Story by Kathleene S. Baker
The man had just filled his car with gas; he was cold, wet, and ready to head for home.
He opened his car door and bent down to climb inside.
He glanced in the direction of the frail voice to find a well-dressed, elderly lady attempting to get his attention.
He closed the car door and walked towards her. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
The older woman explained that the gas pump was not working properly, and asked if he knew what she was doing wrong.
“These are new pumps and very touchy, even for me. I’ve found the easiest thing to do is forget locking them while I fill; they keep shutting off for some reason.”
“Oh my! I can’t keep pressure on that handle until my tank is full. My hands don’t have much strength in them anymore.” She cast her blue eyes to the ground in frustration.
“I’d be honored to fill your tank for you!” The man’s Texas accent was gentle and he gave her a little wink. “By the way, I love your British accent.”
“Yes, a British accent in Texas. People always notice!” She smiled. “We just came to the States a few years ago. That’s my husband in the car.” She paused for a moment, “He has Alzheimer’s now.”
“I’m so very sorry, for both of you.” After a slight lull the gentleman continued. “Why don’t you get back in the car while I do this; the snow is picking up and you’re going to get wet.”
She was a lovely woman with snowy-white hair; her attire was prim and proper as one would expect from a Brit. “I’d rather visit if you don’t mind. Our son is out of town for Christmas; he’s with his wife’s family this year and I’m feeling a bit blue.”
A knot formed in the Texan’s throat and he hoped to change the subject. “Just what are the two of you doing out in this weather? I hope your drive home is a short one. You know these Texas drivers aren’t the best when it comes to snow and sleet,” he teased.
“We’re on our way home from a Christmas party. The medical center has one each year for the Alzheimer patients. They are rather like children’s parties, and they have Santa visit. Oftentimes patients will have moments they recall things from their past. Some sing along to Christmas carols when they haven’t carried on an actual conversation in quite a long while.”
“Did anyone recognize Santa today?”
“Oh, yes, my husband recognized Santa and tried to steal his hat! He even said, “Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas.’ His recollection was rather brief but it was the highlight of my day.” She grinned.
The gas pump clicked off, the woman swiped her credit card to make payment, and turned to thank the man who had been willing to help her. The two were saying their farewells when the squeal of brakes, a thud, and breaking glass at the intersection caught their attention.
“Oh, my!” The lady whimpered with a distressed expression. “It’s getting so slick. I’ve got to hurry and get home.”
“Ma’am, I’d be honored to follow you in case you have problems.”
She hesitated momentarily and then appeared relieved, “Oh, I’d be so grateful I can’t thank you enough. And by the way, my name is Margaret.” She reached out to shake hands with her new friend.
“Margaret, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Ray.” He patted her hand gently before they released their grasp. “You just drive slowly; I’ll be right behind you.”
When Margaret pulled into her garage Ray stopped curbside. “I just want to be sure you get inside safely,” he shouted.
Margaret waved and asked him to wait for a moment, then nodded and spoke to her neighbor hanging Christmas lights. She guided John into the house, quickly reappeared in the garage, and motioned for Ray to pull into the driveway.
She thanked Ray again and soon mentioned this being the first Christmas she and her husband had ever spent alone. Ray, always a soft touch for older folks, was happy to listen. She spoke fondly of traditions her family adhered to when she was a child in England and revealed an interesting glimpse into her past, plus a taste of her cherished memories from across the pond.
“You know mistletoe is very traditional in England. My first “real” kiss was under the mistletoe when I was a teenager. Oh, what memories I have.” For a split second, Margaret looked like a young girl again.
Several minutes passed before Margaret began to shiver and they were forced to say farewell.
Christmas morn found Margaret peeking out her front door just as the sun crested the horizon. She stepped outside, instantly clasped her hands like a small child, and peered up and down the street. With not a soul in sight she began to examine the items discovered on her porch, each one dredged up memories of years gone by in Merry Old England.
Just above her head hung an arrangement of mistletoe adorned with elegant lace; she touched it gently. Bedecked with Victorian ornaments, a small, lighted Christmas tree sat in the corner, beneath it a homemade mincemeat pie wrapped securely and tied with golden ribbon. The card attached said only, “From: Santa.” Hanging from the doorknob a brilliant red Santa Claus hat with tag, “To: John.”
Margaret called to John; he slowly made his way and stepped outside. Nothing on the porch sparked his interest until Margaret placed the Santa hat in his hands. After staring at it and stroking the velvety softness, he plopped it onto his head. It sat askew but John’s face beamed as his voice rang out across the neighborhood, “Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho!”
Parked several houses away, a Secret Texas Santa sniffed and wiped at a lone tear, a happy tear. “Merry Christmas and God Bless.” He smiled and turned towards home.