The Christmas Gift - SunGlo Photo

The Christmas Gift

It was just another one of those lonely days and I spent it as I had every other day since last December, wandering around aimlessly, not caring about anyone or anything, life no longer had any meaning. I had been that way since the day I lost my wife in a senseless accident. The love of my life was gone, I was a rudderless ship, not caring if I lived or died.

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It was Christmas Eve, we were both so happy, joking around, madly in love, and headed to a party at our friends place. As we walked along a path in a deserted part of our neighborhood, Betty suddenly stopped, spun around, kissed me, then dropped the bombshell…she was pregnant. I was so happy, wow, what a Christmas present, I was going to be a dad, we were going to have a little bundle of joy to love and spoil. We were both so overjoyed. We continued along the path, hugging each other as we chatted away about the new addition to our family. Suddenly, in a playful manner, Betty ran ahead and stood by the side of the road, waiting for me to catch up. Out of nowhere, a car came speeding along, swerving from side to side. It was as if I was watching in slow motion, the car swerved off the road onto the shoulder and struck Betty. She was thrown back up the path within ten feet of me. Instantly I ran to her side to help, but it was clear, she was gone. I was devastated, tears poured from my eyes, how could this happen. I stayed by her lifeless body for over two hours, until our friends came looking for us. We buried my lovely wife Betty on Christmas Eve and my life has never been the same since.

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It was now October and in another couple of months, the holidays would be upon us again. Oh how I dread facing the holidays, remembering how Betty and I loved those days, remembering that Christmas Eve when she was taken from me. I was not sure I could go through another year like this one. It was time to do some serious thinking about my future life.

Once again, it was suppertime and even though I had been skipping meals and did not feel like eating, I knew I had to try to get some nourishment or suffer the consequences. I headed out to the mud flats to scrounge up some crustaceans. As luck would have it, there was plenty of food to be had and in no time, I was sitting down to a meal of fresh crab.

Just as I was about to take my first bite, I heard the words, “Mister, can I have some of your food?” As I looked for the source of the question, I gazed upon a rather scraggly looking little ball of fur. It appeared as though the asker had not eaten in a while since he was nothing but skin and bones. As much as I wanted nothing to do with anyone these days, my heart melted when I saw the hunger and sadness in his eyes.

“Sure, come on over here and sit down. My name is Fred, what’s yours?”

“I’m Charlie.”

“Well Charlie, dig in, there’s plenty here, and if it’s not enough, I can go catch more.”

“Thanks Fred, this is really good, what’s this called?”

“They’re called crabs. You’ve never eaten them before.”

Suddenly I knew I had said something wrong as Charlie stopped eating, looked at the ground, and got all teary eyed.

“I’ve eaten them before, but they weren’t as good as yours and my parents never told me what they were called.”

“Where are your parents Charlie, as young as you are, you shouldn’t be out here alone.”

That opened the floodgates and Charlie was loudly sobbing now with tears pouring from his eyes. I quickly wrapped him up in a gentle hug. It did not take a genius to figure out that something bad had happened to Charlie’s parents and he was now an orphan.

“They went out to get food for supper and never returned. That was about a month ago. I’ve been begging for food ever since. Mom and dad never taught me what to eat or how to get my own food.”

Memories of how I felt when I lost Betty flooded back, so I was well aware of what Charlie was feeling. I was fighting to hold back my own tears, but Charlie needed a strong friend right now, so I needed to be that person for his sake.

I could not believe the next thing that came out of my mouth, especially since I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to live or die and the last thing I wanted was get close to someone else, only to take a chance on losing them just like I lost Betty.

“Charlie, would you like to come live with me?”

I felt him hug me even tighter and he was crying much harder now. I was afraid I had really said the wrong thing this time, when I heard him whisper, “I’d love that more than anything in the world.”

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Charlie was happy with our arrangement and his new home. However, I was still working on accepting the situation. No matter how it turned out, while Charlie was with me, I was determined he would be surrounded with love and never go hungry again.

“Dad, will you teach me how to hunt for crabs?”

Dad, Charlie just called me dad. Suddenly, I had a warm feeling in my heart, a lump in my throat so big I could not speak, and I was having a terrible time controlling my emotions. Tears began rolling out of my eyes and my body began to shake.

“Dad, are you alright, did I say something wrong?”

“No Charlie, no, just the opposite, you said everything right”, I choked out.

“These are happy tears. Do you really want me to be your dad?”

“More than anything, I love you dad.”

“I love you too, son.”

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We spent most of the following day out on the mud flats so Charlie could learn what was safe to eat and how to catch each item. I was amazed how quickly he learned everything I taught him, he was just like a sponge, absorbing all that knowledge.

Once he mastered the first part of the lesson, it was time to discuss safety issues. A big part of that discussion was centered around what to do if the tide comes in and strands him on the flats. Not surprisingly, Charlie did not know how to swim, so we spent the rest of the day working on his doggy paddle. He truly did not enjoy that part of the lesson.

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The following morning, we just horsed around, joking and enjoying each other’s company. I still cannot believe I actually have a son. Betty would be so proud of Charlie, boy I sure do miss her.

It was almost lunchtime and since fruit was in season, I thought a nice meal of strangler figs would taste good and be something new for Charlie to enjoy. That meant that I would have to teach him how to find strangler figs, and which ones were ripe to pick and eat…ugh, another lesson, I am going to wear out his little brain.

“Charlie, we’re going to have strangler figs for lunch. Come on, I’ll show you where to find them and which ones to pick”

“What’s a…whatever you said…fig?”

“You’ll see, come on, off on another adventure with a short lesson thrown in for good measure.”

As we were walking along, Charlie appeared to be excited about starting out on yet another new adventure. As we passed a low hanging palm tree, he ran over and grabbed a branch that happened to be loaded with palm fruit.

“Dad, dad, is this some of those thingy figs?”

“No Charlie, that’s palm fruit”, I said with a chuckle.

“I wouldn’t eat any of those. When I’ve eaten them in the past, they upset my stomach.”

“Okay dad, I won’t eat any. Are we almost there yet?”

“Almost there son.”

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“Here we are son, fresh strangler figs ripe for the picking.”

“Where, I don’t see any figs, er, a, well, I’m not real sure what a fig looks like.”

“Look up there Charlie, see those round things, the orange colored ones are ripe and those are the ones we’ll eat.”

“Wait, wait, all the way up there. Dad, how do we get all the way up there?”

“We climb, Charlie, we climb all the way up there. Come on, I’ll show you how.”

So, father and son began climbing all the way up there to dine on delicious, nutritious, strangler figs.

“Dad, this is scary. What if I fall?”

“Just remember what I taught you son and don’t look down. You’ll be alright.”

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“Okay Charlie, now watch what I do. I stand up on my hind legs and reach out for a branch that has lots of ripe, orange colored figs on it. Then it’s just a matter of pulling it in where you can get to it and you’re all set to chow down on the ripe ones. Now, you try it.”

Charlie, still a little nervous, stood up on his hind legs and then reached out as his dad had told him to do. He grabbed a branch and pulled it toward him. When it was close enough, he bit down on one of the orange colored figs.

“Mmmmm, meese arrrr mealy moooood.”

“Ha-ha-ha-ha, swallow Charlie, I can’t understand what you are saying with your mouth full.”

“Sorry dad, I said these are really good. Yup, I sure do like these thingy figs.”

“I’m glad Charlie, there’s plenty here, so eat as much as you like.”

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We both settled into a new life of consisting of lots of love, fun, new adventures, oh, and lessons, lots of lessons. The odd thing was Charlie never seemed to mind the lessons. It was almost as if he truly enjoyed learning. Maybe going on a new adventure after each lesson had something to do with his zeal to learn.

As the days continued, some new faces appeared at our lesson periods. It seems that Charlie had made friends with some of our neighbors and when he told them everything he was learning, and how much fun it was, his friends wanted to join in the sessions. I didn’t mind, the more the merrier. I would get occasional comments like, “My dad never taught me any of this stuff” and “You make learning fun”, which would boost my ego a bit.

Before I knew it, December 24th was upon us and of course, there would be no lessons until after the holidays. Charlie said he had a few things he needed to do this morning and headed out to do them. I suspected he had seen some things out and about that he thought might be a neat Christmas present for me. My being perpetually nervous about Christmas Eve, I told Charlie to be extra careful today.

I had already made up a large basket of wild fruits and berries to give to Charlie, so I was ready for Christmas day. I decided to just putter around and have a nice easy day. I had just sat down and was thinking how lucky I was to have Charlie as my son when I was jarred out of my thoughts by loud screaming.

“Dad, dad, help me. Dad I need help.”

I looked in the direction of the scream and saw Charlie limping along, his head was hanging down and he could barely walk. I immediately ran to help him.

“Dad, help me…snake, a snake…please help me dad”, he said with tears pouring from his eyes.

When I got to his side, I could tell it was bad. He could barely walk, and was on the verge of delirium.

“Charlie, I’m here son. Let’s move over to that soft grassy area and I’ll run over and get Harold. Harold will know what to do and he’ll have something to give you to counteract the snake venom.”

“Okay dad, but…b…but hur…hurry.”

“I’ll be right back. You just lay there and don’t move around, you’ll make it worse.”

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I ran as fast as I could to Harold’s place. God I hope he’s there. I was on the verge of panic, this just cannot be happening again. As soon as I saw Harold, I started shouting.

“Harold, it’s Charlie, I need help, he’s been bitten by a snake. Quick we don’t have much time, help me Harold, please help me.”

I saw Harold grab his bag of herbs and natural cures and the two of us were headed at full speed back to Charlie. When we got there, my heart sank. He looked worse than when I left him.

“Oh God, not again, please don’t take my Charlie. He’s been through so much in his young life, please let him live and be happy.”

Harold had taken something out of his bag and was quietly talking to Charlie.

“Charlie, I’m going to put something in your mouth. I want you to chew it then swallow it. I do not want you to move, stay as still as possible. Any movement helps to circulate the venom and we want to minimize more venom getting into your system. Okay Charlie?”

Charlie barely nodded his head. Harold put something in his mouth and Charlie chewed it then swallowed the whole thing down.

“That’s good Charlie. Now just try to relax some and give it time to try to counteract the venom.”

“Is he going to be alright, Harold?”

“I really don’t know Fred. He must have walked quite some distance before you found him. The venom has spread through his system. I’m sorry Fred, but I’d say it’s in God’s hands now.”

I suddenly went numb. I just can’t lose my Charlie too. I cannot go on living if that happens, first Betty and now Charlie. What have I done that was so bad that I am punished this way?

Charlie put his head down and appeared to drift off into sleep. I double-checked to make sure he was still breathing, and then laid down beside him. My tears just would not stop, I was devastated, and I had no idea how to help Charlie. I felt as though I had let him down. As the sun began to set, I moved closer to Charlie to keep him warm. At some point, I must have cried myself to sleep and a strange calm came over me.

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I began to dream, well, I say dream, but it all seemed so real. There was a bright flash and Betty appeared in front of me. She looked beautiful, almost radiant, and her voice was like music as she spoke to me.

“Merry Christmas Fred.”

“Everything is going to be alright, I’m watching over you both.”

“Charlie is beautiful, our son, he’s just so amazing.”

Then I felt her hug me and kiss me. It was so real. Oh how I miss her.

“Don’t worry Fred. We’ll see each other again, each Christmas Eve until we can be back together.”

“Bye Fred, I love you.”

I found myself whispering, “I love you Betty and I miss you terribly.”

There was another flash of light and Betty was gone. I drifted off into a deep calming sleep. I must have started to dream again only this time it was Charlie, he was saying something about Santa Claus.

“Dad, get up, Santa was here, come on dad, wake up.”

It was tearing me apart, if only it were true. I was afraid to open my eyes for fear I would see my son’s lifeless body.

“Dad, wake up, Santa was here, you should see all the presents.”

“Come on dad. When I saw mom, she said I should tell you to get your lazy butt out of bed.”

That got my attention, Betty used to say that to me every morning. I slowly opened my eyes and turned around to face a very annoyed Charlie. He was waiting for me to get up so we could go back to our place and open all the presents.

“Come on dad, get up and let’s go home.”

“Charlie, you’re alive, you’re okay, but how, I don’t understand, Harold didn’t think you would live, but here you are, I don’t understand, how, how could this happen, I’m the happiest father alive, I have my son back…” I said in one long breath until Charlie finally cut me off.

“Dad, you’re the only one I know that can get that many words out of one breath.”

“Dad, mom was here and she fixed me.”

“Your mom was here?”

“No, not my mom, my mom, your wife, Betty.”

“You saw Betty?”

“She said it wasn’t my time to die. She put her hand on my head and my whole body began to tingle and glow. When she took her hand off me, I felt great. She’s beautiful dad, I have a really beautiful mom who loves me.”

“She said she couldn’t stay and that you would explain everything. Oh, and she hopes you liked the Christmas gift.”

Betty had given me my son back, the most precious gift anyone could ever receive.

That morning we had the most amazing sunrise, and my son and I watch it together.

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Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about having a wonderful wife and child in your life. That might just be a step up from this story.

I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, it takes a few bad days to make you really appreciate the good days.


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