Christmas Past: An Angel's Story

By Ron Shaw

General fiction, Religion & spirituality, Short stories, Children's

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919
7 mins

 

Scene 1. Twas The Night Before Popeye

An angel rarely tells a story, but mine begins a few weeks before the Christmas of 1958. A young boy's prayers would be answered.

A Mother's Tears

Growling stomachs thirst for a fill.
Barren cupboards peer emotionless.
Wailing infants, probe for their meal.
Scurrying pests stay crumbly mess.
Lonesome dried beans on stove boil,
Paper thin cornbread refuses to rise.
Food barely for two must feed five.
Again, Mom'll go hungry this night.
Half serving per child has to suffice.
Grace duly given before first bite,
never allowing us to lose sight. She
sat and watched as her four children
ate their portions well-salted by tears.

Shivering beneath a thin blanket with his older brother in bed beside him, a timid boy began his nightly prayers... aloud, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord..."
"Ronnie, shut up. Go to sleep. Stop your praying stuff. It won't do any good anyway."
"You be quiet, Mike. Momma and the preachers said to pray to Jesus. Percy is here, and he wants me to pray." The husky lad continued, "I pray to Jesus my soul to keep. Bless Momma, Nanny, Papa, Thomas, Linda, Daddy, and Mike... oh, and you, Percy."
"Dumbass, you're supposed to be praying to God. Leave me out of the junk because you're wasting time. The old man isn't coming back. He's gone again. I heard him tell Momma. He's never coming back," Mike, Ronnie's jaded brother, older by two years, responded.
"Yes, he will. Mike, he has to for Christmas. You better quit cussing."
"You're funny for a goofy kid, Ronnie. Be quiet and move over. Stop touching me with those stinking mummy bandages. You're heading to the Popeye Club tomorrow. You get to miss a day of school. So, you better sleep. You're going to wake Thomas and Linda. Christmas doesn't matter either, and who's this Percy guy?"
"Christmas does matter. Stop calling me mummy. It's cold. Everybody's making fun of me. Percy is an angel, and he's here to help us," Ronnie replied, scratching inflamed areas from the effects of poison oak beneath his bandaged arms.
"Boy, you're crazy. Now, you're creating angels. How often do we have a Christmas tree? Do we receive gifts like other kids? How about food? Do we have anything to eat in the kitchen? Christmas will be the same old thing. Your dad... Greg's gone. The rental furniture will go, and we'll be on the street again soon. I heard all of this stuff. I bet Momma's still crying, smoking cigarettes like a chimney. How can we receive toys when we can't afford heat, food, a house for long, or furniture? I know it's cold. Stop shaking."
"Liar! Stop calling him Greg. He's Daddy. Percy, Nanny, and Papa will take care of us. I didn't make up Percy. He was at the foot of our bed a few days ago. I bet he was here tonight until you started talking bad about everything like you do," irritated, the younger brother retorted.
"They won't help this time. Greg is his name. You know Nanny and Papa don't come around at all when the old man shows up. After all, they are Mom's parents. They don't know Greg's gone either... not yet. You'd better be thankful those bandages are still holding up or else tomorrow you'll be a mummy covered in puss on television. Thank your Jesus for this because it's real and true. How in the world do you catch poison oak in winter ─ only you, shy brother. I told you not to stand so close to Mrs. Wilson's burning leaves. You know she has poison oak all over her yards. We've raked them enough. Ronnie, you stood there, holding your breath, facing the smoke with it blowing all over you. You are dumb. When did your make believe angel appear? Are you so shy and lonely you have to create a friend?"
"Mike, it itches something terrible. You don't catch it like me. I have to scratch it. It's driving me nuts. Percy is an angel. He came to me the night I was sick. I was praying. Momma made you a pallet bed to sleep on the floor the night I was sickest. When I started praying, the room exploded in light like the sun was hanging on the ceiling. At the foot of our small bed, I saw a man, glowing like a Christmas light on a tree... a golden one. He was tall like if I stood on your shoulders... really big. He was dressed like one of the Roman soldiers in the Bible, but his leather was white and his clothes underneath were purple. He had blonde hair, long like Linda's but not curly."
"Stop scratching. You don't have any fingernails to claw at it anyway. Momma cut them so you couldn't. We can't take you to the Grady emergency room like last time. Quit trying to scratch. Be still. Percy isn't real. Angels don't exist. Your high fever created your gladiator angel."
"He's not a gladiator. There are angels, and Percy is one. He told me so. I look like a monster. Everybody will laugh at me on television."
"Don't start crying, little baby. Don't be bashful all the time. You look fine. Maybe, Officer Don will feel sorry for you and give us more snacks for you to bring home. We need something for supper."
"Leave me alone. Papa said I'm shy like Momma. Mike, will I be able to eat lunch before we leave? Miss Jones is driving me there from school."
"I don't think so, but I'm not sure. Are you certain you're going to the Popeye Club, or is Miss Jones there to carry you to the dentist again? I wish you'd be quiet and shy around here."
"Shut up, Mike. I'm supposed to dress nice for the show. I'm not going to the dentist."
"Ronnie, you don't have nice clothes. You'll have to wear your shorts and a short sleeve shirt because of those thick bandages. Your body is covered with the stinking junk. You can't take the wrappings off either. So, don't even think about it."
"I look like a monster. Mike, it's freezing in here."
"Ronnie the mummy goes to the Popeye Club on Channel 2 in the morning. You'll have a good time. Remember not to eat your snacks. You have to share them with us. Momma said so. It'll be dark by the time Miss Jones brings you home. Now, be still and get some sleep."
"Mike, I've asked Jesus. We will have a Christmas this year like everyone else."
"Ask Jesus for more snacks tomorrow. If you don't be still, get quiet, and go to sleep, I'll kick you off this crowded bed. Stop scratching. I'll find our coats and cover us with them." Ronnie's nine-year-old brother quickly gathered their winter coats, placing their tattered hand-me-downs atop their one blanket. Mike was more of a father figure to his three younger siblings than womanizing Greg.
After a tumultuous night, tossing, turning, and clawing at his weeping soars, the chunky second-grader would make it to the Popeye Club. Before they departed his school for the Atlanta television station, Miss Jones saw to it he was fed two pieces of cheese toast, gulping them down with three cartons of milk.
The few other children from Ronnie's class who attended were allowed to miss the day of school because their parents handled their transportation to and from the popular children's show. It was a rarity and honor to be invited to attend such a fun event in Atlanta.
The host of the weekday show, Officer Don, took pity on the chubby boy covered in bandages and inappropriately dressed, picking him to play one of the Popeye Club's favorite games, "Simon Says." Ronnie won the game. He would be awarded a toy, extra snacks, and a can of soda to bring home with the usual lunch-sized bag of snacks each child received after the show's conclusion.
During the show, back at their sparsely-furnished, rental house on Bankhead Highway, his two brothers, sister, and mother were watching Ronnie on their rented television as another type of drama unfolded. A few minutes after the show had started, a loud knock on their door interrupted the Popeye show.
"Mike, look out the window and see who is at the door."
"Okay, Momma," Mike responded, moving towards the window. "There's a huge truck and two men out there. It's a moving truck."
Opening the door slightly, Mrs. Hall said, "Can I help you? My son's on a television program, and we are missing it. What do you want? It's cold, and we don't have heat."
"Ma'am, is your name, Hall?"
"Yes. Why?"
"We have orders to pick up all the furniture. Y'all haven't paid the rental money on it. See, here's the pick-up order sheet," a burly, cigar chewing man answered.
"Come on in and shut the door. Can't you wait until the cartoon show is over?"
"No ma'am. It's growing late. We need to gather everything and go," the stocky man advised with his partner heading towards the television set first.
"Momma, don't let them take Ronnie away. See, there he is, my brother on the Popeye Club. Let us watch him. Momma do something," his young sister pleaded.
"Linda, stop crying. They're going to do what they want."
"I'm out of here," their older brother exclaimed in an all too familiar angry display of disgust.
"Mike, come home before dark."
"Momma, this ain't right."
"I know, son. It ain't."
Storming from the house, Mike slammed the door behind him. Hugging her mother, Linda continued to cry as the two men removed all of the furniture except for the kitchen table and chairs. They had almost removed the table and chairs from the now empty house when one of them realized it wasn't rented from the company.
Thomas, their preschool-aged brother, slept on the floor through it all.
Mrs. Hall knew the natural gas would soon be turned off because none of their bills had been paid for two months. Unfortunately, their heat was electric, and their electricity had been cut for days. She hadn't anticipated losing the furniture this quickly.
After the show, approaching dusk, Ronnie was dropped off at his house by Miss Jones. He didn't realize he was carrying the family's dinner in his two bags.
Shortly, Mike would vent his unrequited anger on the rubber K-Pop gun Ronnie had received as the toy prize for winning the show's game.
The missing furniture was also a surprise for Ronnie but not at all unusual in their lives.
Watching the tears of his mother, younger brother, and sister was also too familiar. Mike never cried. To him, to do so would be an external admission of defeat and an outward sign of weakness. Anger and a callous heart became his tears.
Just after dusk, Mike entered the barren house. Dinner would ge divided-up when he joined them in the kitchen. Visibly, he remained upset. Linda advised Ronnie what had happened earlier.
Luckily, their stove was a gas one, and even more fortunate, the gas company hadn't switched it of yet.
Mrs. Hall saw to it each person received their portions of the food, drink, and candy from Ronnie's bags. She divided the twelve brown and serve rolls between her four children. She ate none. She served the rest of the food in this manner ─ cutting the two, cream-filled, devil's food cakes into equal pieces for her kids, pouring a portion for each child from the small soda, splitting a small bag of potato chips between them, and breaking a Turkish taffy bar as best she could into four pieces. In agony, their frail mother watched her children eat.
Stoically, Mike and Ronnie ate. Acrimony filled them.
Linda cried.
After their meager meal, Mike and Ronnie went outside in the dark, playing alongside the busy street of traffic on Bankhead Highway. Mike wanted to experiment with Ronnie's rubber K-Pop gun. It used ping pong balls for bullets. Mike would put a match to the balls, lighting them on fire to see how far a flaming ball could be shot across the busy street. In the process, the gun was destroyed when the rubber melted.
Latent anger is seldom productive, but it was this night without personal injury or further property damage.



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