Walter is a person I will never forget. Although it has been over forty years since I saw him, I think of him a lot and especially around Christmas.

I met Walter in the small Appalachian town where I attended college. He was twelve years old and lived with his mother, aunt, and two younger siblings in a house just behind the supermarket where I worked. His home was hardly fit for human habitation. Because of its proximity to my work place I saw him often.

The family could be seen together around town and they regularly came into the grocery store where I was employed. They were dirty, shabbily dressed, and obviously very poor. I never heard his mother or aunt speak kindly to Walter or his brother and sister. Every word spoken to them was harsh and demeaning. Walter’s father was in prison.

At first when this young boy would come into the store alone he would stand at a distance and watch me work. Gradually he came closer and would occasionally engage in minimal conversation with me. He appeared to be terribly shy but I learned that he was really very insecure and suffered from a feeling of inferiority.

Over time we became friends. He shared my excitement about my soon-to-be born first child. When the baby arrived, Walter eagerly accepted an invitation to come home with me to meet Jason.

Walter would often stand and talk with me while I worked. When I took a break and offered him a Coke or a snack to share with me, he always refused. He was poor but he was proud.

Walter was not lazy. He swept the sidewalks in front of the downtown businesses, collected bottles to return for the deposit, and did a variety of odd jobs. Anything to earn a little money.

I was stocking the dairy case one day during the Christmas Season when I looked up and saw Walter at the end of the aisle. He motioned for me to come. I could see that he was excited so I started toward him but he disappeared. When I came to the front of the aisle I saw him standing at the door of the store waving me on.

As I approached the exit Walter disappeared again around the corner of the store. I walked outside and saw him standing in pouring rain. His old dirty brown coat was soaked.

There he stood in the rain dripping wet but with a seldom seen smile on his face. I asked, “What is that?” as he held up the poorest excuse of a Christmas tree- worse than any Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

“Where did you get it,” I asked. He replied, “You know that Christmas tree lot up on Main Street? They let me have it for 50 cents.” I thought to myself that they should be ashamed for charging anything for it.

He asked, “Ain’t it pretty?” I am not sure what I said but I suspect I lied.

As we stood in the rain he said, “I just didn’t think it was right that my little brother and sister didn’t have a Christmas tree.” Then just before he turned to go, he pulled some coins from his pocket and asked, “How many decorations do you think I can get for $1.82?”

As he ran away I realized that Walter’s willingness to give all he had captured the Spirit of Christmas. God loved us so much that He gave His best to be born in a cattle stall in Bethlehem. And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will to all.”

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

 

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