mechanic to fix a car that was broken down and the young woman owner was about to lose her job because she couldn't get to work. Since 1988, over 700 kids or families have had their wishes granted by this anonymous Santa and his anonymous Elves. I'm glad I didn't miss that story.

Another story was about the family of an 18-year-old NDSU student, Tommy Bearson, who was murdered in 2014. Four years later, no clues — a mystery remains without arrest or explanations, only questions and grief.

On Dec. 22 at a special ceremony during halftime of a basketball game at Sartell, Minnesota, where Tommy had been a star player the year before his murder, Tommy's father spoke.

He told the students and parents "If you're sitting next to your child or someone you love dearly, give them a hug — a big hug. In addition to the hug, please tell that special person you love them." As he watched, people in the stands and on the benches turned to one another to embrace and shared their love. I'm glad I didn't miss that story.

And finally, there was this story labeled "Warrior for Peace." It's the story of a 38-year-old mother of two sons from Duluth, Donna Oestrich, who served in the Army in Iraq in 2003-04 as a combat medic.

She was one of the troops who rode into danger and took fire in Humvees. On Christmas Day 2003, an Iraqi soldier died in her arms. Another time, she was providing medical care for a soldier who had attempted suicide. While caring for that soldier, another soldier, a trucker, told her he could never take a life — to take away somebody's chance to know God.

From that point on, she removed the ammunition from her service weapon, intent on never using it. She would risk sacrificing her own life or military prison, but would not fire at another person. Since the war, she has returned to Iraq as a peacemaker with the Presumptive Love Coalition, where Syrian refugees are starting micro-businesses in pursuits such as soap-making and crocheting — working on unmaking the violence of war. I'm glad I didn't miss that story.

The moral of this recitation is don't miss the Christmas Day issue of your daily paper. There will be stories worth digging for. The spirit of Christmas still has vitality 92 days later.

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