A Christmas Tale

Every year during the Holidays, this story ends up in my inbox. I decided to make it a permanent part of the site.

The old man sat behind the counter of his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. Business had been brisk with people gassing up their vehicles to visit relatives. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour, wondering why he was still around, when the door opened and a man who looked homeless stepped through.

Instead of throwing the man out, "Old George" as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up.

"Thank you, that's very kind. I don't want to be a bother," said the stranger. "It's pretty cold out there.....but maybe I should just go."

"Not without somethin' hot in your belly." George said.

He turned, opening a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew.....made it myself. When you're done, there's coffee, and it's fresh."

Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said.

There in the driveway was an old '53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. "Meester, help!" said the driver. In halting English with a thick Spanish accent, he continued. "Mi esposa....she have the baby. Mi car, she broken." George peered under the hood. There was so much steam that he couldn't see much of anything. His guess, though, was that the block had cracked from the cold. The car was as dead as a doornail.

"You ain't going nowhere in this thing," George said as he turned away.

"Por favor, meester -- Ayudame! You can help me?" Tears stood in his frantic eyes.

The door of the office closed behind George as he stepped inside. He went to the office wall, got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting.

"Here, take my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing to look at, but she runs real good. You can bring her back after the baby comes. I'll see what I can do about your car."

George helped put the woman in the truck, and watched as it sped off into the night.

He turned and walked back inside the gas station. "Glad I gave 'em the truck; their tires were shot, too. Not safe." George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had left. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it.

"Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but finally caught. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been, thinking he'd tinker with it later on. When business dropped off around dinnertime, he discovered that the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. "Well, shoot, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on.

"Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter, though." The snow treads on his wife's old Lincoln were the same size. They were like new, and he wasn't going to drive that car anyway. So, he put them on the couple's Chevy.

As he was working, he heard what sounded like gunshots. He ran outside. Across the street next to a squad car, he found a middle-aged policeman lying on the ground. Blood was coming from his right shoulder. The officer was moaning, "Please.....help....." His shoulder radio wasn't functioning. Following the cop's instructions, George tried to raise someone via the police car's communication system, only to find that a bullet had left it useless.

George remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed pressure to stop the bleeding. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left a bag of clean shop towels. He wadded up a bunch of them and used duct tape to bind the wound. "Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin'," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

Running back to the garage, he tried to call 911, only to find that his phone had no dial tone. Now what?! Blankets and something for pain, George thought. All he had was the Arthritis-Strength Tylenol he used for his back. He went back to find the officer sitting up. "These oughta help with the hurtin'." He wrapped up the policeman and handed him the pills along with a bottle of water.

"You hang in there, I'm gonna try to find somethin' to get you off this cold street." A few minutes later, he returned with a large 4-way dolly, and managed to haul the policeman over to the warmth of his shop.

"Thanks," said the officer. "You probably should have just left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area."

George sat down beside him, "I would never leave an injured man in the Army, and I sure wasn't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looked worse than what it was, I think. Bullet passed right through ya. Seems to have missed the important stuff , though. I think with time yer gonna be right as rain."

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How ya take it?" he asked.

"None for me," said the officer.

"Oh, ya gotta try this! Best coffee in the city. Too bad I ain't got no donuts to go with it." The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

George was about to head off to try to find a working phone when the front door of the shop flew open. In burst a young man with a gun.

"Give me all your cash! Do it....now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking, and George could tell that he wasn't a regular at this sort of thing.

"That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer.

"Son, why are you doing this?" asked George, "You need to put that cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man acted confused. "Shut up, old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me your cash!"

The cop was reaching for his service revolver. "Put that dang thing away," George said to the cop, "we got one too many in here already."

He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need money that bad, well then....here. It ain't much, only $150 bucks, but it's all I got. Just put that pea shooter away."

George pulled the pile of bills out of the cash register, and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to get something for my wife and son," he went on. "I lost my job, and our rent is due. The
landlord said he was going to evict us if we didn't come up with at least part of the money we owe him. My car got repossessed last week. I've already sold every last thing I own that's worth a plug nickel...."

George handed the gun to the cop. "Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the boy a cup of coffee. "Bein' stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm, and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over at the cop. "Sorry I shot you," he said sheepishly. "I was so scared when you came up behind me that it just kinda went off. I'm sorry, officer....really."

"Shut up and drink your coffee " the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops threw open the door, guns drawn. "Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

"Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How'd you find me?"

"GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Somebody called 911, reporting shots fired over this way. When you didn't answer the dispatcher, she put 2 and 2 together. Who did this?" the other cop asked, looking suspiciously at the young man.

Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his weapon and ran." He handed over the now wiped-clean pistol to his fellow patrolman. George and the young man exchanged puzzled looks.

"This guy work here?" the wounded cop asked, eyeing his shooter.

"Yep," George said after only a brief hesitation. "Just hired him today. Boy lost his job last week."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop before he was wheeled away, and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas, kid..... You, too, George! And thanks for everything."

"Well, looks like you got one doozie of a break there. That oughta solve some of your problems anyhow."

While the young man sat with his head in his hands, George went into the back room, and came out with a small box, which he handed to the boy. "Here ya go, son.....something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day."

The young man looked inside to see a good-sized diamond pendant. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It's gotta mean something to you."

"You're right....and now it'll mean somethin' to you," replied George. "I got my memories of Martha. That's all I need."

From under the counter, George pulled out another box holding a car and a tanker truck. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's a present for that son of yours."

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

"And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with -- or pay that rent? You keep that, too," George said. "Now git on home to your family before you git yerself into more hot water!"

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if you really meant that job offer."

"Sorry. That won't work. I'm closed on Christmas Day," George said. "See ya the day after."

George watched the boy head off down the street. He turned to lock up the garage, thinking, "Whew, what a day! Nobody would believe it." When he entered the shop, he was surprised to see that the homeless man had returned.

"Hey! Where'd you come from? I thought you left?"

"Oh, I've been here all along. In fact, I've always been here," said the stranger, to the old man's confusion."You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why is that?"

"Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn't see what the big to-do was all about. Trimmin' a tree seemed like a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself, and besides I was gettin' a little chubby."

The stranger put his hand on the garage owner's shoulder. "But you DO celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son, and he will become a great doctor.

The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any of the fortune for himself. That is the spirit of the season, and you keep it as well as any man could."

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man

"Trust me, my friend, I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done, have no fear. You will be with Martha again." The stranger moved toward the door. "If you will excuse me, George......I have to go home now. There's a big celebration planned."

George watched as the old denim jacket and the torn jeans that the stranger was wearing faded into a white robe. The room was suddenly bathed in a golden light.

"You see, George...... it's my birthday. Merry Christmas!"

George fell to his knees and replied, "Happy Birthday, Lord!"

Isn't this story better than any greeting card?

Now clear the lump from your throat, blow your nose, and send this along to a friend of yours or someone who may need a reminder as to WHY we celebrate Christmas.

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