(©2003 By Bob Perks - Bob@BobPerks.com)

12-1-2004 Church Within SOW Seeds Service - Story #

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Greetings my Dearest Sisters and Brothers, and welcome again to Church Within's Story of the Week ["SOW Seeds”].

This week's SOW Seeds Story, contributed by: Bob Perks

Story of the Week
(©2003 By Bob Perks - Bob@BobPerks.com)

In a softly lit corner of my memory, dimmed by the not so pleasant moments of my life, I found him once again today. Why wouldn't I? It's Christmas.

He remains just a memory or perhaps a dream come true. But, I am forever grateful to this man, for he made me believe in Christmas again.

I changed through the years. For the better I hope. You may find what I'm about to tell you a little disturbing. Life has forgiven me. My God surely has, but people are strangely unforgiving at times.

We frequented this bar, my friends and I. All too often staying until closing time. We knew the owner well enough that he would at times lock the front door and permit us to stay past the legal hours of serving alcohol.

So it was that night. A night we all should have been anywhere but there. It was just a few days before Christmas.

Around eleven o'clock, while seated at the bar, a man came walking in the front door. Normally in the state of mind most bar patrons would be at this hour, we would never have noticed him. But it was freezing cold that night and wind rushed through the door catching us all off guard. The snow swirled around him making his entrance quite a spectacle.

"Close the door!" one man shouted.

"Were you born in a barn?" another yelled.

"You certainly look like it!" I added.

He was the kind of man one might not notice normally. He blended in to the scenery of life. Not very well dressed and certainly not properly dressed for that time of year, he stepped inside, shook off the freshly fallen snow and scanned the room.

There were a few regulars, like Harry from Pittston, Jim the handy man, and Jessie. Jessie was there every night. There was a time when she had better places to be, and nicer people to be with, but life turned sour for her and she never found her way back.

I turned away for a moment and looking back I couldn't see the stranger any more.

On the other side of the room I could hear Harry saying, "Get out of here! Do I look like I need a shine? Maybe a little moonshine!" he said laughing.

One by one I saw my friends looking down at the floor waving their hands and making rude comments.

"What's going on over there?" I asked.

"Oh, there's a dog crawling on the floor. He's begging!" Jim said laughing.

I turned back to my drink and the mood I was in, when suddenly I felt a tug at my pant leg. Looking down I saw the stranger on one knee. He had a shoe shine box strapped over his shoulder.

"No, sir. It isn't necessary to bow to me like that. Off with you...you simple man!" I said arrogantly.

I turned to share the laugh with my friend at this stranger's expense.

"I do this because I have no income. Christmas is coming and I have yet to buy a gift for my child," he said.

I stopped laughing immediately. Those words were like a much deserved blow to the stomach. I felt poorly at having mocked the man. At that point in my life I hadn't much more than he, but there was truly a fine line between where I was sitting and where he was begging.

This was a very dark time in my life. A time when I was uncaring and blinded by my own ego. This path I had chosen was leading to a dead end and I didn't care.

"Get up!" I said to him. "Let me buy you a drink."

"I don't drink," he said timidly.

"Then what are you doing in a bar?"

"I told you. I need some money for a gift for my child. It is Christmas, you know," he said.

"Yes, I know," I said quietly as I reflected on my own sad situation.

"Are you hungry?"

"Well, I haven't eaten since yesterday," he said.

"Joe, make a sandwich for this guy and I'll pay for it," I told the bartender.

I motioned to the man to sit in the back of the room where I joined him at a table.

"So things are tough, huh?" I said.

"Well, they could always be tougher," he replied.

Joe brought the sandwich and I watched this man enjoy every morsel of it.

"Hey, look. I don't really need a shoe shine, but here's a few dollars anyway. I hope you find what you need this late in the season." I said to him.

"I live on Main street above the five and dime. I've known the owner for many years. I had my eye on this one fire truck in the window. My son would love it. Everyday when I headed out the door to shine shoes, I'd stop and look at that truck. Mr. Evingsly, the owner knew I wanted it. He also knew I was broke. I owe him rent for last month. One day he called me in the store and tried to give me the toy. I couldn't take it. If I couldn't pay for it, I wouldn't feel right about giving it to my son. I believe you must earn your right to give."

"I never got your name," I said.

"Dan. Dan Slater," he said.

"You look kind of old to have a small child," I said.

"You're never too old to love a child," he replied.

Having finished his sandwich, he stood up, thanked me for the meal and said, "I can't take your money I haven't earned it."

He stopped at the door and came back to where I was seated.

"I have a favor to ask of you," he said.

"If I can do it."

"I have just enough money to buy the toy truck. Knowing Mr. Evingsly, he'll try to sell me the truck for less. I don't want any discounts. I want to pay what it's worth. If I give you the money will you go to the store and purchase it?"

I found it odd, but agreed.

"I'll meet you here around seven Christmas Eve," he said.

I wasn't doing anything any way. At least I'd get something out of the holiday by helping this old man.

Following his request I went to the store the next day and bought the truck. I'd thought I'd do him a favor and have it wrapped.

I walked in the bar around 6:45 that night and waited for Dan. At around seven the door opened. In walked a stranger.

"We're closing at 8:30 tonight," the bartender told him.

"Oh, I just wanted to have one beer before going home," the stranger said.

"I come here every Christmas Eve to have a drink to old dreams that never came true. They tell me my father frequented this place many years ago," he said to the bartender.

"What's his name?"

"Dan Slater," he replied.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"Excuse me. Did you say Dan Slater?" I asked.

"Yes. Did you know him?"

"Well, not personally. We just met a few days ago."

"That couldn't have been my father. He died back in 1981."

I was stunned. It had to be a coincidence.

"I'm sorry to say I never really knew my father. They tell me he'd shine shoes for booze. We never saw him in the last years of his life."

"There was a guy in here shining shoes just the other day," I said. I shook my head in disbelief.

"He gave me money to buy a gift for his son and asked me to meet him here tonight at seven. His name was Dan Slater. When you walked in the door I swore it was him. Come to think of it, you look a lot like him," I said.

"Well, I'm telling you it's not the same guy," he insisted.

"Well, what am I going to do with this fire truck?" I said.

"What?" the man asked. "That's incredible. The very last time I saw my father was Christmas Eve the year he died. He and mom were separated and he stopped by the house to tell me he couldn't be see me on Christmas Day. But he promised me that when he came back he'd bring me a fire truck. A very special one with my name on it... "Captain Dan the Fireman!"

He stopped for moment.

"He never made it back. Mom told me he died in an accident. So I know this isn't the same man you met," he said.

There was only one way to find out. I ripped open the gift and placed the toy on the bar.

If I could have captured this moment on video I still wouldn't have believed it.

There, tied to the back of the truck was a note that read, "Captain Dan the Fireman."

I swear I never noticed it when I bought it. But there it was.

"This is yours. Take it. There's no doubt in my mind. I can't explain it, but it's yours," I told him.

He and I drank until they closed the place.

I never saw the old man again. But for many Christmas Eves around seven his son and I met for a drink. Maybe it was him. Maybe we were hoping he'd come back.

"Maybe" it was the day I began to believe in Christmas again.

The Prayer
Dear God,        
        I Believe.

You ALL are Within the Infinitely Loving Embrace of our Universal Parent,

The Creator's Eternal Love to all of You,
Pastor Daniel

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