The Stranger at the Door

In December of 1938, a young woman returned home from the Plummer Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, gripping her children’s mittened hands. Inside the house, the girl and boy played, barely aware of their mother as she moved through the rented rooms—picking up toys, preparing supper, clearing a space at the table, and avoiding the hall telephone.

Absorbed in their game, the sister and brother didn’t hear the knock at the front door, which the woman answered.

Out in the twilight, leaning on a crutch which took the place of his missing right leg, stood a bent and bright-eyed little man. He wore a uniform of sorts, a smock of pockets stuffed with serviceable goods for purchase—pencils, spools, thimbles, needles, sealing wax, envelopes, and ink. The amputee held a coin box.

After an exchange of greetings, the the children’s mother turned to find her purse. “I’m sure we can use something.”

“No, lady.” The man shifted on his crutch. “I’m not here to ask for money.”

She stopped.

“What is it? Something’s wrong. You’re upset. Who are you worrying about, lady?”

“My husband.” Then came her tears.

She explained that last week the children’s father, a musician, had fallen ill with pneumonia. His fever had risen to the point where now, not only was he in the hospital, but at death’s door which was about open if the fever didn’t break. An hour ago, the nurses had sent her home to feed the children and try to sleep. Tomorrow would require all the strength she had.

Gazing at the doorsill, he nodded. “What floor is your husband on?”

She told him.

“What’s his room number?”

She answered.

“What time do the nurses change shift?”

“Two a.m.” That detail she knew, from the reports she’d seen by the hospital bed.

Looking into the young wife’s eyes, the old soldier nodded.  “I’m going to call upon my doctor and ask him to pay a visit to your husband tonight. During the war, the same doctor saved my life.” Across his lined face came half a grin. “If there’s going to be an improvement, it’ll happen during that shift change.”

Feeling the doorframe’s edge, she stared at the stranger through the cold, dark evening air.

“That is—” With a little hop he glanced down at his boot toe, then back at her. “If the nurse on duty isn’t sensitive. If she’s not psychic. And if she is, well, we may have a problem. Otherwise, I believe my doctor can help your husband.”


In December of 1978, the same woman sat with her two teenage granddaughters in her dining room, recounting this memory, which had become one of the cousins’ family favourites at Christmas.

Their grandma’s story always ended the same way. “Very early the next morning the telephone rang, and I answered. It was a doctor from the Plummer Hospital. ‘Good news,’ he said. ‘Your husband’s fever broke last night, and it seems to be staying down.’ I was just about speechless. What joy! ‘What time did it happen?’ He told me the night nurse noticed shortly after her shift had begun. ‘Sometime just after two.’”

The older cousin straightened up. “I’ll bet—right after the little man left your place, if you’d gone out to look for him, you wouldn’t have even found his footprints in the snow.”

Each year the younger cousin pondered that notion. Where had the old soldier travelled that night? The doctor, she was certain, operated from another plane. “If the night nurse had picked up on his presence and panicked, she might have ruined the whole thing.” It was the only way the thirteen-year-old could make sense of the stranger’s parting message—that in a healing such as this one, an observer’s intuitive ability wasn’t a threat. The only danger was fear.

Were the veteran and his doctor still making rounds?

All the younger granddaughter knew for sure was that if her grandpa hadn’t pulled through in ’38, then her dad never would have been born the following year. She liked to they owed their lives to a stranger’s visit. Two of them.

By now you may have guessed that the younger granddaughter was me.

Was my grandma telling a tall tale?

I don’t think so.

Can our stories, and especially our dreams, be healing forces in our lives?

I know so. They hold keys. That is, as long as we don’t let fear of the unknown block the way.

For all I know Gram’s story may have been a dream, but it was no lie. Even when a memory such as this one, passed down through generations, bears the marks of many retellings, the story’s essence remains. It holds gifts.

In December, as I look forward to a New Year of deepening my study of “healing”—that is, of processes both physical and non-physical, including events that to many might be dismissed as outlandish—I consider anyone’s arrival and living presence in this world a miracle.

Delve into your family’s history and you’ll find tales as strange as this one—moments when, if things had turned by even one degree, you wouldn’t have made it here.

How marvellous that you did.

Let’s make the most of this miracle.

Robin Blackburn McBride first name signature




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