Pin case midnight is passed your bedtime, like me, Happy New Year 2018 from #PruittWrites!
Pin case midnight is passed your bedtime, like me, Happy New Year 2018 from #PruittWrites!
Today is a day that traditionally celebrates both Boxing Day, and the Christian martyr, Stephen. A man who went from caring for widows, to witnessing and giving his life for The Gospel. It’s fitting, that the day after Christmas, people remember a man who ran with the message of it.
Today isn’t the First Work Day after a holiday, or a back to drudgery day. Rather it’s an opportunity to practice the teachings of The One we honored December 25. No, Jesus wasn’t born in December 2,000 years ago, but we should honor His birth, Life, and purpose every day of the year.
So don’t let anyone depress you about today. Rather let the fire that empowered Stephen to see Jesus every day, do the same for you. Box up some of the blessings God has put in you, like joy, kindness, and love, and give them to someone today. Make their day after Christmas a day they also remember a follower of The Christ, not for who we are, but for what He has birthed in us!
I wonder if the Innkeeper ever found out Who he had turned away? I believe He did, the shepherds spread the news throughout the region. Do you think he ever felt guilty?
Maybe Jesus visited during His Ministry. Maybe He watched The Savior. We know Jesus traveled throughout the country, from Jerusalem to Galilee, and Samaria. Maybe the Innkeeper experienced Jesus take time for Him.
Perhaps bringing salvation into the inn that was too crowded for Him, all those years before. Either way, we know this, Jesus has time for the busy, the crowded, and the rejected. He’s been all three.
Maybe your Christmas resembles a scene from White Christmas. Or maybe it’s more like a Dr Seuss cartoon, and you feel like the Grinch. When it comes to your need, Jesus’ focus is on you.
He isn’t concerned about the setting, the Season, or the situation. Christ‘s goal today hasn’t changed. He wants the same thing that made Him make the journey to Bethlehem all those years ago, a relationship with you.
It was Christmas time again, Cliff was alone as usual. That’s not to say that he was lonely, he had a big family, and they always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That’s because Cliff wanted all the people who worked with him to have Christmas.
Cliff was a Security Guard for the largest hospital in the city , and someone had to work on Christmas. For the last fifteen years, Cliff had volunteered. He had seen some peaceful nights, and some crazy ones. He never really knew what to suspect.
This one had been quiet, so far. Then about nine, they wheeled Jim into the ER. He had been hit on the head, and was a little woozy. It was nothing serious. There was no mystery as to how it had happened, his wife Ellie had hit him.
No, she wasn’t mad at him, she just thought he had been a burglar. For some reason, he wasn’t in his recliner when she came down to wake him to go to bed. That’s because he was in the kitchen eating the cake his diabetic doctor said he couldn’t have.
Ellie thought she had heard someone sneaking around. She just didn’t know it was Jim. When he crept out of the kitchen with the lights off, she clobbered him. Then she saw Jim, panicked, and insisted they go to check and see if the candlestick was as deadly as she had always heard it was.
Jim wasn’t too argumentative, he was just trying to hide the smell of chocolate on his breath. The problem started because Jim and Ellie were klutzes, and always had been. She fell on the ice in the parking lot and sprained her ankle.
Cliff saw all this when making his rounds and offered to help Jim get her inside. The nurses got them into triage, but all the doctors were busy. Cliff had made his rounds, so he didn’t have anything to do for at least an hour.
So he decided to keep the couple company. He asked them about their Christmas. “Oh it was good. We talked to John and Cindy on the iPad, that’s our son and his wife. They couldn’t make it this year. Alvin our youngest is away at college.”Jim explained.
Ellie elaborated. “He was coming home, but his car broke down in Phoenix. Jim told him to just stay till he could get it fixed, and come in for New Years. It was a quiet Christmas this year, but it was peaceful.”
Cliff did his best to act like he believed them, but he knew better. He didn’t believe remembering seeing any two people wish they had some holiday hustle and bustle to complain about. He thought about how often his brother Mike fussed at putting up the Christmas lights, until Harriet bought that LED projector thing for the house.
Mike was miserable not having something to get ready for Christmas. So miserable, Cliff still believed his running over it out of the garage was no accident. The next year, Mike never complained. He never did ask Harriet if that was her plan all along.
Cliff excused himself, and tried to think of someway to salvage the old couple’s Christmas. This wasn’t a tv special, he couldn’t get John, Cindy, or Alvin a plane ticket. What could he do? Then, he thought of Mike, and of his rounds.”
Cliff remembered the kids in the pediatric ward, and Mr Anderson in traction. Then there was Marie at the nurses station. She hated the overnight shift. It dawned on him that Jim and Ellie weren’t the only ones miserable at Christmas.
Cliff had a crazy idea. He wasn’t sure if it would work, but there was only a few hours of Christmas left, so what could he lose. He made his way back to Jim and Ellie. Then he went into his story.
“Look, I know this is asking a lot, but there are a lot of miserable, lonely people in this hospital. Everyone is too busy to do anything about it, and I’ve got a little time on my hands, but I can’t do it by myself.”
“Now I sing a little, if we could just entertain them, even a few minutes, it would give them a better Christmas. Now what do you say? The doctors are swamped, you may be waiting hours, why not spend it spreading a little Christmas.”
Jim looked at Ellie. “We’d love too, but what about her foot?” Cliff pointed to a wheelchair. “We’ve got the Christmas express right here.” Ellie smiled, and that was all it took.
Jim asked. “Can you get me some paper cups and cotton? Maybe some tongue depressors?” Cliff didn’t ask why, he just did. That started a beautiful, special, multi hour journey.
Jim put on a makeshift magic show up and down the halls. Cliff and Ellie did duets, and took turns soloing a list of Christmas songs. Jim played the harmonica Alvin had mailed ahead in the Christmas presents.
Then he told jokes that even made Marie and Mr. Anderson stop arguing with each other for a while. The tongue depressors made great juggling utensils, Jim was pretty talented. Cliff told a Christmas story his Dad used to tell him, and Ellie read Luke Two as the finale of each performance, as softly and as beautifully as Cliff had ever heard.
What was supposed to last until triage gave away to an exam, went on til about one am, an hour passed the end of Cliff’s shift. He text Rosita he’d be late. An after the last group had found the Christmas they had given up on this year, he returned Jim and Ellie to the ER.
The doctors patched them up quickly, as Jim and Ellie sat quietly, happily exhausted. They had went from a quiet, miserable night, to a hectic, wonderful, and complicated Christmas. It wasn’t lost on Cliff that Mary and Joseph must have felt the same way after Jesus was born on another unexpectedly eventful night. After all, that was supposed to be tax day, not Christmas.
Cliff saw them to their car, and then got in his truck. He passed not only the white, green, and red lights of Christmas, but several blue ones too. He remembered thinking, ‘What had happened, and how he hoped no one was hurt.’
Rosita barely let him get through the door before she hugged him, tears streaming down her face. “Rosita honey, what’s wrong? I text you I’d be late. Are you okay?”
“I’m better. Cliff honey, I don’t know what kept you at the hospital, but it had to be a miracle. There was an accident down the street, a bad one. Thankfully they said everyone’s going to be okay, but it was about the time you normally would be getting home. Mike called from the precinct to make sure you were okay. He said the way it had happened, you would have probably been hit head on. You could have died.”
Cliff just held her. All he thought he was doing was making an old couple happy on Christmas. He didn’t know in helping them, he’d live to see another year. Then he wondered, ‘Ellie thought she had heard a burglar. Jim had thought she had heard him. Now Cliff wondered if she had heard one of God’s Angels to take care of all three of them?’
He was glad they’d insisted on giving him their number. It was too late tonight, but he’d call them in the morning. The three of them thought they were bringing gifts to lonely people. Now they knew, like the wisemen before them, they received so much more than what what they had offered.
Today is Letter Writing Day, and while no one seems to know how it started, it’s a great idea. Write, text, or email a friend Today something kind. Let them know they’re not alone.
“Barley candy and chicken bones for Christmas, it’s a Canadian tradition. It’s stick sugar candy that looks like Santa and Snowmen.” Zack told an unbelieving Emiko. “In Tokyo we drink barley tea, and eat fried chicken on Christmas.”
This dumbfounded Zack. “What do you eat for dessert, tuna ice cream?” Which he knew she had tried, but didn’t care for.
“It’s a whole lot better than fruit cake I’ll tell you that. Christmas dessert for us is what you call Strawberry Shortcake. Sponge cake shaped like a Christmas tree, with strawberries and whip cream.”
Zack smiled at his college bride. They had dated for six months before he proposed, and had planned a small wedding, with mostly family and a few friends. Through no fault of them, or their family, only friends made it to the wedding.
An emergency landing kept Emiko’s parents from making the ceremony. Thankfully they were all right. Zach’s Mom and Dad were both doctors at the same hospital, and emergency surgeries called them back at the last minute.
The couple had tried to postpone, but each parent insisted that the wedding not be ruined. The wedding was beautiful, and the Zach and Emiko’s friends had photographed and videoed every aspect of the wedding for each set of parents.
Anne and Marty, Aika and Hisashi had both felt horrible about it. So they reached out to the others and came with an idea to make it up to the two young people. They had went on a small honeymoon, putting most of the money towards a future home.
The Hobbs and Ishikawa families promised to give the couple a Christmas trip to anywhere they wanted. Now Zack and Emiko were dreaming of where that would be. They ruled out place by place, as they realized that this was one of those once in a lifetime family memory trips.
Family Memory Trips were what Marty had always called those adventures that Zack and his family talked about years later. Like the time they had went to Colorado to ski. It was the most fun he remembered anyone having with a broken leg.
His Dad had fell off the ski lift the first day, but he did his best to keep everyone else laughing. He didn’t find out til years later that his Dad was in severe pain, but didn’t want to ruin everyone’s trip.
Then there was the time they went camping in September. They didn’t tell the kids, but the reason for that trip were cut backs at the hospital, which eliminated the vacation budget that year. The kids didn’t know the difference.
Emiko listened for awhile, then added her own stories. Her Dad opened his own business when she was 13, and worked a lot of long hours. Still, for her birthday, he closed the shop, and spent the entire day with the family. He didn’t say anything, but her Mom told her he had lost a major client because of this.
Then she talked about the time her Mom had went through major surgery. That Christmas, they expected to be very low key, but her Mom decorated every room in the house. Story after story, they realized the sacrifices their parents had made for them.
“We can’t take the trip we were thinking about a few minutes ago can we?” Zack said, knowing her answer. “No, but we can do something much better.” As she picked up her phone to text her brother.
That night they both talked to their siblings, and worked out a plan. Instead of a major trip to some exotic place, they chose a small bed and breakfast near their home. Hank Crenshaw cut the price he charged Zack’s parents to almost nothing, just enough they hoped, for Marty not to make the connection. They split the remaining cost of the rooms with Sally, Zack’s sister.
Emiko called the local travel agent, and orchestrated her parents booking their tickets through her. Her brothers helped them with the cost for Aika and Hisashi.
Each set of parents didn’t say anything to them, but they were both suspicious. Still, they had promised to do whatever the kids wanted. So the four of them prepared for the Christmas trip.
Each were a little disappointed when the other siblings made excuses to keep their parents from buying their tickets. The two couples arrived a little sad, afraid the whole family wouldn’t be together for Christmas. It was a week before Christmas, but the kids had a plan.
Zack and Emiko knew they were the offspring of mystery lovers and crossword enthusiasts, so they had to give them an ‘aha’ moment without spoiling the entire surprise. So, when they got in the car that had been sent for them from the airport, Emiko’s oldest brother was the driver.
When they got to the hotel, Zack’s sister greeted them from the desk, where the hotel clerk would normally have been. Over the course of the first hour, each child surprised the parents with their presence. This was sure, they reasoned, to throw the four off their guard.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity. Zack and Emiko had planned different things, but those turned out not to be more monotonous than memorable. It was the unexpected moments that became special.
Marty couldn’t sleep that night because of his acid reflux, so he slipped downstairs to sit in the lobby and look at the decorations. Zack’s sister got her Mother’s looks, but her Father’s stomach. She was popping antacids as she walked down the steps. “Dad, why are you up?”
Seeing the pills in her hand replied. “I didn’t have those. Share with your Father.” Then after a few minutes he pulled out his phone. Sally was disappointed for a minute, afraid the special moment would be ruined by distraction.
“I’m not tweeting, I’m getting your brother and his pre-middle aged stomach out of bed to join us.” It took three rings, but soon he joined them, unshaven and hair out of place, still smiling.
The three of them didn’t go to bed until long after the antacids had kicked in. The only detriment was, breakfast became brunch for everyone the next morning, precautionary meds were the first course. Late nights were one thing, burping up dinner was another.
After this, Aika and Anne decided they were going shopping. The men thought they’d stay back while all the girls attacked the mall. The ladies didn’t think so. For love of their spouses, Hisashi, Genzo, Haruto, Zack, and Tom, Sally’s husband, all went to a mall before Christmas.
These are the men who ordered everything online two months ahead just to avoid this nightmare. They walked into every store, were attentive as the women found nothing to wear, then carried the bags of “nothing” all through the mall.
Coffees, popcorn, and all sorts of sweets were sampled. Pictures were taken with Santa, and yes, they all waited in line for an hour to get the pictures. The men even purchased the ugliest Christmas sweaters they could find. Much to the detriment of each spouse. It was a wonderful afternoon.
That night, Zack surprised them all with a sleigh ride through the snow that he had scheduled. It was ok, but forgettable, until Tom lost his balance getting out of the sleigh, and tumbled into the snow.
That sparked a snowball fight, started by Genzo’s wife, Mina, which turned out to be the highlight of the night. It was another late night, only this time everyone joined in. Soon it was Christmas Day, and everyone gathered for a huge feast, spontaneous holiday karaoke, with very bad, off key, wonderful noise, and gifts.
True to tradition, the parents insisted the kids go first. The four had pooled their resources to give Zack and Emiko got two tickets to Hawaii. The parents had guessed the plan, and planned accordingly.
Not to treat the daughter any differently, Sally and Tom got the European trip they had dreamed about. Aika and Hisashi got their two sons, and daughter-in-laws each a trip. One to Alaska, and the other to Australia.
The last few years had been good to the elder Hobbs and Ishikawa’s businesses. They were able to give their kids what they hadn’t been able to years before. Each had raised good children, and were now able to reward the wonderful adults they had become.
After the money they knew had been spent on this special trip, they didn’t really expect large gifts from the kids. An while they weren’t that expensive, they were very special.
Marty got a banjo from Zack. Though an old one, it was a fairly inexpensive, used one, with one special feature. Zack had found it online, then brought it with him to a local bookstore to get an autograph from a musician that he knew his Dad loved. The banjo player had just wrote a book, which was the reason for Zack’s purchase of the banjo.
He knew his Dad would love an autographed book, but he’d love the autographed banjo more. Zack made sure it was just vintage enough to earn the interest of the musician and author, and he was right. Zach even got a song played by the artist on the banjo, and a video for his Dad.
Marty had tears, not so much at the gift alone, but the love behind it. Anne expected something more commercial, knowing it was hard to capture lightning twice. So she prepared herself for the huge smile, regardless of what was in the box.
What she didn’t expect, was a pack of assorted notes wrapped in ribbon. Confused at first, she recognized the writing almost instantly. It was from her best friend of over thirty years. The next was from another friend she hadn’t seen in almost that long.
“I emailed, called, and text everyone I could get a hold of. You never were much for gadgets, so I thought this may be special to put a little old fashioned into your Christmas. The last few letters are from each of us.”
Anne’s face soon matched Marty’s, as hugs were exchanged to everyone. Emiko handed her Mom her gift first. It was large, and Aika couldn’t figure out what it was. When she opened it though, she was ecstatic.
It was a portrait of her Mother in the traditional Nihonga style. “It was from that old photo you love. I think the artist did a really good job, but it’s unsigned.”
Her Mother laughed through tears. “It doesn’t have to be signed. I recognize my daughter’s brushstrokes. Don’t you know I’ve been a fan of your art since preschool crayons?”
Emiko blushed. Not used to painting this way, she was saving this little tidbit of information until she saw whether or not her Mother liked it. Her Mom insisted she sign it right away. Aika knew her daughter, who like most artists, were never far from their tools.
Emiko handed Hisashi his gift. Like Anne, he was prepared for, not a lesser gift, but a less spectacular one let’s say. He too, was pleasantly surprised. Hisashi, a Jazz fan, opened the box to see an original record and cover of “Ella and Louis”. Plus one of those portable turn table that he could hook to his laptop.
Each of the other siblings had gifts just as special, and the parents treasured each one. A vintage pocket watch for Marty from Sally. Plus, a doctor’s bag from the turn of the century for Anne.
Each of Hisashi and Aika’s boys, and their wives, got their Dad special records, including one of Bing Crosby’s Christmas records. Aika was given a classic typewriter for her office, plus a limited edition fountain pen. After telling each child they spent too much, records were played, and gifts were enjoyed.
The treasure though wasn’t the crackles of vinyl, clackety typewriter keys, or banjo strings. The real art in the room wasn’t even the painting, or the letters. It was the children, each parent looked at their most precious contribution to their legacy. Which was the happy faces of the gifts that God had given them.
Because of a Child, Christmas became a reality. An while no other is quite like Him, I do believe He intended for Christmas to always be filled with children. May your home, and heart, be filled with both Christ and the children, those precious gifts, He gives this Christmas.
Merry Christmas from PruittWrites!
The Christmas Guitar
It may look like just an old flat top guitar with a cherry burst finish, nestled in green cellophane, in the window of a pawn shop. That may be what it looks like, but every musical instrument has a story. Some are celebrated, others are rarely told, and some seem to have more than one lifetime. As guitars go, this one was pretty special.
I know it wasn’t anything magical, or anything like that, but this Christmas, it made a huge difference in my life. My name is Taylor, and our story started on an old bus. I was hungry, tired, and hopeless. It was the first of December, and I didn’t care about where I was going.
My only friend was that old guitar. I strummed a few chords, and sang as the sounds from the road accompanied me. There was only a few people on the bus, but they were up front. The driver had told me he didn’t mind my playing, as long as I was quiet. You wouldn’t know it to look at me then, but I used to be somebody.
In fact, I was a college professor, even worse, I was president of a small college in Colorado. At least until the day I boarded the bus. I imagine a few people asked where I was, maybe even thought it odd, but it probably passed soon enough.
I had grabbed my first bus at the end of September, when everything went wrong. No one would recognize me now. The clean cut college president, now had a half healed broken leg, and a black beard with a little gray in it.
About dark, the bus pulled to a stop. I gingerly carried it as I hobbled out quickly. I walked from the bus stop, not really anxious to get somewhere.
About a mile later, me, it, and my partially healed leg were ready to stop walking. I sat down off the road to catch my breath. A semi stopped and asked me where I was going.
“Anywhere really.” I said, too tired to walk any more, I didn’t care where I went. “Ok, you can ride for a while.”
We rode for about twenty miles, and then he pulled off by a small diner. “Come on friend. I’m hungry, you look like you are, and I hate to eat alone.” I was too starved to argue.
We both had a roast beef sandwich and a cup of potato soup. The coffee was good, and the apple pie went with it well. I looked at this stranger with appreciation, and curiosity, and said thank you.
He smiled. “What you really want to say is why. Why ask someone you don’t know, toting a guitar, to ride? Let’s just say I’ve walked that same road a time or two, and I prefer to ride. My name’s Wes Atkins.”
“You can call me Taylor. I’m grateful to you. I wasn’t feeling up to going any further on foot. What can I do to repay you?” He smiled, paused, and looked out the window.
“You can tell me a story, and then sing a lady a song. After that we’re even. Sound ok?” I nodded, thinking I didn’t have anything to lose.
“What story do you want to hear?” He gave me a deadpan look, and I swallowed hard. “Why do you want to know that story?”
He laughed. “Now you’re stalling. Remember you agreed. Let’s have the story now, the song will come later.”
It took me a minute, but I sighed, and began a version of my story. “I was pretty successful, and had just got a promotion a few months ago. There was this project that I stuck my neck out for. It went badly, and I left. Now here I am.”
I figured he would get angry, since I had purposely left a lot out. He didn’t, just shook his head, drank his coffee, and headed for the door. I didn’t immediately follow, until he looked back. “You coming?”
I grabbed my guitar and followed. Then as he paid the bill, before walking out, he said. “You still owe me a song.”
We got back in the semi, and drove all night. The next morning he pulled in to a truck stop. “I’ve got to catch some shut eye. You should too. We’ve got a long road to go.”
Like I said, I didn’t care where I went, so I listened. My guess was he was a lonely old man, and liked the company. We rode for days, and he never once asked me about my past again.
We did talk about a lot of other things. Wes was pretty smart. He even knew a little Shakespeare. He had a way of drawing out my opinions on things.
He was easy to like, and we became friends. Wes talked about his wife, his kids, and his grandkids. One day he asked me if I ever had a girl of my own. I muttered something. I wasn’t even sure myself what I had said.
I know what I didn’t do. I didn’t go into any details, I wasn’t about too. Wes was nice, but that door was closed, and I would not reopen it, it was too painful. Instead I told happy stories, sang happy songs, and lied deeply to myself.
About a week into my trip, we crossed a line I didn’t care for. It was the Kansas state line. That meant we were one state away from the place I said I’d never go back too. Wes and I almost parted ways that morning.
He could tell I was edgy, but he didn’t push it. “If you have other plans I understand. I hate to finish the rest of the trip alone, but if you need to go, it’s ok. Of course, you still owe me a song for a lady.”
“About that, you never told me who the lady was, or what song to sing? I may not even know the words.” He didn’t respond to my excuses, Wes just waited. Finally, I gave in, sighed, and said I’d stay.
By that evening I had settled down, and things were back to normal. We pulled in to another truck stop, and everyone greeted him. He seemed to be almost a fixture to everyone there.
He smiled at me and explained. “I’ve spent a lot of my life in truck stops, especially this one. One winter’s night, it was pretty important.”
We both had a surprisingly good cup of coffee in our hands, and I was in a mood for a story that wasn’t about me, so I smiled and nodded. A storyteller doesn’t need a lot of encouragement.
“I was a young man, and we had just had our first a child about a month before. I hated leaving, but there were doctor bills to pay, and it was winter time. It had started out as a mild winter, but just about twenty miles from here, that changed in a hurry.”
“The first few miles it was mostly snow, when I was a little ways out, but the stop was in sight. I hit a patch of ice. Thankfully that day, there weren’t other crazy people on the road, just me. I tried every trick I knew, but she wasn’t about to stop.”
“This is usually the part of the story where people will tell you that they had tried everything else, and said a quick prayer, but son, I was praying all the way. I had never been a fan of pot holes, and I don’t particularly care for them today, but that day, I was mighty happy to hit one.”
“As near as we could figure later, the pavement there gave way about the time my tire hit it, breaking the ice above it. That one little break, gave me the few seconds I needed to regain control of the semi. I skidded to a stop, but it was a safe one.”
“I got out of that truck, never wanting to get back into one again. An for the next 24 hours I didn’t. I holed up here to frightened to leave. That’s how me and Pete there became friends. He owns it now, but he just worked there then.”
A storyteller isn’t finished when he pauses, he’s just waiting to see if you’re ready for more. Of course I was. Fear was something that I understood.
He poured a little more coffee from the carafe the waitress had left, and continued. “That next day, I called my Wife to tell her I was going to find another line of work. Before I did, I asked her how she was, and how the baby was.”
“She said Lil Bit hadn’t slept through the night, and she was afraid she had a touch of colic. It turned out to just be a cold, but I didn’t know it then. All I knew was my Wife was tired, and my baby was sick. I didn’t have time to look for something new, or better, at least not if it meant being unemployed.”
“I could find another job, but I couldn’t do it without the one I had. So I said goodbye to Pete, spoke another quick prayer, and got back on the truck, still scared to death. It took about a month before I got over it, and about three months before I could think about it without being scared.”
“It probably makes me sound like a coward, but it’s the way I felt. For the first few trips, I actually avoided this place. I didn’t like to be reminded of what almost happened, or how afraid I was.”
This time, I thought he’d never finish that last drink of coffee and go on. Finally I had to know. “What made you go back? There are other stops near here. Was the coffee that good, or are the other stop’s food that bad.”
He laughed. “Yes on both counts, but it wasn’t that. Stopping here made my route shorter, which meant less time a way on a trip. Which meant I got to spend more time with my family. Plus, I liked the people here.”
“People are important, and on the road, there are a lot of unfriendly faces. You learn to appreciate the welcoming ones. They aren’t always around.”
He seemed to sense that my edginess was on the verge of coming back, so he changed the subject. “I think I’ll call my Wife and check on her. You finish your pie, I’m going to head back to the truck and turn in.”
I finished it, and thought of what I had left behind. It wasn’t a Wife and kids. It was the promise of something that I felt I had let down. Everything I had tried, all my plans, had went south.
My intentions were to get as far from them as I could. Now it looked like we were headed back that way. That’s when it hit me, I had never asked Wes where we were going. I was going to when I got back to the truck, but he was already asleep.
So I figured it would keep until the morning, and tried to go to sleep myself. I tossed and turned a lot, but eventually made it. It would have been better if I hadn’t.
I had nightmares about all the people I had disappointed, and all the hopes that I had dashed. By four am, I was up, and I was heading towards the door of the truck. Wes spoke from behind me.
“I’m not going to stop you, or to tell you about running. You’ve probably heard it, and it would sound trivial, but I would like to ask you a question. If you’ll let me?”
I sighed like a pouting child, turned around, and told him to go ahead. He wasn’t interested in my attitude, he just ignored it.
“What do you think hurt the people you walked out on most, the thing you did, or the fact that you left?” He didn’t ask it in a judgmental way, but it stung. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. Memories of faces stopped me.
I just stood there a few minutes, and so did he. Finally I slumped into the passenger’s seat, and he started the rig. We went a few miles, then I started talking.
“How did you know I was running from something?” I smiled, only half way joking. “You weren’t tracking me were you?” He laughed, and shook his head.
“No son, I’m a Granddad. I’ve seen scared in three generations. In the mirror, in my kids, and in my Grandkids. I never saw it in my Dad, although he told me once how scared he had been in the army.”
“Matter of fact, he told me after he heard me telling a version of what had happened to me, minus the embarrassing parts. No, I didn’t know who you were at first.”
He said it with kind eyes, but I was trying to understand what he meant. “Please don’t tell me it’s already on the internet. I mean, probably the local paper, but not everywhere.”
“It might be, I don’t know. You don’t know me, and that’s fine, but I mentioned I’m a Dad and Grandad. A few days in, I got a call from my youngest daughter. She lives in a little town in Colorado, and she told me about what was going on there. I put two and two together, and wouldn’t you know, they still make four.”
I feigned anger. “So you thought you’d make it your business to take me back? It’s nobody’s business …”
His look stopped me. It wasn’t stern, but it had authority behind that smile. “I’m not taking you anywhere. She lives there, I live in a town near there. I’m going where I always said I was.”
“You can meet my Wife, and most of the family. If you want to meet the rest, you’ve got to travel that road. You see, the last few miles are always the hardest. A man needs the help with the first few hundred, but those last few, you’ve got to choose to go those for yourself.”
I just looked at him, and then out the window. The next morning, I wanted to talk, but wasn’t brave enough to try. He pulled off at another stop right across the Colorado line.
“I asked you to play a lady a song. The lady is in there, and she needs a good one. It might surprise you to know, you weren’t the reason for this trip. I’ve been retired for a year now, too old for this, but that lady in there, she needed help.”
“So I volunteered, me and my eighteen wheeled friends here, figured we could make one more trip together. We’ve made a lot, the three of us. My truck, my trailer, and me, but I gave them to my second youngest husband last year.”
“He’s going to be ok, but it will take a little while. A few months back, Andrew was in the local bank. He was going to make a deposit. The guy behind him was going to make a withdrawal, and not the right way.”
“Andrew could have just let the man rob the bank, but he didn’t. He stopped the man, and ended up with two bullets in him. The doctor said no work for six months to a year. They had sunk everything they had into the business, and I couldn’t let them fail. So, I volunteered to make this run for them.”
“He should be well enough to make the next trip, but they couldn’t miss this one. Abby is pretty down. She tells herself it’s going to be okay, but she doesn’t quite believe.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “How is a song going to make a difference? Wes, I like you, but things aren’t that easy. I can’t just waltz in there, sing a few words, and make it better. I don’t know if Sinatra could do that.”
For the first time, Wes got angry. “That’s the trouble with a lot of folks any more. They think because they don’t know everything, that nothing will work. Half the people who achieved great things in this world only knew one or two things, but they were sure of them.”
“Churchill was sure that he had to stop Hitler, even if he didn’t know how. Reagan was sure the wall had to come down, even if it looked impossible. It might interest you to know, it’s not about you, or the song itself, it’s about a promise.”
“I don’t have time to explain, I just need you to go in, and sing a song. One song, and then you can do whatever you want, but we made a deal. Can you honor a deal Mr College President? Can you do that?”
I still didn’t understand, but the last two sentences had hit a chord, and he knew it. I was so angry I fought back tears, at least I told myself it was anger. “What song?”
He sighed, calmed down, and said another something weird. “You pick it. Just make sure it’s a Christmas song, and even if you have to sing it twice, that it’s at least three minutes long.”
There wasn’t any question for me what I was going to play. It had been written with a guitar I believe, because the organ had been broken at the time. I only wondered if I could calm down enough to sing Silent Night the right way.
I knew how to play it, so I grabbed my old friend. When I walked in the stop, it wasn’t as nice as some we’d been in, but it was clean. There was a little stage sat up, with a stool, and a microphone.
Apparently they had been waiting for me. When I walked in with Wes I saw the resemblance as I crossed the floor to the stage. She had tears in her eyes. Her husband, who looked as angry as I had been, sat at a table with a cane.
I pulled a pick from my pocket, adjusted the mike, and started to sing. The clock above the window ticked away, and I was mentally counting the time. At about two minutes in, Wes walked over to Andrew, leaned down, and whispered something in his ear. All while placing something in his hand.
His eyes got very big, and he stared at Wes for a moment, then he broke. Through tears, he looked at his Wife, and struggled to stand. She started to rush to him, but Wes stopped her with a look.
He made it to his feet, and he and the cane made it to her. A gentle kiss, a hug, and two smiles. As the song ended, Wes poured us all some coffee, and started slicing the coconut cake that was in the glass case.
“Abby always loved coconut cake. It was her favorite, and still is. What did the doctor say Andrew?”
The man looked totally different somehow, kindness seems to take a few years off that anger puts on. “He says maybe three more months, but I’ll get there sir, I promise.”
Wes laughed. “I always knew you would. I didn’t volunteer because I didn’t have confidence in you. I did it because everyone, even a man, needs help sometimes. Me, Comet, and Cupid can still make the trip.”
I blinked. “Now I know I either need hearing aids, or to wake up. What did you say?”
Abby laughed. “When we were kids, I got the crazy idea that Dad was Santa Claus. Probably because he was the only one I had told about the gift that was marked “Santa” for my third birthday. Ever since then he joked that his semi was as fast as Comet, and the trailer always followed Comet, so that made her Cupid.”
“Dad made us a promise. That he would be back in time for the payment on the truck stop. We bought it, before all of this, as a backup to the truck. So Andrew wouldn’t have to spend too much time on the road.”
Andrew finished her story. “He said that he would be back, with the check, and a song, and some Christmas cheer. I didn’t believe any of it, but he did it. Him, that big red semi, and apparently a new friend.”
I laughed. “I think that makes me an elf. What do you say Santa?”
Wes never missed a thing. “Nope, too tall. Besides, you wouldn’t look good in green.” We talked with them for a few hours, and then Wes gathered his gear out of “Comet”, and said goodbye.
First to his family, and then, to “his team”. When we got in his old pickup I made a joke. “What this one’s name, Donner?”
HIs response, “No, Blitzen. We call the Cadillac Rudolph.” I just laughed. There was something he hadn’t explained, and I was curious. “Wes, why three minutes?”
He glanced at me. “How did you brake your leg?” I hung my head in shame, “Catching the first bus in September. I was late, and almost didn’t make it. It hurt, but not as bad as leaving people did.”
He nodded. “Your leg needed time to heal, just like the pain over what happened. You had to deal with it gradually, so did Andrew. He had to realize I wasn’t helping him out of pride or pity. He was angry that he couldn’t fix it, and had been short with himself, Abby, and everyone else.”
“At the right minute, I handed the check over that we picked up yesterday, and gave him a message. It did the trick, and no, the message was between him and me, but it reassured him that we respected and loved him, not just Abby.”
I thought a lot about it til we arrived at his house. Mrs. Atkins was a lovely woman, and so were the two twin boys, Eric and Michael. We all had dinner, and went to bed.
The next morning, it was snowing as we sat down to breakfast. “So tell me Mrs. Atkins, I know you have another daughter, what’s her name?” I thought she didn’t hear me at the time, so I repeated.
She motioned over her shoulder as she lifted the pancakes out of the pan. “Her picture is on the piano, it’s Katherine.” I had stood up when she said picture, and was halfway to the piano, when I stopped cold at the name.
I told myself it all made sense, but I still couldn’t believe it. Wes had just walked in with some firewood when he saw what was happening. I looked at her, then at him, and then started walking towards the door.
“Which direction are you heading? If you’re going East, you’ll need the guitar. If you’re going west, the memories will just get in your way.”
I just grinned as I held out my hand. “Keys please Mr. Claus?” He gave me a set, I grabbed the guitar, and followed the directions Mrs. Atkins told me quickly from the kitchen.
I pulled in to Wildwood Colorado thirty minutes later. The snow slowed me down. I passed what had been Gretsch college, and I headed to the local library where Katherine still worked. I didn’t know what would happen, and I expected anything.
The main desk was on one end of the library, I went in through the other door. My nerves were yelling at me that I was crazy, and I was afraid I’d botch any speech I tried. So I thought, maybe sisters do think and act like one person.
I found a chair, and started to play. This time, I thought, I have to make enough noise to get the attention of the head librarian. Go Tell It On The Mountain could be loud, so I started playing.
Anger was on her face as she turned the corner, and then realization. I didn’t expect a smile, and was just thankful there wasn’t a scowl. She let me finish the song, but didn’t clap, not that I expected it.
I stood up, and walked slowly towards her, hoping she wouldn’t turn away. My mind was racing for the words to say, and they weren’t coming. Finally, I went for pathetic. “How much for a library card?”
She looked at the guitar, then at me. “For the guitar seven dollars. For you a thousand.”
I whispered I’d be glad to pay it, but it might take a lifetime. She said something about was I sure I didn’t have a bus to catch. I deserved that.
“I can catch another bus if you want me too.” She looked at me with a mixture of emotions. “I never wanted you to leave, now, how can I be sure you’re going to stay?”
I took her hand. “I don’t travel away from home without my guitar. If I sell it, I’ll never leave.”
She looked at me like I was crazy, and I pulled her outside. “Where are we going?” I pointed to the pawn shop down the road, and she got in the car.
I pawned it, and tore up the ticket. The pawn shop guy just looked at me, as he placed it in the window. She looked at me. “This doesn’t fix everything, but it’s a start.”
“I told her that was all I needed, and kissed her. Today is Christmas Eve, and you probably still have a ton of questions. This is where you came in, and asked me why I was staring at that old guitar in the window.”
“You tell a good story stranger, but you left a lot out. What happened at the college? What made you leave her to start with?”
“The college was scheduled to close two years ago. I was a new professor at it. I had went to school there. It was a small college, and never had made a lot of money, but it was really in the hole. The board of trustees were ready to cut their losses and close it then.”
“I see, but you convinced them to let you try and save it. I take it things didn’t work out? Was that why you left?”
“It wasn’t just that the funds weren’t there, or that the college was going to close. I had convinced the faculty, and everyone involved to invest in the college’s future. I was so sure it would succeed, that I ignored all the signs that it couldn’t.”
“Katherine put her life savings into the place, and I had cost her that. There’s a businessman in town, a successful one, John Martin. He was in love with her too. I figured if I was out of the picture, he could provide for her where I couldn’t.”
“I sold everything I had, cashed in what little nest egg that I hadn’t already sunk into the college, and had my secretary parse it out to the people who had relied on me. She gave it to them, along with a letter of apology.”
“I took enough to get bus fare, and food, and left. I figured I would only be a painful reminder of a broken dream. I couldn’t bear that, so I left, hoping they’d forget I was ever here to start with.”
The little man in a green coat with smiling green eyes, and white hair looked at me. “Are you glad you’re back?” Then I showed him the ring.
“They’ve got an awful lot of neat things in that pawn shop. It’s a cheap engagement ring, but we’ll make it work. Until Andrew is healed up, I’m going to run the rig, and split the profits.”
“It will keep Katherine and I going, and them, and eventually, maybe we can reopen the college. Either way, we’ll get by, as long as we’re together.”
The man pointed at the window. “It looks like someone just bought your guitar young man. Are you okay with it being gone? It seems it’s quite an instrument.”
“Yeah, I’ll miss it, but it’s worth it. Sometimes you have to give up something, to get something even more valuable. Although I’ll always be grateful for that instrument.”
The man smiled and looked over my shoulder to someone behind me. “You said you’d never leave home without it. I can’t have my husband to be lying.”
It was Katherine, and there was a little green cellophane in her hand, along with something else. My fiancé almost dropped both when I held, and kissed her. She didn’t though, and from then on, I never let either of them go, her, or my Christmas Guitar.
We’ve feasted, strung our lights, laughed, and some poor souls braved the hordes for bargains. Today, we go to worship The Creator of blessings, light, laughter, and life itself. This day, as in every season, regardless of circumstances, we see His Light, feel the warmth He created, and experience because He created us.
We exist because He wanted to give us life. We can know Him because He gave His life to redeem us. He’s given us so much, and today, we go to say thank you. We do this, not only today, but every day, because each is a gift that did not have to exist.
We humans talk a lot about destiny, but until He decided to design us, it was only a concept in His mind. Everything we have, everything good about us, is because of Jesus. When I meet you in the Sanctuary this morning, let’s join our hearts, our voices, and our determination together, to not only say thank you today, but to live it tomorrow.