A stranger showed up at their door with a heartwarming, holiday surprise.
- Posted on Oct 25, 2019
Frigid December wind passed right through my threadbare coat. I might have wished to be at home, but those days it wasn’t much warmer there than it was standing at the bus stop. Mama had written a letter to the electric company explaining that we were late paying our bill because my sister was very ill and Daddy had been laid off, but the power was cut off anyway. That’s why Mama, my brother Buddy Earl and I were on our way into town to pay the bill in person.
I sat close to Buddy Earl for warmth on the bus when it finally showed up. Wreathes decorated the streetlamps along the route. “I don’t think there’s going to be much of a Christmas this year,” I whispered to him. As the older brother—I was seven—it was up to me to warn him.
“I heard Daddy and Mama talking about not having money to pay bills,” he said. “That’s why we’re always eating pinto beans and potatoes.”
The walk to the electric company office from the bus stop was only a couple of blocks, but it was a relief to get inside. “I wish our house was this warm,” Buddy Earl said. “I’m tired of wearing my coat all the time.”
My own coat didn’t do much good against the cold. It was too old and worn. After settling the bill Mama brought us over to Rich’s department store. There was Santa in a big wooden chair. “You two go talk to him,” she said. “Just don’t expect to get all you ask for.” Buddy Earl and I joined the line of children waiting, and Mama sat on a bench nearby.
“What presents are you going to tell Santa you dream about?” Buddy Earl asked. “I’ll bet it’s a toy airplane or a boat to play with in the creek.” I sighed. “I’m going to ask for a new pair of shoes and a warmer coat,” I said. “The ones I’m have let the heat out and the cold in. What about you?”
Buddy Earl thought for a while. “I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said. When we got to the front of the line Buddy Earl climbed up on Santa’s knee. I stood beside them. “I see you two come together,” Santa said. “Are you best friends?”
“Not best friends,” Buddy Earl explained. “We’re brothers.” Santa nodded. “Have you been a good boy this year?”
“Not good enough to get a lot of toys,” Buddy said thoughtfully, “but not bad enough to get a lump of coal.”
“And what would you like?”
“Santa, I want the largest can of pork and beans you can find. I’ve eaten so many boiled potatoes lately, I think of them as part of the family.”
“A can of beans? You’re sure?” Santa said. “No toys?”
“Yes, Santa,” he answered. “And if it’s not too much trouble, I also want a large box of that sweet cereal called Sugar Crisp. The kids at school say you can eat it right out of the box and don’t need any milk.”
“And what about you?” he said, turning to me.
“Well, I ain’t been any better or worse than any seven-year-old boy,” I said. “I was going to ask for a new pair of shoes and a coat, but my brother is right. Food and a little money is what our family needs most of all.”
Santa reached in his pocket, pulled out a notepad and scribbled something with a pencil. “Is your mother with you two?” he asked. I pointed to the bench. “That’s our mama over there. She’s waiting for us to finish.” Santa lifted Buddy Earl off his knee. “Could you ask her to come and talk to me?” he said.
Buddy Earl huddled up against me as we walked over to her. “Are we in trouble?” he asked. “Is that why he wants to talk to Mama?”
I shook my head. “He’s probably going to tell her to tell him what toys we want. He doesn’t squeeze down chimneys to bring food.”
“I really wanted pork and beans and Sugar Crisp,” Buddy Earl said. “Me too,” I admitted. “But Santa’s a toymaker not a grocer. I hope we didn’t insult him.”
Mama and Santa talked for a few minutes. Santa took a couple more notes. Then Mama brought us home. We didn’t dare ask about their private conversation. Christmas morning Mama and Daddy gathered us around our tree to give thanks for all we had. There were no toys from Santa under the tree. No presents at all, really. But that was okay, especially since we had electricity again. I felt pretty good as I took my seat at the kitchen table.
Breakfast was homemade bread with apple butter Mama had canned the year before. It wasn’t Sugar Crisp, but it was wonderfully sweet and filling. I’d just taken a big bite when there was a knock at the door. Daddy opened it to a man I’d never seen before. He was holding a big box.
“This is for you and your family,” he said. “Merry Christmas and may angels watch over you.”
The man was gone before Daddy even had a chance to invite him in. Daddy put the box on the table and opened it up. Inside was an envelope and lots of food! Daddy read the letter from the envelope. “May the Lord’s blessings be upon you. Do not dwell upon sadness for our savior knows your sufferings and has heard your prayers.”
Daddy reached into the envelope again and pulled out some dollar bills. Mama and Daddy looked at each other, and she removed the food from the box. The first thing on the table was a big can of pork and beans. Buddy Earl’s eyes went wide. “An angel came to our door today,” Mama said as she pulled out a big box of Sugar Crisp.
Later Buddy Earl pulled me aside. “There were only two people in the world who knew I wanted beans and cereal. You and Santa.”
“Mama said it was an angel who brought them,” I said. I tried to make sense of things for my little brother. “Santa must have asked that angel for help. Or maybe angels are listening when kids talk to Santa at the store.” That was the best I could figure.
Not long after Christmas, Daddy was called back to work. My sister recovered from her illness. I even received a new pair of shoes and a coat. Well, the coat wasn’t new, exactly, but it was thicker than my old one and it kept me warm. All these years later I still think about that man who came to our door.
Could he have been an off-duty Santa Claus? Could he have been an angel on call? In my heart, I know he was both.
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