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A Christmas Stranger MAG
It was already pushing eight o’clock after a busy day of shopping. The seasonal panic of Christmas being right around the corner had set in, prompting my family to run up to Erie for some last-minute shopping. We planned on staying overnight in a downtown hotel but my parents decided to brave the city streets without directions. Bad idea.
After driving around in the dark and blustery snowfall for an hour, we pulled over by a towering building. We went inside to get directions to our hotel but as we walked through the ritzy glass doors, a warm, spark-ling restaurant greeted us. It was exactly the way a restaurant is supposed to look when Christmas is just a week away. The elaborate gold and silver decorations ensnared us while the hemlock greens and cinnamon reds made us feel welcome and spirited. Laughter became a sweet melody, dancing around our tired faces.
The restaurant was crowded with every table overflowing with conversation. We decided to stay and have a late dinner. We were seated in the corner where things weren’t as cheerful, but the floor-to-ceiling windows granted us a view of the snowy street outside.
My family chattered excitedly and the Christmas spirit mixing with the friendly atmosphere created a lovely dinner mood. I couldn’t help but notice one thing that seemed a little odd, though.
At the table across from us sat an older man, alone. It appeared his plate had already been cleared. He wore a large, earthy green coat and dirty white gloves and an umbrella leaned against his chair. At first glance, he looked slightly peculiar. His white hair and beard reminded me of a Santa impersonator. He appeared to be quite somber, but there was a gleam of curiosity in his eyes.
As I was eating, I glanced up to giggle at a comment from my brother. It was then that I noticed the man looking at me. Our eyes met, and half caught up in the spirit of Christmas and half not wanting to be impolite, I smiled. He smiled back, but it wasn’t a happy smile filled with Christmas cheer. And he didn’t look away. I went back to my dinner, but every time I looked up, he was staring at my family.
I became uneasy. I had never been stared at like this before. The man started to make me mad and even a bit afraid. I was pretty sure that somewhere along the line I’d been told that it wasn’t nice to stare at people.
Our dinner was cleared away long before we were ready to leave, so we stayed and added to the restaurant’s melody. When we finally put on our coats, the man approached our table. We all stopped talking and looked at him.
“Good evening, folks,” he said in a sweet voice. My father exchanged a greeting, but looked like he was sizing up the old man. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have been watching you throughout your dinner. Only your eldest daughter noticed me.”
My family looked at me. I shrugged. Now, it was my turn to stare, and I watched him with utmost curiosity. For some reason, he reminded me of a grandfather - a lonely grandfather.
“This may sound a bit strange, but may I guess the ages of your children?” he asked quietly. My parents agreed politely. The old man turned to my little sister and smiled his cheerless smile. “You, young lady, are six years old. Is that right?” He waited for my sister to confirm his statement. He then proceeded to me. “You have a charm about you. I am a stranger to you, but you smiled at me all the same. This means more to me than you know. Now, I imagine you are 13.” I smiled in amazement, for he had guessed correctly and complimented me.
He continued to my brother. “It took me a long time to decide about you but, if I’m not mistaken, you are 15.” My brother said nothing but nodded. The man then addressed my parents. “Your children are a real treasure. Hold them close, and never let a day go by that you don’t tell them how much you love them. Have a Merry Christmas and a very safe trip home,” he said with an odd tone in his voice. Then, he turned and walked out of the restaurant.
Wonderment overcame me. This man was by far the strangest person I had ever met. Our meeting had been by chance, and made me feel like it was meant to teach me something. I couldn’t help but make up scenarios of who he was and how he had spent his life. His advice has never left my memory and to this day, I regret not learning about his story. But the Christmas that followed was one like never before. It was as if my parents had taken his advice. A new sense of compassion filled their hearts. And since then, not a day has gone by that my parents don’t tell me and my siblings that they love us.