On Christmas morning, 1912, in Paducah, Kentucky, fourteen-year-old Charlie Flowers and his three brothers and two sisters huddled in their beds, fully dressed, trying to keep warm as the wind howled outside their small frame house.
It was a desperate time for the family. Earlier that year the children’s father had died. And their mother had not found work. The coal had run out and there was little money––none for gifts. Their scrawny tree with decorations made from scraps of colored paper had been given to them the night before by a local merchant. “Can’t sell this one,” the man said with a nod of his head before handing it over to the eager children.
To pass the time, the siblings joked and shouted stories from their bedrooms across the hallway from one another. Then suddenly a racket from the alley at the rear of the house broke into their games.
“Charlie,” his mother called, “would you see what’s going on out there?”
Charlie pulled on his shoes, grabbed a thick overcoat from the hook by the door, and ran out back. There stood a man in a wagon bent over a load of coal, shoveling it into the shed as fast as he could.
“Hey Mister, we didn’t order any coal,” Charlie shouted. “You’re delivering it to the wrong house.”
“Your name’s Flowers, isn’t it?” the man asked, still shoveling.
Charlie nodded yes.
“Well then, there’s no mistake. I’ve been asked to deliver this to your family on Christmas morning.” He looked the awe-struck boy square in the eye. “And I’m under strict orders not to tell who sent it,” he teased.
Charlie ran into the house, his coattail flapping in the cold morning wind. He could hardly wait to tell his mother and brothers and sisters. God had provided––just as he had on that first Christmas morning so long ago when He sent his only son to a needy world.
Charlie Flowers died in 1994 at age 96. And right up to the last year of his life, not a Christmas went by that he didn’t tell the story of that sub-zero Christmas morning of his boyhood when two men gave his family an unforgettable gift.
It wasn’t the coal that was remembered or cherished, Charlie often said––welcome as it was––but rather what two men brought to his desperate family. One, for his gift of recognizing their great need and taking the time to do something about it. And the other, for being willing to give up part of his own Christmas morning to deliver it.
That gift of so long ago has continued to warm the Flowers family from one generation to another, as Charlie’s son––my husband, Charles––calls to mind these two unknown men each Christmas morning and whispers a prayer of thanks.