Santa Wore Red Epaulets

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Agnes and Alton had already raised their family. They has pastored the Redeemer Assembly of God for two decades and now it was time to retire. Well into their 60s, the thought of spending those “golden years” together must have been most appealing.

From out of the blue, two grandsons were on their doorstep needing a place to live. Agnes and Alton suddenly found themselves saddled with the prospect of raising two toddlers, one of who went on to become a Salvaiton Army Officer, in part because of what happened in that little family one magical Christmas.

It just so happens that the boys appeared about the time Agnes and Alton had resigned from their church pastorate. One order of business was to find a church to attend. Now that the boys were here, this became more of an issue.

It was at this point that someone invited Agnes to the Home League (called today Women’s Ministries) at the local Salvation Army corps. She went, and loved the Army from the start. She was told that the following week a Vacation Bible School was being held—ideal for the two boys. Naturally, an invitation to Sunday School and Sunday worship services.

The new little family was soon immersed in everything the corps had to offer.

A few years later, the corps officer offered the older boy an old cornet and a chance to learn music. He jumped at the chance. The boy would one day attribute his staying in school and out of trouble to playing in the corps band all those years, in addition to his school band throughout middle and high school.

Agnes and Alton quickly became stalwarts of local leadership in the corps. Alton became Corps Sergeant-Major. Agnes became Home League Secretary. She played the piano; he helped keep the corps (financial) books. They both taught Sunday School classes and were mainstays in the League of Mercy (Community Care) work.

For Agnes, involvement in The Salvation Army was the actualization of a childhood dream. When she was a teen, she saw a band of Salvationists on the street corner holding an open-air meeting. She wanted to join back then, but her Catholic family would not allow it. She simply suppressed that desire until it was rekindled some 50 years later.

Agnes and Alton wore their uniforms proudly and volunteered for everything—from cleaning the corps building, to corps leadership, to disaster work.

Agnes particularly enjoyed helping at Christmastime. Every year she helped take applications from needy families and even gave many hours on the kettles, and distributing the Christmas War Cry. But she enjoyed working in the Army’s Toy Store the most.

One Christmas was particularly lean for Agnes and Alton. Raising two boys was more expensive than they remembered—in some ways more difficult even than when they raised their daughter and son during the Depression. That Christmas they decided to sacrifice their gifts for each other in order to provide a Christmas for the boys—but even that would be spartan.

It was for this reason that at the end of the last day of toy distribution, Agnes spied a football for the older boy and a toy truck for the younger. “Could I please have these two things for my boys?” she asked the Captain.

How could he refuse? The Captain insisted that she not only take those two items, but a few others as well—and some candy and fruit.

It would be a glorious Christmas after all.

That Christmas morning, the two boys awoke and found a treasure beneath the tree. Santa had come, and their joy knew no bounds!

But it was that football which was most loved and most used by that older boy. Agnes knew it would be.

And I still have that football.

After all these years, I realize that the only red my Santa wore was on his epaulets—the corps officer being my real benefactor. When I became a man, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I thank God for my grandparents, Agnes and Alton Duracher. I thank God for The Salvation Army. And I thank Him for an old, worn-out football which I take out of my trunk every now and then to remind myself of the greatest iRony of my life.

— Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, USA National Publications

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