Frank Danners was a lonely 70 year old man who spent most of his day sitting in his worn out recliner staring at a picture of his wife Gwen on the mantle above the fireplace. Gwen had passed away a year earlier from coronary disease having suffered a heart attack. But, it was Frank’s broken heart and an inner emptiness that turned every day into an endless cycle of daily misery. His five adult children were scattered throughout California and parts of the Midwest. He rarely saw them and they seldom called. Frank was a bitter and angry shell of a man who honestly believed that God had forgotten about him. He had been an as “the spirit moved” kind of church going fella when Gwen was alive, accompanying her to services and special events at First Baptist. But he never got much out of church and he put even less into the fellowship. He attended mostly to appease Gwen and her nagging that he should go to church and get some “religion” in his life. As he sat staring at her picture he could hear her words echoing in his mind.
“Frank Danners, you should come to church with me! It just might help with your grouchiness. Lord knows, you need a sweeter disposition, you old goat.”
Frank grinned a bit as he thought about Gwen’s insistent and annoying badgering to motivate him to do what was right! If only she was here now to coax him to go with her this Sunday, if only.. He would certainly get up, put on his best shirt and pants and go with her. She wouldn’t have to plead with him a second time, Frank thought. A tear trickled down his cheek as he thought about Gwen’s love of God and her kind and cheerful heart. He wondered why he had been so stubborn and hard headed most of the 50 years of their married lives. Frank spoke out loud, “Gwenny, I’m just an old poop, a stubborn old man set in his ways. I’m sorry.” Now the tears were flowing in streams, drops falling to the collar of his brown flannel shirt.
He thought God to be unfair. It wasn’t enough that he had lost the only true love and solace of his life. It seemed that the man above wanted to punish him with a pesty neighbor woman who was constantly hovering over him chiding him to mend his ways. Francine was at his door every week fussing over him to take more pride in himself and his “ole run down house.” She scolded him about his rickety front porch steps telling him “one of these days I’m going to break my neck coming over here to look in on you, you old fool.” Frank wondered why she didn’t just stay home where she belonged. Francine and Gwen had been close friends and did a lot of church stuff together. They took food to shut-ins, visited sick folks and spent hours at some shelter for abused women. The sad old man felt like giving Francine a piece of his mind but he thought that would be rude to the memory of his beloved Gwen and he wasn’t sure that he had anymore pieces of his mind to go around.
It was Christmas Eve, three inches of freshly fallen snow was on the ground and another six was expected before midnight. Frank was thinking about starting a fire in the fireplace when the doorbell rang.
“Aw nuts, who now? I’ll bet it’s that Francine Becker!” The doorbell rang again followed by a knock on the door. “Mr. Danners, Mr. Danners, are you in there? It’s Francine, come on, open the door.”
Frank reached for his cane and lifted himself off the chair. “Just a doggone minute, I’m coming.” He unlocked the front door and opened it. The door was barely open when Francine pushed her way past him carrying a pot of vegetable soup and some freshly baked biscuits. “I’ll just take these to the kitchen, you must be starving. I know you ain’t taking very good care of yourself these days.” Francine walked to the kitchen, turned on the light and set the pot on the table. “Come on, it’s Christmas Eve, you have to eat something!” Frank thought, “Why don’t you just leave me in peace, woman?” But, he hobbled to the kitchen and opened a cupboard where he took two soup bowls down along with two cups, placing them on the table. Francine opened a drawer and pulled out some soup spoons.
“Is the coffee hot, Frank?” Francine asked. “It’s plenty hot, Francine and I suppose you want some, eh? You bet.” came the reply, well, why don’t you just sit down there and make yourself at home. Don’t mind if I do.” Francine remarked. Frank shook his head in disgust. He knew that Francine would want to fill him in on all of the juicy tidbits of community life and sure enough that’s just what she did. While she was dishing out the soup she started rambling about the Spencer’s barking dog that kept her up most of the night, the Fishers new car and the Browning’s planned New Year cruise to the Caribbean. Frank could barely get a word into conversation, not that he wanted to when the doorbell rang again. “Oh, good Lord, who now?” Frank mumbled as he stood to his feet. “Do you want me to get that Frank? No, Francine, I’m quite capable of answering my own door. Thank you very much.”
Frank opened the door to see a short stocky man, shivering, holes in his pants and shoes. The stranger wore a tattered gray overcoat and a dirty green ski cap. He appeared to be a man about his own age and he thought him just some homeless guy down on his luck. The man looked at Frank with lost and hungry eyes seeking some human compassion. “I’m sorry to trouble you sir, on such a dreadful night, but I was wondering if I could use your phone. I seem to have run out of gas about a mile or so back the road and your lights were the first I saw.”
Frank invited the strange little man in and led him to the kitchen where the phone hung on a wall near the refrigerator. “Help yourself.” Frank said.
The man picked up the receiver and dialed. Frank watched as melting snow from his worn shoes and pants fell to the kitchen floor creating a puddle. He felt an ache in his heart for the poor old man who had become stranded on a cold and snowy night. The temperature had to be in the 20’s and a fierce north wind was making it feel even colder.
The stranger hung the phone up, glancing at Francine and back at Frank. “I’m sorry to trouble you folks tonight. I tried to call my brother, I guess this being Christmas Eve and all, he’s not home. Thanks for the use of your phone, I’ll be going now, thanks again.”
“Going where? It’s cold, it’s snowing and you just walked more than a mile. Look, why don’t you have some soup with us, warm up a bit and try to call your brother later? That would be the Christian thing to do, wouldn’t it Frank?
“I suppose it would Francine.” Frank looked at the tired man and said, “I don’t believe that I caught your name.”
“I’m sorry, I’m Alfred. If you’re sure it wouldn’t be too much of a bother, I’d like to join you for some of that soup. A hot cup of coffee would be nice too.”
“Oh no bother at all, get another bowl and cup, Frank!” Frank glared at Francine with a look of disbelief. As he was walking to the cupboard, Frank asked, “Do you have a last name, Alfred?”
“Just Alfred.” He replied.
“Oh..ok, well Alfred Alfred just have a seat and make yourself comfortable there.”
Frank was becoming suspicious of their “guest” and a bit uncomfortable of the stranger who he had allowed into his house. Maybe, this guy was just some con out to find an easy mark. Well, if that was the case Frank knew how to deal with him, he would plant his cane upside his head and call the police.
Frank set the bowl on the table as Francine reached for the ladle filling it to the brim for the man who wasted no time in slurping away. Alfred ate the soup and biscuit like a man who had not eaten for a week washing it all down with the cup of coffee that Frank poured. As the stranger was finishing the meal Francine asked where Alfred lived and about his family.
“Oh, I come from a pretty big family.” Alfred said.
“That so?” Frank nodded as he lit a cigarette, turning and blowing smoke to the side.
“Yes, I get around, you know. I travel from place to place, wherever I’m needed.”
“You some kind of bum just looking for handouts?” Frank asked.
Frank and Francine couldn’t help but notice that Alfred seemed to appear a little brighter as he spoke. His eyes didn’t seem so tired and there was almost a glow about him. He seemed odd to Frank because he had opened his door to a man who he believed was about to freeze to death. But the strange little man that he was now looking at was glowing, alive and didn’t even look like a man in his 70’s!
“I’m Alfred and I have been sent by God to comfort you this night, Frank Danners. Gwen is safely home and she sends her love and wants you to know that God does care about you and is going to watch over you every day until you are home safe too! She is not suffering, she is radiant, healthy and beautiful. Her earthly journey is past and your journey will soon be coming to an end. Have faith, trust the goodness of the Lord who loves you and share that love with everyone you can. Remember, little things matter to God. Jesus said; that even mustard seed faith can move mountains. So Frank Danners, have faith and move mountains of grief, sorrow and pain from every life that you can. Don’t just sit alone, open your heart, share your love and good fortune. Use the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to you. You are here to make a difference and that is why you live. God be with you Frank and to you Francine.”
The kitchen was now filled with a radiant and bright white light. Alfred, no longer appeared as a shabby little beggar but as one of the heavenly host who stood eight feet tall, strong, robust and healthy. Alfred disappeared into the night, the bright light bathing the kitchen faded but the warmth remained.
Francine sat speechless for a long time. When she spoke, her words were few. “Ok, Frank, I’m going home now, Merry Christmas.”
“Hey, Francine why don’t you go home right after you clean up this mess? They grinned at each other, cleared the table and quickly washed and put the dishes away.
“Good Night, Frank.”
“Good Night Francine, see you Sunday.
©2009 Russell E. Hobbs