Dear friends. Following is a fiction story (based on truth) that I wrote some years ago after my husband Charles shared a memory of an inspiring incident in the life of his father Charlie that occurred one cold and poverty-stricken Christmas season.
Charlie pushed open the lace curtains on the parlor window. He pressed his face against the cold glass. His warm breath sent up little puffs of steam. The wind howled outside the small frame house. And the early morning sky looked silvery and blue and orange against the gray Kentucky hills.
“Papa, can you hear me?” Charlie whispered. “It’s Christmas morning. Is it Christmas in Heaven too?”
Charlie reached over and touched the little tree in the corner of the room. “I wish you could see our Christmas tree, Papa. It’s small and crooked, but I like it. It was the last one Mr. O’Mara had. He gave it to us! Emily and Clara and Jessie and Peter and I made paper decorations. Elizabeth drew a star. Mama put it on top, but it’s kind of funny-looking.”
“Charlie, is that you?”
Charlie jumped at the sound of his mother’s voice. He turned and saw Mama standing in the narrow doorway to the hall. Bits of curly brown hair poked out from under her night cap.
“What are you doing up so early?” she asked. “You’ll freeze to death standing in that thin nightshirt.”
Charlie felt his mother’s soft arms go around him like a warm blanket. He snuggled close.
“Are you talking to Papa again?”
“You miss him a lot, don’t you?”
Charlie couldn’t answer. Her question made his throat tighten. He barely swallowed.
“It’s all right,” she said. “I miss him, too.” Mama hugged Charlie close, then patted his shoulder. “Back to bed,” she said. “I know it’s Christmas morn. But no need to get up yet.”
“But Mama, what about presents? Elizabeth wants a doll and Peter and Jessie…”
“Hush, Charlie.” He saw her eyes fill with tears. “None this year. You know that.” She handed him a blanket. “Wrap yourself in the quilt,” she said. “It’s the only way to keep warm. I’m going to look in on your sisters.”
Charlie shivered as he ran down the hall. He stopped by the kitchen door at the back of the house and looked out. He knew there was no more coal in the shed and no wood on the porch. And there was no money in the tin box under Mama’s bed. He had looked.
Charlie felt sick in his stomach. He was the oldest one in the family. He had turned twelve in October. He had to do something to help! But what could he do? He was just a boy. He walked back to the girls’ room and stood at the doorway. He saw Elizabeth and Clara and Emily tucked under the star quilt Mama had made.
Mother was pulling an old sweater over Elizabeth’s head.
“Mama,” whispered Charlie, “I want to do something to help.”
“You can trust the Lord,” said Mama in a low, calm voice. “He’ll take care of us. You’ll see. Now back to bed, young man.”
Charlie jumped back in his bed and rolled himself in the torn quilt. Jessie and Peter were huddled together asleep in their bed.
Whenever I ask Mama how I can help she always says, “God will take care of us. You’ll see.”
She had said it when Papa died. And when they were almost out of food. And now when all the coal was gone.
“God will take care of us. You’ll see.”
But Charlie didn’t see it the way Mama did. He didn’t see why Papa had to die. He didn’t see why there were no presents on Christmas. He didn’t see why there was no coal for a fire in the pot-bellied stove.
What was that? Charlie heard a clump-clump noise out back. He sat up in bed. He heard it again. He jumped up and ran to the kitchen window. A man in a big hat stood in a wagon hitched to two horses. And he was shoveling coal into their coal shed as fast as he could.
We didn’t order any coal. I’ve got to stop him! Charlie opened the door to the back porch, stepped into his high-top boots and ran into the yard. The wind bit into his bare legs and blew clean through his nightshirt.
He’d been so nervous he forgot to grab Papa’s old coat hanging by the door. He ran back and pulled it off the hook. Mama had given it to him for his birthday. It was too big but that didn’t matter. It smelled like Papa.
Charlie put on the coat and ran out again, waving his arms at the man in the wagon. “Stop, Mister. Stop!” he shouted. But the man kept right on shoveling. “Please, Mister,” Charlie begged. “You’ve got the wrong house. We didn’t order no coal.”
The man looked up. “This is the Tucker house, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but….” Charlie stopped. He hung his head. “Mister, we don’t have any money…”
“I know,” said the man, as he scooped up more coal.
“Our papa died,” Charlie shouted into the wind.
Charlie reached up and pulled at the man’s pant leg. “Sir, please stop! We can’t pay you.”
The man bent down and leaned on his shovel. “Son,” he said gently, “you don’t have to pay. This is a gift–a Christmas gift. The man who sent it made me promise not to tell his name.”
Charlie looked at the mountain of coal in the wagon. There was enough to keep the family warm all winter. “Coal for Christmas,” he exclaimed. “A present for all of us!”
Charlie swiped at the tears trickling down his cheeks with the sleeve of Papa’s coat. Mama’s words tumbled over in his mind. “The Lord will take care of us. You’ll see.”
Soon the man was finished. He turned and smiled down at Charlie. “Merry Christmas,” he said. Then he slapped the reigns and turned the horses around. “Giddyap,” he called, and off they trotted, pulling the empty wagon behind them.
Charlie looked through the coal shed window. It was filled with hundreds of shiny black nuggets. Now we can have hot tea and toast with jam. And we can sit by the fire and warm our hands and feet.
Charlie ran toward the house. When he looked up there stood Mama in the window, smiling. She was holding Elizabeth. Clara and Emily and Jessie and Peter crowded around her. Mama’s eyes sparkled like sun on fresh snow.
Charlie smiled back. Then he threw up his hands and clapped. Now he knew what Mama meant when she had said, “The Lord will take care of us. You’ll see.”
He did see–just like Mama did.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8)
Merry Christmas from me to you, my dear friends and followers.