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A Christmas Tale : A Token Of Need
The old man was cold. It didn’t help that the cars and trucks were fanning him with an icy breeze as he slowly pulled the rusted old Radio Flyer along the side of the highway. He wished he had a wool cap to cover his silver hair instead of the old felt hat crammed on his head. His shabby wool coat was torn in some places, but it managed to keep him from feeling miserably cold.
“Maybe I shouldn't have wandered so far out of Atlanta,” he thought “there aren’t too many houses out this way and it looks like it might start raining anytime.” Another line of traffic swept past him with one of the drivers racing the engine as it went by. In fact, the same black SUV had already been by several times today.
But the old man kept trudging along, never lifting his head up to look around. This was hilly country, the road rose at an angle which caused him to lean slightly forward to keep his balance. Chester Blake was 69 years old. He knew he shouldn’t be out here in the middle of nowhere in this weather. But he had no choice. So he had got on with it.
Love For The Lonely
Memories Of Christmas Past
“If some folks could see me now,” he mused “old high and mighty big shot.” But this thought made him laugh out loud instead of vent his rage. “Being poor isn’t as bad as some think, I learned the most wonderful things when I lost my fortune.” Twenty years earlier Chester had owned a large construction company which operated all over the state of Georgia. He moved in big circles around the city, and the city often moved in big circles round him.
But this fast paced life took its toll on Chester and his wife after a few years. Julia had died suddenly and he was all alone. It was almost like a dream now. During his grief he neglected to keep his eye on the new subcontractors he had recently co-partnered with.
Taking advantage of Chester’s sorrow and absence, they proceeded to swindle him, and the government, out of millions of dollars. He was implicated in the scam but managed to escape being tried because of the testimony given by his loyal employees. He didn’t expect this because he had neglected them too.
He didn’t go to jail but he was broke after all of the court battles. That was fifteen years ago. “At least the wheel don’t squeak anymore,” he said aloud. The noise made by one of the wagon wheels had grated on his nerves so bad he had stopped at a gas station and scrounged through a trash can until he found a oil container with a few drops of oil left in it. He quickly dripped it on the axle and pulled away. The clerk had been waving for him to get along the whole time.
Help From A Stranger
Light rain suddenly began tapping on the brim of the old hat as the light faded at a faster pace. The cold had finally managed to seep through the old coat causing Chester to wonder if he had made a mistake this time. It would soon be night.
Very few cars went by now, but those that did had turned on their lights. The black SUV had it’s lights on too. One vehicle, an old faded red truck with only the F-RD insignia left on the hood, had pulled up on the median behind Chester and stopped.
“Hey mister,” A friendly sounding voice said “you can’t stay out in this cold. You gonna freeze fore long if you do.” The door of the truck squawked open as a short stocky black man stepped out. “Come on, you’ll be sick as a dog fore long, I can put you up for the night easy as pie. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve and my wife wanted some company anyhow”
Chester pulled his hat back and smiled, his eyes began to shine and a single tear escaped. “You are very kind to do this for me,” Chester said “but I do not want to spoil your Christmas Eve plans.” The man laughed aloud as he said “My name’s Arlo Banks, and my wife, Ruby, don’t know anyone here, the same as me. We just moved here from down close to Valdosta and ain’t got settled in yet. Course, we got two young 'uns to keep us company. Come on and git in.”
Talk And Such
Arlo grabbed the old man’s wagon and placed it in the back as Chester crawled up into the warm cab. “Sorry if I smell kinda bad,” Chester said meekly “ I don’t get to wash too often these days.”
Arlo pulled back onto the road and sped up the hill as the rain began falling harder. “You’re welcome to take as long a bath as you want. I even got some clothes you can wear.” Chester smiled, “Thank you Arlo, But I have a clean set of clothes in my wagon. The bath sounds wonderful.”
For the next few miles they talked about the country and about Arlo’s move from south Georgia. "I didn’t want to come up here, but we kept having to bring George, that’s my youngest, up to Emory for treatments on his eyes. We hope he might be able to see fore long, at least a little bit. Ruby got tired of staying at motels so I got a job at a lumberyard nearby.”
A Christmas Home
Arlo turned off onto a narrow lane which led to a small frame house. It was old but seemed to have a friendly lived in look about it, just like Arlo himself did. “Come on in Chester,” Arlo said as he grabbed the rusty old wagon from the truck bed.
“Ruby!” Arlo yelled “We got that company you been a-wantin!" A slender smiling Ruby appeared at the door saying “You weren’t foolin’ were you Arlo? You crazy sometimes, you know that?”
Arlo hugged Ruby saying “This here is mister Chester Blake and he’s here to make our Christmas more social. Ain’t that the word you used?” Ruby shook Chester’s hand and led him inside. “Lord, Chester, I hope you like to talk, Arlo ain’t much good for conversation.” At this Chester laughed along with her, “I don’t think you will be disappointed Ruby.”
Ruby had cooked a fine meal for them, almost as if she knew Chester were coming for dinner. Chester got to meet Nettie the oldest child. She was only nine years old but insisted on helping Ruby in the kitchen.
George was there too, smiling as broadly as his father as he asked Chester question after question. He was only seven and wanted to know everything, as most seven year olds do. His eyes remained closed as he listened to Chester’s stories. Chester felt so lucky to be here.
Time For Toys
The food made them drowsy and they talked about many things. Finally the children were ushered off to bed. “Don’t ya’ll get back up now, ya heah, Santy Claus catches you lookin’ at him and everything turns to rocks, ya know,” Ruby told them.
She came back into the room and plopped down on the sofa. “I gotta rest a few minutes fore I put out the gifts, Arlo.” They talked a little more and Arlo began taking the children’s presents from their hiding places and placing them under the small tree.
There were not many of them. A new doll and purse for Nettie, a game with bells for Georgie along with a CD player with headphones. Ruby and Arlo didn’t have gifts for each other, the children were enough for them. “Well, we gonna turn in now Chester. You can use the bathroom for that shower if yore ready.” Chester stood up saying. “I think I’ll do that Arlo, I hope I don’t keep you awake, sometimes I can’t go to sleep right off.”
“We sleep like logs, Chester” Arlo laughed “watch TV if you want to, won’t bother us. That old sofa sleeps pretty good and Ruby left you plenty of blankets too.” Chester began rummaging through the old wagon, bringing out a bag from beneath its covering. “I’ll be fine Arlo, sleep well.” Chester headed for the hot bath as Arlo and Ruby left the room.
When Chester came out of the bathroom he was clean and rested. But he didn’t go right to sleep. The old sofa was indeed comfortable. He fluffed up the pillow so he could sit up comfortably. He pulled out a small notebook and pencil on which he scribbled for a while. Pausing and thinking between jots, he finally began getting sleepy.
He turned off the small lamp and lay back comfortably on the pillow. When Arlo got up to go the the bathroom he thought he heard the old man quietly talking to himself. “Poor ole feller,” he thought “but at least he’s warm tonight.”
A Christmas For Memories
Christmas Day began early at the Banks house. Arlo and Ruby delayed getting up, afraid to disturb Chester’s sleep. “What we gone do bout Chester?“ Ruby asked softly. “I don’t know,” Arlo said "but we won’t worry bout it today, Merry Christmas honey. Sorry I ain’t got nothin to give you.“
Ruby kissed him and smiled before saying "You know we made a deal to buy all them groceries instead. I’m right pleased with you bringing Chester here to remind us all how lucky we are.”
They finally got out of bed and went into the front room together saying “Merry Christmas, everyone up!“ But when they looked around the room they were speechless. The blankets on the sofa were gone and in their place sat presents. In fact, the whole room was filled with all shapes and sizes of gifts. The little tree was piled with stacks of brightly wrapped packages with name tags on each.
“I don’t understand” Arlo said “what happened to Chester?" The kids were up and came running into the room, Nettie leading George by the hand. “Oh my," she said “I never thought I had been this good a girl.”
They all laughed as the children launched into the presents, slinging wrapping paper everywhere. Placed prominently on the coffee table was a large Christmas card which read :
To My Christmas Angels.
As the children were handed gifts to open, Ruby read the card. It said:
A Message of Thankfulness
To the Banks Family,
I want to thank you for your kindness to me with these small tokens of my esteem. I was not lying when I said I had lost everything fifteen years ago. My life was saved by folks much like your wonderful family.
They shared everything with me even though they didn’t have enough for themselves. It is easy to be generous when large sums of money mean nothing but power to you. But to do so when you have little, is a sign of love.
I managed to restore my business eventually and now I try to reward kind people in my own way. I have arranged for George to see a noted eye specialist who comes highly recommended. A job is waiting for you Arlo, if you wish to work for an old bum. Bless you every one.
Opening The Gifts
“Here’s a present for you, Daddy” Nettie cried “and you too, Mamma!” Ruby’s present was in a large box with another smaller box attached to it. It contained a beautiful long suede leather coat with a label Ruby had only read about in the best fashion magazines. The smaller box held a matching purse. “Tears rolled down Ruby’s cheeks as she looked at them. “I never saw such fine things,” she said "such beautiful things.”
Arlo’s gift wasn’t much bigger than a box of matches. His thick fingers shook so much Nettie had to help him open it with a pair of scissors. Inside the small package was a key. There was also a tiny note reading :
I fixed the missing letter on the front of your truck.
It was signed, Your Friend Chester
Arlo jumped up and ran outside. On the other side of his old rusted truck was a new red Ford pick-up with two seats instead of just the one. It was Arlo’s time to softly weep for joy.
Back To The City
The black SUV was just now entering the heart of Atlanta by the time the Banks family were getting their first ride in Arlo’s new truck. Inside of the SUV, Chester was sitting in the passenger seat, neatly attired in his regular gray suit.
“Well Ricky” he said to his driver “how’s the new car drive”? The young man grinned at Chester while checking the mirror "It handles great, Mr. Blake. The last one you bought me was still in good shape though, you didn’t need to get me this one.”
“Better shape than I am, Rickey,” Chester sighed “I’m getting too old to be doing this every Christmas. Arlo almost caught me on the cell phone when I was telling you what gifts to bring. Next year you get the job, is that a deal”? Rickey’s smile got bigger “Sure thing, but Momma’s expecting you to eat with us today and we’ll talk about it later."
"I sure didn’t know what I was getting into 10 years ago when I gave an old bum a ride that cold Christmas Eve," Rickey added. "One thing though, I gotta have a better wagon to pull, I could hear that old wheel squeaking every time I passed by you.”