Scottie's Christmas



The boy trudged along through the December snowfall, the early evening chill wasted on the boy's flushed face. It was Christmas Eve and the holiday excitement was enough to warm any twelve-year-old to a point where low temperatures went unnoticed.

It wasn't only approaching Christmas that elated Scottie Walters. It was also prospects of the pleasure he was planning for his mother. His step quickened and he was oblivious to people scurrying around with their last-minute Christmas parcels.

The boy had just finished his daily task of assisting a street vendor on a busy downtown corner, where coffee, soft drinks and other items were in demand. He had been working part-time daily, with a few extra hours during the summer. His income had been supplemented by cutting grass and shoveling snow off the sidewalks of neighbors.

Most of his earnings went directly to Mamie Walters to help pay for necessities at home. Scottie's mom had a job of sorts, baby-sitting and doing washing for others, plus some government subsidy. As he grew older, Scottie had become more aware of how hard she had to work, bringing up two boys, one six and himself, on a limited income. He thought it only right that he should pitch in, too. It was tiring but it gave him a certain satisfaction, though not much time for sports with friends.

Mamie Walters had objected to his working at first. But when the boy had taken on the tasks on a trial basis and brought home his proceeds with such pride she couldn't turn him down. Besides, the modest amounts did help her meet the meager family budget.

From the first week, Scottie's mom had insisted that part of his earnings go for himself. And it was this tucked away cash that made Scottie feel full of himself and Christmas cheer. He had decided much earlier to purchase Christmas presents for his mother and brother, which he had never done before.

His perception was his mother had been badly neglected. She did a lot for her children. And he couldn't remember anytime in the last two years when she had received any gifts, except for some cards he had designed in school.

He and his brother, Joel, had been fortunate enough to get a few presents in the two Christmases since his dad had been killed in an auto accident. Scottie was aware of the struggle it had been for his mother to even provide those.

He intended to buy her a pair of fur-lined gloves and some winter boots he had seen in Cohen's Department Store right around the corner from where he worked at the vending stand. After shopping in the toy section, he had decided on a Game Boy that he knew would please Joel.

Scottie hated to see his mom wear those old knitted gloves she made herself. They weren't nearly as warm as those he had in mind. And the neighbor kids wouldn't be able to make fun of Joel because he didn't have much in the way of toys.

As the boy strolled along jubilantly, he recalled how early in the year he had gone into Cohen's to talk business. After he had made up his mind on merchandise, he had asked a helpful salesgirl about seeing the proprietor.

"I'm afraid he's quite busy at the moment," she said, smiling. "is there anything I can do to help?"
"I have to see the owner himself. This is important," he said solemnly.

The girl shrugged her shoulders and told Scottie to follow her upstairs. They walked down a corridor to a stained glass door that said, "Matthew Cohen," and down a bit lower, "Private."

Inside, typing at a desk, sat a secretary, an elderly gray-haired woman with a friendly face. After the salesgirl had explained his mission, the secretary appraised him briefly, and seemed perplexed.

"Well, young man," she said, "you realize that Mr. Cohen doesn't usually see visitors. He has a lot of work to do every day and if every customer came in to see him personally, we wouldn't get anything done. So I usually talk to most of the people who come in and try to help them out."

"I won't take much of his time," Scottie replied. "I'm pretty busy myself, you know. But I do have to talk to him."

Just then the door to the inner office opened and a tall, white-haired man wearing a blue suit emerged. He spoke quietly to his secretary and turned toward his office when he saw Scottie.

"Who's this young fellow?", he inquired with a smile. After she filled him in, Mr. Cohen gestured the boy ahead into his office and Scottie took a seat in front of the largest desk he had ever seen.
"What can I do for you," he said kindly.

"My name is Scottie, and I want to buy some Christmas presents from you."

"Christmas presents. It's a little early for them, isn't it? It's several months away yet," Mr. Cohen said, chuckling.

Scottie reeled off his short list, and proposed to make a small deposit and make weekly payments to pay his bill by Christmas.

Mr. Cohen inquired about where he was earning his money and who the gifts were for. Scottie told him, noting that he worked for a nearby vendor around school hours and he was unable to pay more because he had to help his mother with the household expenses.

Listening intently, the store owner pondered momentarily, then said, "Well, Scottie, I can't see why we shouldn't do business. But there's one thing you have to do. You have to come here every week and pay me personally. Deal?"

Scottie, greatly relieved, agreed. They shook hands and Mr. Cohen said, "Fine, see you next week."
One outcome of the transaction was that he and Jack Pickering, the food and newspaper vendor, picked up two new customers. Matthew Cohen and his secretary stopped by frequently to make purchases.

Jack was obviously pleased and complimented Scottie, saying, "I'm sure glad I took you on as my number one salesman."

The boy was off in dreamland as he walked toward the Cohen store with snowflakes falling in his footprints and whitening his small shoulders and the cap his mother insisted he wear.

In passing, he happened to glance at Frank Schaefer, a blind man, whose tin cup was frequently graced by a few of Scottie's coins. "I guess we're not the only ones who are poor," he thought, gazing at the man's pinched, reddened face. "At least we manage to eat okay and dress warm enough."

The old man sat there in his rusty wheel chair, tattered clothing flapping in the winter gusts. As he held his tin cup in his lap, he sang what could hardly be recognized as Christmas carols in a thin, tired voice.

Scottie felt sad as he considered the kind of Christmas Jack Pickering had told him the homeless invalid would have: living in the cold; no mother or relatives to go home to, no hot meal ready.

Suddenly, Scottie came to a hard decision. He continued on his way to Cohen's, subdued; a little slower now, but resolute.

"Merry Christmas, Scottie," said Mr. Cohen. "I suppose you've come to pick up your gifts. Can't believe they're all paid for already. I had them brought up to my office so they'd be ready. Sure look nice in Christmas wrappings, don't they?"

Scottie blinked back tears. He didn't know fully why he was doing this, just that he had to and wanted to get it over with.

"I don't want the gifts, Mr. Cohen." Just give me the money instead. I've changed--changed my mind."
"You've what? Why Scottie, you've been saving for months for these. You can't mean it. Think how happy your mom and brother are going to be tomorrow. You can't back out now."

There was no holding back the tears as Mr. Cohen voiced his objections; they were coursing down his cheeks now and he was making a desperate attempt to keep from bursting out in sobs.

Mr. Cohen was around his desk, an expression of deep concern on his face. He put an arm around the boy's shoulders.

"Please give me my money, Mr. Cohen and don't talk about it any more," he said with a quavering voice. He rubbed his eyes and said, "I've just got to have it."

"Sure, Scottie, sure. I'll take care of it for you." He pressed a handkerchief into the boy's hands and reached across the desk to summon his secretary for an accounting of the payments.

Cohen had a quizzical look as he counted out the cash and presented it to Scottie in an envelope.
"Here you are, son. I'm sorry things didn't work out for you."

Without a word, Scottie turned and left, eyes downcast. He didn't notice Matthew Cohen slip into his coat, don a hat and hurry after him. As he skirted the secretary's desk, he deposited the Christmas gifts with orders to have them delivered to Scottie's home.

Scottie headed for the blind man's post. The poor man was going to have a Merry Christmas anyway and maybe a hot meal. He needed the money more than Scottie's mom needed gloves or his brother toys.

The boy stopped in front of the old man, in his usual spot, eyes fixed unblinkingly ahead. Scottie thought for a moment long before: how a small baby and a mother and St. Joseph needed protection on just such a chill, windswept evening as this.

Folding the envelope into the old metal cup, he said, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Schaefer."

As he spun around to leave, an answer seemed to come majestically clear and strong. "Merry Christmas, son. May God bless you."

Suddenly, Scottie's depression lifted and he was filled with a feeling of happiness that he had never before experienced. His heart felt as though it was bursting and he had never had such a sense of peace and contentment. He hummed quietly to himself as he set out for his home, skipping and skidding along the snow-covered sidewalk.

Touched to the quick, Matthew Cohen watched the scene from the other side of the street. He couldn't hear all the words uttered by a sidewalk Santa Claus, near enough to the blind man's wheel chair to witness Scottie's generosity, except for an excerpt, "May God bless you," and couldn't help but concur.

Cohen felt a lump in his throat, and marveled how the actions of a compassionate boy had reflected the true spirit of Christmas.

After Scottie disappeared around the corner, Cohen walked over and placed several bills in the Mr. Schaefer's cup, as he had often done in the past. Something about the way the man sat so still and stiffly in his chair caused him to look closer. Cohen spoke to him quietly, with no response.

Shaking the man's shoulder didn't evoke any either and grasping a lax wrist, he felt for a pulse. The skin was cold.

Later news reports, quoting medical authorities, disclosed that Schaefer had died well before Scottie had paid his visit.

After Matthew Cohen had reported his eye-witness account to police, Scottie's mom had two surprises. First of all, a couple of gaily-wrapped presents arrived from Matthew Cohen's store, presented to her by the proprietor himself, who was invited in for a cup of coffee.

He was enjoying his second cup, and chatting with Scottie and his mother, when she was summoned to the door by a policeman with Scottie's cash-filled envelope in hand. The officer and his mom beamed as he said, "This belongs to you, son. You have a big heart. Merry Christmas."

Over the span of following years, Scottie matured into a successful business executive, as president of the "Cohen-Walters Merchandise Mart." He always described that as his happiest Christmas season.