My guest, Phillip T. Stephens, was also here earlier in the party with a very informative and important message about adopting a kitten at this time of year.
He is now back with a short story……
A Christmas Carol: The Sequel by Phillip T. Stephens
The money came pouring in last year. We weren’t rich, but for the first time in three years both my wife and I worked all twelve months, she got a raise and I made twice what I made the previous four years put together.
Let me put it this way: we gave the nineteen-inch TV and our old blu-ray to my son, bought a 4k 3D blu-ray player, a 65-inch HDTV, a stereo surround sound system, another HDTV for the bedroom, and an iMac. Even an X-Box with enough games to keep Bryan in his room for most of the summer. A new microwave, some furniture….
You get the picture.
Don’t think our basic values changed. Carol and I still looked down our nose on materialistic lifestyles. We simply had lived hand to mouth for a long time and wanted to loosen the purse strings. Come Christmas time, we let loose like reluctant drunks released after a year’s sentence in rehab.
Dancing Santa dwarfed our driveway shouting “Ho, ho, ho,” until the timer shut him down at midnight, elves darted down our railing fence over twelve strands of multicolored lights, while a holographic display flashed angels with flashing wings and trumpets across our picture window. Our neighbors drove past shaking their heads in disbelief and dismay with each new item added to the display. One, Jerry Dixon, flashed a finger every time he passed, even if he struggled to stick it up in his leather glove on winter mornings. Inside the picture window, I’m not ashamed, we finally could show off presents piled under the peppermint candy Christmas tree instead of the half dozen shoe box sized gifts and scrawny spruce we showed to the world in years before.
We spent Christmas Eve watching Die Hard and Die Hard II in THX surround sound and fought to keep Bryan out of his presents, finally retiring around midnight, our heads filled with visions of dancing bullets and blood spattered holiday fireworks. I drifted off to peaceful sleep…
…only to be wakened by such a clatter in the living room that I sprung from the water bed to see what the cats had knocked from the mantle. I dashed from the bedroom and threw on the lights only to see Santa stepping through our picture window with our new 65-inch 4k HDTV screen cradled in his arms.
“Bet’y’re wondering what I’m up to,” he said, a drip of tobacco juice dribbling down his white beard.
“Looks like you’re stealing my brand new TV.”
Santa’s outfit had definitely seen better days. The white edging fell away at the cuffs, and I thought I saw teeth marks in a couple of places. The felt looked flat and worn in the late night light. His six-inch belt barely reached around his belly, and an inflamed toe stuck through the seam of his left boot.
He stared at me as though I were Ebenezer Scrooge holding him for ransom. “Not stealing,” he said. “Sharing. What with global warming we’re broke at the North Pole, and I need this TV for the kids at the School for the Blind.”
“What do blind kids need with a high def TV?”
He shifted his fingers along the bottom edge of my TV, almost dropping it onto the window sill. “They turn the sound up real loud.”
“I suppose you want my sound system for the School for the Deaf.”
He chewed on his tobacco for a second then spit into the grass outside. “Senior Citizens home in Bastrop. But half of ’em’re deaf.”
At this point my TV slipped through his fingers and I leaped to grab it before it fell. I detected the sour odor of cheap whiskey and cigarettes. I pulled my TV toward me when his grip tightened and he said, “Geez o’ Pete, ain’t ya got no Christmas spirit?”
I thought about the years I spent on the verge of poverty and the many friends and relatives who wouldn’t give me the time of day. The good Republicans who assured me I should pull myself up by my own bootstraps and my many Christian friends who told me to be warm and filled with the spirit of Christ. Even though I knew I was still paying for that TV at 12 percent interest, I helped him carry it through the window and load it into a battered station wagon which he’d pulled into my backyard.
Along with the sound system, Bryan’s X-Box, the TV from our bedroom and our new iMac. He asked if I had a drink; I figured he had enough already and sent him on his way.
The next morning, when Carol and Bryan woke I told them about reverse Santa and, for some reason, they didn’t share the Christmas spirit to the same degree I did. Especially when Carol told me we wouldn’t be buying any replacements any time soon.
However, after coffee, two glasses of her favorite port, and brunch at Kerbey Lane Cafe, we found It’s a Wonderful Life on cable. With two more glasses of port, Carol began to feel the Christmas spirit. Bryan found an old Nintendo and began to speak to me again.
That’s when the sheriff showed up at our door to tell us he’d arrested someone called the Santa Burglar and would I come down to ID him?
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
The sheriff explained that he arrested a man whose MO was to burglarize houses and claim to be the reverse Santa, stealing goods for charitable causes. They identified the stolen goods as a television, sound system and computer that we had registered with our insurance.
“Oh, no,” I said. “We told him he could give the television to the School for the Blind.”
The sheriff, a short man, who wore a ten gallon hat half a tall as he, one of those men who sought out law enforcement to prove a point no one else cared if he made, chewed on his ball point pen for a moment and said, “How can blind kids watch a TV?”
My son Bryan yelled over the movie, “They turn the sound up loud.” He said it with the sarcasm of youth, even though he was more angry when he raised exactly the same objection that very morning than I had been last night.
The sheriff didn’t recognize Bryan, but the summer before he declared an X-theme bike race that Bryan won and his son lost invalid and made them run it again. Three times. Until his son won.
“The sound system’s for a senior citizen’s home,” I added.
At that moment the sheriff studied me more closely. “Say?” he drawled, the long “say,” perfected in the Texas hill country where the vowel is dragged out for several seconds. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Maybe from the new subdivision protest last summer?” I reminded him. “When you told me any developer with the money to make a campaign contribution had the free speech right to use eminent domain to uproot my cheap ass house?”
The expression on his face told me he suddenly did remember where he knew me from.
“Those weren’t exactly the words I used.”
“To the word,” I told him.
The sheriff left immediately. I don’t know if he let the Santa Burglar go, but I hope he did. But only after feeding him a Christmas meal.
I hope that you appreciate the spirit with which I shared this story. That whatever traditions you celebrate for the holidays, you remember that there are always those who don’t have the blessings we have. And I hope that one Christmas, when you least expect it, the Santa Burglar blesses your house as much as he blessed ours.
About Phillip T. Stephens
Phillip T. Stephens, a professional educator and writer who developed a number of innovative classroom programs for exceptional and at-risk youth, drew on his own experiences as a minister’s son being frequently moved to new schools as well as those of his students to write Seeing Jesus. He and his wife carol rescue and rescue cats in Austin, Texas for http://www.austinsiameserescue.org/
He is author of Seeing Jesus. A humorous, coming of age story, suitable for Christmas reading, Seeing Jesus introduces young readers to questions of spirituality and philosophy they might not otherwise find the opportunity to explore.
“This is an important book that provides positive insights for both for adults and children who have to deal with bullying”.
“Well thought-out, fantastical journey through a spiritual life. Seeing Jesus will challenge you to see yourself.” Jen Winters author, Falling Angels
“A quirky, suspenseful story of school bullying with a surprise ending.” Lynne Murray, author of Gravitas: Valkyrie in the Forbidden Zone.
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