Frank Wharton’s Merry Christmas

For all my friends and family, here is my gift to you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Frank Wharton dashed under the portico out of the bone chilling drizzle of rain that was turning to snow. He stuffed $5.00 in the bell ringer’s bucket before heading toward the coffee shop door.

“Thank you, sir. God Bless and Merry Christmas.”

“Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Are you Jewish? Same God, sir.”

“I don’t really believe in God.”

“Well, I’ll pray for you anyway.” The young man flashed a cold tinged smile. “If you aren’t a believer, why do you give?” He asked, his cheeks cherry red, his lips blueberry.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Frank replied. “Say, you look mighty cold, kid. Don’t you have a coat?”

The young man shook his head. Frank paused.

“Hold on a second. I was on my way to drop off some boxes…. Be right back.” He walked back to his car, wondering what the hell he was doing.

All the wanted was his morning coffee and to drop his father’s clothing at the Salvation Army. But the kid looked like he was freezing. Dad’s old Pea-coat, leather gloves and Adirondack cap would fit the boy well—perfectly, in fact. His father would want them to go to a good cause. Frank couldn’t think of a better one than a young man chilled to the bone. Picking out the items, he put them in a grocery bag, adding warm socks, wool jacket & pants and an old scarf.

The scarf held memories. He’d given it to his father when he was 10. He hesitated a moment, wanting to keep it, but heard his father’s voice in his head.

“It kept me warm even in the coldest weather. Your love drove off the chill. He needs it more than we do, Son.”

Adding it to the bag with tears in his eyes, Frank walked back to the door. Handing over the bag, he accepted the young man’s thanks with a slightly sad smile.

“Dad wants you to have them.”

“Is he here? May I thank him too?” He craned his neck expectantly, looking.

“In a manner of speaking,” Frank replied. “Dad died a week ago. I’m giving his things away.”

The young man grinned. “That makes it an even more special gift,” he replied. “God Bless.”

“I don’t believe….”

“I know, but I do. Thank you.”

They shook hands and Frank went in for his coffee. While there, he impulsively bought hot chocolate and a bagel for the boy outside. Handing it to him earned another “God Bless.” Frank nodded, turned up his collar to the cold and headed to his car.

Before dropping the clothing at the Salvation Army, he went through the bags again. He found more clothing to fit the slender young man. In one pocket, he stuffed a $20.00 bill.

“So he can have a good meal.”

He set those things aside and took the rest to the clerk. She went through them all, smiling.

“So sorry to hear about your dad, Mr. Wharton. He was a good man. He used to volunteer in our soup kitchen.”

“I know. I used to drive him down. I knew he’d want his things to come here where they can do some good.”

“Here’s your receipt! Merry Christmas!”

“Thanks, you too.”

The next morning, the young man was at the coffee shop door, this time wrapped in his warm clothes. He smiled and said, “God Bless. Merry Christmas,” when Frank gave him another $5.00.

“I’ve got a few more things for you. When are you done here?”

“Six.”

“I’ll bring them by then.”

“That would be great. Thanks.”

“You hungry?”

“A little.”

“Bagel or muffins?”

“Surprise me.”

Frank got him another bagel and a coffee. The parting “God Bless” left him smiling. Once he got home, he went through more of the closets, looking for things the young man could wear. He hated to see his father’s clothing go to waste and he couldn’t stand seeing a man suffer because he was obviously down on his luck.

When he went back to see the young man at 6:00, he had two bags of clothing, as well as a bag of non-perishable food from his father’s pantry. Frank had enough food at home, he didn’t need all this too. He pulled up and parked at the curb.

“Hi there. I’ve got those bags I promised.” Seeing the young man struggle with his tripod and bucket, he paused. “Can I give you a lift? He asked conversationally.

“I need a ride to the office,” the young man said. “Usually, someone comes to pick up, but today she’s sick.”

“Hop in. I’ll take you there. Frank Wharton,” he introduced himself, holding out his hand.

“Gabriel St. Peter,” he replied, taking Frank’s hand in a firm grip.

Frank dropped him and his bags at the Salvation Army office downtown. Gabriel wouldn’t accept a ride home, but thanked Frank for his help.

“Not a problem. Here’s my number. If you ever need a ride, you let me know.”

“Thank you.”

They parted with Gabriel’s heart felt “God Bless” in the air between them.

Almost two weeks passed and Frank saw Gabriel nearly every day. From time to time he gave the younger man a ride and always bought him something to eat. One cold, blustery day, Gabriel wasn’t a lone. A delicate young woman with fair hair and vivid blue eyes was with him. She sat in a battered camp chair. Her red, chapped cheeks stood out in her pale face. She wore the pea-coat, not buttoned quite all the way down, because of her very pregnant belly. She also wore the scarf and gloves. Gabriel wore the wool jacket and pants with the hat. Frank stopped to drop his $5.00 in the bucket and spoke to Gabriel.

“Who is this lovely young lady with you?”

“My wife, Marie. Honey, this is Frank. She’s been wanting to meet you,” he admitted shyly.

The pretty blonde stood awkwardly, holding out her arms to Frank. He accepted her hug with a grin.

“When is your baby due?”

“Christmas,” she said, beaming.

“A Christmas baby! I was born on Christmas too. My father always made a big deal about it, making the day special in two ways.”

“What about your mother?” Marie asked.

“She died having me,” Frank replied. “A rare disorder….”

“I’m so sorry. Any brothers and sisters?”

“Just me and – and Dad.” He gulped, fighting tears in earnest.

“So you’re alone? Honey, he can’t be alone at Christmas,” Marie appealed to her spouse.

“I was gonna serve at the Salvation Army kitchen,” Frank replied.

“Us too,” Marie said joyfully. “After, you can come for a visit. No one should be alone at Christmas.”

“What if you’ve had your baby?”

“Then you celebrate with us at the hospital.”

“Are you sure? You hardly know me.”

Marie touched the scarf tenderly. “We know you very well. It would mean so much.”

Frank allowed himself to be talked into it. Honestly, he didn’t want to say no. It was the first Christmas in his 47 years that he’d be spending it alone. It had always been him and Dad. For awhile, there’d been Nancy, but she’d never understood why he and his father were so close. She had a huge family, she didn’t know what it was like to be the only one the other person had. She’d left him after five years of marriage—alone, on Christmas.

Two nights later, it was Christmas Eve. Frank hadn’t made it by the coffee shop that morning, having been tied up with his father’s lawyer. He was now, officially, owner of everything his father had owned. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his father’s house. He had his townhouse, so close to work, he could walk. The house was in an old neighborhood. It wasn’t rich, but it wasn’t a ghetto. He had no idea if he could sell the house or if he should rent it out.

With much on his mind, he went to Christmas Eve mass at the nearby Catholic church. It wasn’t that he was religious, but it was the thing to do. He and his father had always gone to the early mass on Christmas Eve.

Stopping in the corner bar on his way home, he had a drink of homemade eggnog and went home. He watched some TV, finding “It’s a Wonderful Life” too much to take on such a sad occasion. He missed his father horribly and didn’t know what to do with himself. He thought about a drink, but that would lead to many, and his father wouldn’t have approved of him drowning his sorrow that way. He was sitting down to a microwave meal when his cellphone rang. It was Gabriel’s number.

“Hello?”

“It’s Gabe. Frank, I’m worried about Marie. She’s not feeling well. I think she’s in labor, but I don’t have a car. I can’t get her to the hospital.”

“I’ll be right over. Keep her comfortable and warm. I’ll be right there.” He hung up and grabbed his coat and keys.

Driving over to the tiny one room apartment, Frank found himself muttering prayers. He wasn’t a religious man, but he was worried about Marie. When he arrived at their door, he grew even more concerned. Marie’s face was pale and pinched, her breathing shallow. Her hands trembled and she’d been vomiting. He and Gabriel bundled her in blankets and put her in the back seat of Frank’s car. He drove as fast as he dared to the hospital emergency entrance. Parking the car, he ran in to get someone with a gurney.

When he got back, Marie was unconscious, bleeding profusely. The staff rushed her into the emergency room and did their best to stabilize her. All Frank could do was pace and try to calm down the horrified Gabriel.

“I should have called you earlier,” he kept saying. “She’s been bad all day. I didn’t even go to work.”

“You did just fine. She’s okay. You have to have faith.” Meanwhile, his mind did frightened flipflops. This was exactly how his mother died, bleeding to death as she gave birth. “She’ll be fine.”

Hours later, the doctor came out. He wasn’t smiling, but he looked slightly hopeful.

“Mr. St. Peter, your wife and son would like to see you now.”

“Aw, Doc, I was supposed to be in there!”

“I know, son, but it was very tricky. We weren’t sure…. We thought we might lose them. I couldn’t have you see your wife and child die….”

“But they’re alive?”

“Yes. Marie’s weak, but she’s stable. And your son has the finest set of lungs this side of the Mississippi.”

“He’s crying? Is he hurt?”

“No, he sounds like he’s saying ‘Da’ over and over. Never heard a baby so young vocalize. You the grandfather?”

Gabriel answered in the affirmative before Frank could even open his mouth. The two men followed the doctor to Marie’s room. She lay in bed, pale but smiling. She gave Gabriel a kiss and held out a hand to Frank. Gabriel kissed her and Frank held her hand.

Beside her in the clear plastic bassinet lay their son. He was red faced, blue eyed and had a shock of black hair that put Frank in mind of his own baby pictures.

“Nearly nine pounds,” she said. “Would you like to hold him?” She asked her husband.

Gabriel picked him up, holding him carefully. The baby gazed up at him and touched his father’s chin. Gurgling, crosseyed, he smiled and cooed, “Da”.

“He knows me! How can he know me already?”

“Some babies are exceptional,” the doctor said. “I’ll leave you alone now. You call if you need me.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Gabriel said. “For saving them.”

“Modern medicine’s a wonderful thing. Fifty years ago, I’d have lost one or the other or both. Merry Christmas,” he said.

Frank glanced the clock. It was 12:15 on Christmas morning.

“Want to hold him?” Gabriel asked.

“I’d love to, if you don’t mind. I haven’t held a baby in years.”

Gabriel handed the child to him. It gazed up at him and smiled, but didn’t speak.

“What’s his name?”

“We wanted something old fashioned,”Gabriel said. “We named him Josiah.”

Frank gasped, nearly bursting into tears. “That was my father’s name,” he replied. “I’m honored. Though you didn’t know. I thank you.”

“His middle name is Frank,” Marie said.

“I never had a namesake before. But wouldn’t you like to name him after your fathers instead?”

The young couple exchanged a look. Marie nodded at Gabriel.

“I was raised in foster care,” Gabriel replied. “Marie’s mother took me in. I think we loved each other as soon as we could walk. Marie never knew her father, he was nothing but a name on a birth certificate. Her mom divorced him without even telling the poor guy she was pregnant.”

“All that time and he never knew?” Frank’s tears fell and he nuzzled the baby’s head. “I can’t imagine growing up without my father. He was my best friend.”

“And a child should know his grandfather, don’t you think?” Marie asked expectantly.

“Absolutely. My grandfather was the greatest.”

“We thought the same thing, Frank.” Marie continued, bursting into tears. “So when we found you like that, just out of the clear blue, it seemed so perfect.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

Gabriel took Josiah from him. “Marie’s your daughter,” he replied. “Her mother’s name is Nancy.”

Frank nearly fell down. “My daughter?” He burst into tears, hugging the beautiful young woman in the bed.

They clung to one another, crying until their chests ached.

“Why didn’t she tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Marie said, wiping her eyes. “She never said. But why don’t you ask her yourself? She should be here soon. She had to take a cab from the airport because Gabe couldn’t go get her.”

“Nancy? Is coming here?”

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Over 20 years had passed since he’d last seen her smiling, pretty face. When he looked into Marie’s eyes, she saw shades of her mother. Nancy’s smile twitched her daughter’s lips, the same little line creased her forehead when she was thinking.

“Does she know? About me?”

“She does now,” Gabriel said with a smirk as he nodded at the door.

Frank turned to see an elegant, slightly older version of his ex-wife standing at the door, her hand to her throat. Her blue eyes brimmed with tears as she advanced into the room.

“Frank? Is it really you?”

“Nancy?”

They embraced, kissing as if two decades hadn’t passed.

“I missed you so. Why did you leave me?”

“I didn’t understand about you and your father. I always thought I was intruding.”

“No, never! You were the other part of me! Life was never the same without you. Why didn’t you ever tell me about Marie?”

“I was angry and hurt. We had that huge fight and I walked out. I didn’t know at the time I was pregnant. When I found out, I was even angrier and couldn’t bring myself to tell you. By the time she was born, I was so ashamed about keeping her from you, I couldn’t say anything. It was wrong. I should never have kept her from you. After seeing other children and their fathers, I finally understood. But by then it was too late.”

“It’s not too late,” Frank assured her. “It’s never too late.”

“Just think,” Gabriel said. “If we hadn’t met by accident that day, we wouldn’t be here now.”

“Yes,” Marie said. “We would. Because God would have seen to it.”

“You’re right,” Frank agreed, taking her hand. “I think He did.”

“You said you weren’t a believer,” Gabriel said.

Frank touched the baby’s head, smiling happily for the first time in years. “I’m a believer now.”

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3 thoughts on “Frank Wharton’s Merry Christmas

  1. Pingback: Frank Wharton’s Merry Christmas « Dellani's Choice – Book Reviews

  2. Dellani, you never fail to amaze me with your quality output (Frank’s Christmas surprise being a case in point) and your kind support of others. Here’s wishing you lots more spectacular success in 2013!

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