There was a Christmas Eve many years ago that my wife and I shall never forget. We had moved to Richmond, Va., from our hometown in upstate New York six months earlier. My father had died unexpectedly the previous New Years Eve. This Christmas would be very difficult for all of our family, but particularly for Mom and my 17-year-old brother still living at home. We had to be there this Christmas to support one another.
A new job is what brought us to Richmond. I was taking over a sales territory that was in horrible shape, with a high salesperson turnover. The firm advanced me $300 per week against future commissions. This was supposed to pay for travel expenses to cover my territory and also to run our household budget. Commissions were settled up annually in January. My bank credit cards were maxed out.
We didn’t really have the extra money to travel home that Christmas but we could at least charge the gas we would need to my Gulf credit card. Perhaps Santa would leave a little cash in our stockings up north for the return trip.
My wife had us packed and ready to go by 3 pm on Christmas Eve. I had just returned from a last minute sales call. After I loaded the trunk, my wife and our 2-year-old son and I set out on the 550 mile, 10 hour journey to Oswego, N.Y. I hoped and a prayed that we would arrive without incident by one o’clock Christmas morning.
After crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, temperatures began to plummet. By the time we reached central Pennsylvania it was below freezing. Several moments later we noticed the car becoming chilly. Reaching under the dash I discovered the fan was blowing cold air. “Good God,” I thought. “It’s after nine o’clock on Christmas Eve; we’re still four hours from my Mom’s house and every repair shop has to be closed.”
It soon became too cold to continue. Not only was there no heat, we had no defroster. Trying to keep the windshield free from ice was next to impossible. We had no choice. We’d have to pull off and look for a place to stay.
Winding our way through this small country town in search of lodging, I thought I saw a light and someone moving around inside of an automobile repair shop. Could it be a mechanic was still working this late on Christmas Eve? I turned into the parking lot, got out of my car and headed for the front door. A middle aged man with a striking resemblance to my late father greeted me. “Can I help you son?” he asked. I told him, “We have no heat in the car and have a long journey remaining to reach our final destination.” He said, “Pull the car into the garage and let me take a look.”
We began to feel a little warmth again from the small space heater in the customer lounge. As I paced the floor, I was expecting the absolute worst news from the mechanic.
It was now almost 11 pm. Our son had fallen asleep in a blanket on his mother’s lap, while I continued to pace. We finally heard the mechanic close the hood of our car. He then reappeared in the waiting area. “Sorry it took so long son. It was a little bit more involved than I originally thought. You’re good to go.”
“I can’t thank you enough sir,” I said. “It’s been a terribly hard year, and in fact, well, you see, uh, would you allow me to please pay you with a personal check?” The mechanic smiled warmly while placing his hand on my shoulder. “You need to be on your way and get that little boy of yours tucked into a bed before Santa Clause arrives. I know your mother is worried sick about you. You owe me nothing other than to wish her and your brothers a very Merry Christmas from a simple servant of God.”
After thanking him profusely, we climbed back into our car to begin the final leg of our journey. After several miles up the road, my wife turned to me and asked if I had told the mechanic that Dad had recently died and that we just had to be with your family this Christmas. I answered, “No, I didn’t have a chance to tell him anything other than what was wrong with the car. “Well how then did the mechanic know we were going to see your mother and brothers for Christmas? He never mentioned your Dad?” A warm rush came over me that I had never experienced. I paused, smiled and said, “My dear, the only explanation I can give you is that the spirit of Christmas is obviously alive and well.”