When 59-year-old Jeff Taylor saw a nativity scene for sale in a thrift shop that reminded him of the one he loved as a boy, he never dreamed that this cardboard set, missing the lamp and the straw, would turn out to be the exact one that had disappeared from his mother’s home three decades earlier.
He bought it for ten dollars, despite ribbing from his wife, Ann, who didn’t like the shabby model much.
“No,” he insisted. “We gotta have it.”
He later attached an electric light and, every December afterward, gently unwrapped and placed the old cardboard nativity under the tree. “I was like the ‘happy little me.'”
It was seven years before his wife uncovered the amazing truth.
A Boy’s Plea to His Mom
He remembers the moment vividly. It was always a big deal when his mom drove her three kids to Pine Lawn to visit the enormous Katz Drug Store. He was about six years old.
His mother, Millie, would catch Jeff playing with the figures, including Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and scold, “Now Jeffrey, quit playing with those!”
After a divorce Millie moved into an apartment, where, later, it was discovered that she had cancer.
Jeff was 27 when she passed. Within a week of the funeral her boyfriend of ten years moved away suddenly. The nativity scene and so many family keepsakes simply vanished.
“It was kind of hard; a lot of stuff I had as a kid was all gone,” he said. “But that was it and life moved on.”
Jeff became a policeman like his father, married Ann and left the St. Louis area to become the chief of police in Troy, Missouri, about 45 miles away.
“There used to be a resale shop full of clutter,” Ann said. “We went in and Jeff spotted this little nativity scene. It’s not at all something I would pick. It was like the one he had from his childhood except the figures were glued in. He had to have it.”
Every year Jeff would pack it up and put it away, except last year when Ann ended up doing it.
“As I was wrapping the cord end over end, I hollered out, ‘Jeff Taylor you dork. Why would you write your name on the bottom of this?'”
“I thought she was messing with me,” Jeff said. “But then she told me the address written there, ‘6524 Leschen’… That was my old address in Hillsdale!”
In lead pencil he had written his name, street address and the year, 1963. He was 8 years old.
Somehow the nativity scene, which still had a faded sticker with the price of .98 that his mother had paid, made its way to Troy and to the one person who knew it’s true value.
Jeff called his brother and his sister — and she remembered it. Every time he tells the story it chokes him up a little.
“From that Christmas on, we don’t pack it away in the attic anymore. It gets a special place in the hall closet. And we will pass it on to our son (who is now 14) so it stays in the family.”
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