You can find Part 1 here.
“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.
“It is peculiar, Mama,” he answered, but traffic was so heavy right at that time, that he had to give his full attention to working through it and getting into the correct lane to make their way back home. Concern nagged at him as he sat down to his noonday meal, and then troubled him off and on as he sat in his recliner and dozed during the afternoon. When the couple retired for the night, they prayed especially for the little boy they’d seen on the bench and his family.
The next morning Papa helped Mama finish her Christmas baking. She always made cranberry nut bread for four of the people in their church and popcorn balls and fudge for all of the children to take home after the Christmas Eve program. They stopped to have a ham sandwich and a cup of hot cider while the treats cooled enough for packaging. Then they began to wrap the gifts in gay paper and tie them with carefully worked bows, adding a candy cane to the top of each package.
When the last of the gifts was finished and set on the kitchen counter to wait for delivery, Mama made a meatloaf, while Papa scrubbed potatoes and prepared them for baking along with the meat.
“You know I can’t help thinking about that little boy we saw yesterday,” Mama said quietly as she worked. “I wonder who he was waiting for.”
“Probably some of his family who were doing last-minute Christmas shopping.”
“But wouldn’t you think they would have taken him with them?”
Papa looked up from the potato he was working on, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “No … not necessarily. Especially not if they were buying his gift.” He laid down his potato absentmindedly. “Still … you’d think they’d be a little hesitant to leave him there alone for so long.”
“You don’t suppose something happened to them do you, Papa?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know, of course, Mama, but I’m sure at least one or two police officers must have passed by their yesterday, and if something had been wrong, I’m sure the boy would have told them.”
Mama nodded her head and carried her meatloaf to the oven. “Of course. I hadn’t even thought about that.” She turned to look back at him. “Are the potatoes ready?”
“Yes, here they are,” he said carrying four potatoes over to the stove and laying them on the pan she had ready to slip into the oven beside the meatloaf.
After dinner, Papa read the newspaper to Mama, and then they watched a Christmas program on television. As they retired, they prayed once more for the young boy and his family and asked the Lord to show them by tomorrow what His plan was for the money He had helped them save this year.
First thing the next morning Papa drank hot coffee, wolfed down some of Mama’s gingerbread, and hurried off to the church to turn the heat up for the evening program. He also wanted to make sure that all the different props for the Christmas program were in place so that they would be easy to find at the last minute before the service began. But as he neared the block where the church stood, he was horrified to see that the little boy from two days before was still sitting on that same concrete bench. Papa hurriedly found a parking place close to the church and then walked back to the corner and sat down on the end of the bench opposite the young boy.
He could see that the child was very cold, even though he had on a heavy coat and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He had his hands in his coat pockets, but once when he pulled a hand from his pocket to wipe his runny nose, Papa saw that he also had on gloves. He didn’t want to frighten the boy, but he felt frightened himself at the thought that this child could possibly have been sitting here for more than two days.
Why hadn’t the police done something about it? He thought about that question for a while, but then decided that there was so much crime and so many people with serious problems that possibly the police officers who were responsible for this area of town were unusually busy this time of year, just trying to take care of all of those other situations.
“Hi there, Son,” Papa said, his voice friendly and encouraging.
The big brown eyes just looked at him for a moment, and Papa saw a shiver run through the little body. “Hi,” the boy answered in little more than a whisper.
“I’m Jules Larson,” Papa said, holding out one gloved hand toward the boy. Slowly, the child pulled a hand from his pocket and reached it over to shake the old man’s hand.
“I’m David,” he said.
Papa nodded, letting go of David’s hand and watching him put it immediately back into his pocket. “Haven’t I seen you here on this corner for that last couple of days?”
David nodded, but didn’t speak. Instead, he just looked up and down the street again, much as he had been doing the other times Papa had passed by this corner.
“Well … you haven’t been sitting here all day and night, though, have you?” he asked.
David looked back at Papa and nodded again. Papa felt a cold wave of fear move through him and called out to Jesus under his breath.
“But …” Papa started to speak again, but then he stopped. He needed to figure out exactly what to say. After another minute, he sighed deeply and tried again. “But what about your family, David? Where are your mom and dad?”
David looked once more down the street and then turned his eyes on Papa. “My mom’s comin’ back for me,” he said, his lips trembling. Papa wasn’t sure if they trembled from the cold or because the boy was on the verge of tears.
“Where did your mom have to go?”
David looked up and down the street again, and then turned to look behind him once. He looked back at Papa and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. She just said I should wait right here.”
“Do you live close to here?”
David shook his head. “Not anymore.”
“What do you mean? Did you used to live close?”
This time David nodded. “Unhuh,” he said, pointing back down the street. “Over in that other block. We lived in one of the apartments on the very top of that old brown building.”
“Well, why don’t you live there now?”
David shrugged his shoulders again. “Don’t know. Mom just said we couldn’t live there anymore. She put some of her clothes in a bag and told me to put on my coat, and then we left.”
“But did she put some of your clothes in a bag too?”
David shook his head. “I thought maybe she was goin’ to buy me some new clothes.”
Papa sighed, not liking the thoughts that came crowding into his mind with the boy’s last words. “So she took her clothes with her, but not any of yours?”
David nodded. “And when we got to this corner, she told me to sit down here and wait.”
“Is that all she said?”
David nodded. “Sometimes she goes away for a day or two, but then she comes home again, and we have something to eat. So I know she’ll be comin’ back for me,” he said, lifting his chin as if to ward off any rebuttal of that idea from the old man. But just then his lips quivered again and two tears slipped down his chapped cheeks.
Papa sighed inwardly and prayed silently with all of his heart. What was he to do? He couldn’t leave this little boy out here another night, and it was obvious to him that if his mother hadn’t bothered to pack any of his clothes, she had not intended to keep him with her. Should he go to the police? That’s probably what the police would tell him was the right thing. But, somehow in his heart, he just didn’t think he could bring himself to do that just yet. They would turn him over to the authorities, and he might end up in almost any kind of place while the legal aspects of his case were considered.
Papa shook his head silently. No … he couldn’t just turn him over to the police. What would Mama tell him to do?
He sat up straighter. Of course! That was the answer! Mama would say to bring him home and give him some warm food and a warm bed for tonight at least … and then they would pray for the Lord to show them what to do after that. But first, he’d have to do the necessary work at the church. He looked back at David.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I think maybe your mama might have had to go farther than she planned to try to find another place to live. And I don’t think she’ll be able to come back for you for a while. But my wife and I … we used to have two little boys. They died in the war, and we miss them. We’d like to have you come to our house and eat supper with us and maybe sleep in one of the warm beds that we used for our boys. We could always come back here tomorrow and see if your mama is here waiting for you.” He knew that wasn’t a sensible plan, but he was counting on this boy, who looked no more than nine years old, to be too cold and tired and hungry to figure out how improbable it was. David was looking at him with wide eyes, full of indecision. He looked up and down the street again and than back at Papa.
“I’ll tell you what,” Papa continued. “I was going to go into that little coffee shop over there and get me some soup. How about you come with me, and I’ll get both of us some, and we can talk it over.”
David chewed on his bottom lip, and Papa could see the temptation on his face. What must it feel like to sit on this bench for nearly three whole days and have nothing to eat?
“What do you say?” he urged David again.
Finally, the boy nodded his head, and Papa stood and held out his hand to take David’s. Together they walked to the restaurant across the street, and once seated at the table, Papa ordered two steaming bowls of soup and added a glass of milk for David. He would have liked to have ordered him a big, juicy hamburger too, but knowing he probably hadn’t eaten anything in more than two days, he was afraid too much food at once might make the child sick.
Papa sipped his soup slowly, not really hungry yet himself, but David ate as if he were truly starved. “Did you have anything to eat yesterday?” Papa asked the boy.
David only shook his head and kept eating.
“Well, how about the day before?”
David shook his head again and picked up his bowl to drink the rest of the liquid from the soup.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I could sure use some help to do my work at the church down the street. I wonder if you’d help me there for a little while, and then we’ll come back to the corner and sit a minute, just to see if your mama’s coming. Then, if we don’t see her, you come home with me, and we’ll have some more good food to eat. Would you like to do that?”
David thought, his brown eyes dark with the intensity of his concentration as he tried to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said, “but just for a little while, and then I gotta go back to the corner.”
“Good enough,” Papa said and rose from the table. They donned their coats and caps once more and made their way back out into the cold and down to the church. A couple of hours work put everything into good shape for the evening festivities. Papa had planned on him and Mama coming to the Christmas program, but he wasn’t sure now just what they would do.
He took David back to the corner, and they sat together for another thirty minutes, while Papa tried to listen to the Lord for instructions. Finally, he looked at David. “Well, now, let’s go home and have supper with Mama,” he said and then chuckled. “That’s what I call my wife, you see. Ever since we had our little boys, I’ve called her Mama, and she’s called me Papa.” For the first time David smiled just slightly, and Papa’s heart was lighter instantly.
“Well, as I was saying, let’s go home and eat some supper with Mama and then we can come to the Christmas program at the church and stop on this corner afterwards, just in case your mama comes along then.”
This time David decided more quickly and got up, reaching out to take Papa’s hand as he did so.
When they arrived home and entered the kitchen, Papa called out. “Mama, I’ve brought a friend home with me. Come and see.”
Mama came scurrying into the kitchen and stopped short as soon as she saw the boy. Her hand flew to her heart as she took in the situation without being told. She had known inside somehow that this little boy had been abandoned on that bench. She just hadn’t been able to shake that feeling, and now as she looked down into his dark, frightened eyes, she knew with certainty that what she’d felt was true. She hurried forward and reached out to shake his hand.
“Why, hello, young man! I’m so glad you’ve come home with Papa.”
“This is David … David McKenzie,” Papa said, “and I invited him to eat with us and then go to see the Christmas program. I even told him we could give him a warm bed to sleep in after the program if his mama hadn’t come back for him yet.”
Mama gave her husband a knowing look and then spoke to David, “We like having boys stay at our house,” she added, looking up at Papa to gauge his response to her use of the word ‘stay.’ He nodded his head in agreement and began helping the boy remove his coat and cap.
“We had a bowl of soup in town, Mama, but we could sure use something else hot,” he told his wife.
“Well, you show David where the bathroom is so he can use the bathroom and wash his hands and face in some warm water, and I’ll see what all I can find.”
After their mid-afternoon snack, Mama tucked David into the bed that her youngest son had used, and the boy had drifted into a deep sleep almost before she left the room. Then she went to an old chest that she kept in the hallway, and digging deep inside, she extracted two sets of clothing just about David’s size. For a moment her eyes clouded with tears, and she held the garments to her chest. But then she braced her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for having me save these garments all these years. You knew that little boy was going to need them.”
After his nap, a warm bath and clean clothes made David feel so much better that he couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking through when he re-entered the kitchen for another snack before they took off for the Christmas program. And during the program, David’s eyes were glued to every single action on the stage. The lights and music fascinated him, and he listened to the words, taking in the story of Jesus’ birth as if he had never heard it before.
(To be continued. Watch for Part 3 on Tuesday)