By MARCY TROTT HAWLEY
Special to the H&T
Trying to locate my winter coat in the overstuffed coat closet, my hands fell upon the one jacket I could not bring myself to donate to a well-deserving charity.
The well-worn garment, ordered 10 years ago by my husband, quickly became his favorite “go to” covering once the days began to slip from fall into winter. Worn so much, the stiff outer fabric had become as soft as chamois and the brown leather collar and elbow patches were as smooth as kid gloves.
My adult sons quickly tired of my constant coaxing to take their dad’s coat. Each would remind me the jacket was too large, too small, too short. “It does not fit, Mom!”
It had only been two months since this coat had protected its owner from the winds and chill of the approaching winter . . . and 10 years of the cycling seasons.
Five days and Christmas would be here. The weather report was ominous, warning of bone-chilling temperatures and a chance of a white Christmas.
Could I just forgo Christmas this year?
This would be the first Christmas without my life partner, the love of my life. Forty holidays as “WE.” How could I possibly get into the Christmas Spirit?
Fortunately the days were filled with the all-too-familiar chaos of the seasonal rush. There were gifts to buy and gatherings to attend. I was going through the motions, but my heart was numb and I certainly was not filled with the Christmas spirit.
Late in the day I realized I’d better grab a bite to eat before I attended the high school Christmas Band Concert. As I pulled into to the empty parking lot, I immediately noticed a handsome young man with his arms folded as though he was trying to warm his shivering body.
His chiseled features were softened by black curls framing his handsome face. A sweatshirt and rugged, faded, denim jeans clothed this forlorn young man.
My first thought was, where was his jacket? The temperature was already slipping into the 30s and judging from his shivering body, his attire wasn’t doing much to insulate his body. Did he have warmer clothing in the large plastic garbage bag perched on a nearby bench?
As I approached him our eyes met and I asked if he would like to get something hot to eat. His eyes lit up as he replied, “I would appreciate a cup of hot coffee!”
“Please, get a hot meal, my Christmas gift to you,” I said.
As he gathered his belongings I quickly entered the restaurant and told the manager about his next customer and that I would take care of whatever he ordered.
I was settled in the dining area by the time my newfound acquaintance had his food. I invited him to join me. Who was this stranger?
“Are you from around here?,” I inquired.
“No ma’am, I’m from Alabama.”
“What brings you this way,” I asked.
“I’m on my way to West Virginia.”
“What’s in West Virginia?”
“I have friends who can help me.”
With that I started sharing the weather forecast. Did he have a coat and warm clothes in his plastic bag? No, he did not.
Immediately my thoughts flashed to the forest green coat hanging in my closet. I told my new friend that I had a warm coat at my house that needed a home, and if he’d wait five minutes I’d run to get it.
Surprisingly, he agreed.
As I dashed out to my car, I said a silent prayer that he would still be there when I returned.
At home, I quickly gathered a woolen scarf, a warm knitted cap, fur-lined leather gloves, and THE coat. These items had protected my partner from the elements for many years and now they would help warm the body of a stranger.
To my relief, the young traveler was still seated in the restaurant when I returned. After handing the jacket to him, he slipped his arms into the sleeves and wrapped it around his slim body.
It was a perfect fit, as though it had been custom made just for him. The scarf and gloves would ensure more protection against the bitter cold.
He thanked me profusely for the gifts, and I must say that the coat never looked better.
The coat I couldn’t part with had found a purpose.
Time was slipping by. I needed to get to the high school for the Christmas concert, so I headed to the trash can to empty my tray. When I turned around, my dining companion was not there, nor was his tray or the dark green plastic bag.
Had he gone to the rest room or to the counter to order something else? I asked the manager if they had seen where he went. No one had seen him leave the building. It was as though he’d vanished into thin air.
As my mind raced to recount the past 45 minutes, a sense of peace came over me and my soul was filled with the joy of the season, the season I had so dreaded.
This wayward stranger had given me the gift I so desperately needed that Christmas in 2000. Now, 20 Christmas’s later I can still see the face of the hitchhiking stranger.
Was he really a stranger?
May the message of the Christmas Story fill your hearts with peace, joy, and love.