Christmas Friendship Holiday

A bitter cold swept through Richmond, the coldest it had been in a decade, and Jerry Richardson, at the ripe age of 68, walked home alone after an 8 pm Christmas Eve Candlelight service. Arms crossed and knees aching, he scowled beneath his tightly-wound scarf.

“This is gonna suck,” he mumbled. The wind howled and Jerry held himself tighter, shivering beneath his thick jacket.

Though many didn’t show up this year, Jerry was never one to miss a Candlelight Service after coming home from fighting in Korea. “The Forgotten War” is what it was called nowadays and Jerry was always bitter about that. He still remembered how eager he and his little brother were to sign up for the Marines and protect the South Koreans from the horrors of Communism. In 1950, they quickly shipped off and were assigned to Fox company at the Chosin Reservoir.

“Home by Christmas” is what General MacArthur said, but not long after they settled into the frozen reservoir, the Chinese army crossed the Yalu River and launched their surprise offensive. Jerry’s brother took a round to the chest during one of their assaults.

“Don’t leave me here,” his brother said, just before bleeding out.

“I promise you I won’t,” Jerry cried, holding his brother close in his final moments, knowing that getting out of the Chosin was near impossible. Temperatures got as low as -54 degrees and could freeze a body quickly after a person expired, making them difficult to move. Choppers rarely got to them with all the snipers in the area. All Jerry was able to bring back of his brother were his dog tags.

Jerry stopped at an empty intersection and waited for the light to tell him it was safe to cross. A lone car drove by. As it passed, one of the passengers rolled down their window and shouted “Merry Christmas!”.

“You don’t even know what that means!” Jerry yelled after the vehicle.

After he came back from Korea, every time Jerry felt a cold wind, he thought of his brother and was reminded of his broken promise. It’s why he tried to convince his wife to move down to Miami, though he never told her the real reason why.

“There are better jobs down there,” he said, to which his wife would chuckle and say they were doing just fine living in Richmond. He couldn’t blame her. She was a city girl at heart and something about a snowy holiday season brought her such joy. He couldn’t bear to take that away from her. It was also why he could never leave after she was gone.

Once the walk sign was on, Jerry crossed the street, being mindful to watch for ice. A large display of Santa Claus “Ho, Ho, Hoed” at him from across the street within a department store window. Jerry grunted as he thought of how his father used to rave every year about how that big, cookie-thieving fatso was stealing the true meaning of Christmas.

“Christmas celebrates Jesus coming into this world, for Christ’s sake.”

Jerry never really understood what the big deal was until he was able to devote more of his time to the church after his kids left for college. Only then did he see the complete perversion of a sacred holiday. Only then did he share his father’s disdain for the fat man in the red coat, scowling at the new personification of Christmas every chance he got.

“Christmas isn’t anything special anymore,” he mumbled.

Lost in thought, the tip of his boot suddenly bumped the edge of the curb, causing him to lose his balance, fall, and smack his left knee down on the frozen concrete.

“Dang nabbit!” he shouted.

“Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas,” the Santa said.

“Screw you fat man and your stupid red coat!”

Luckily no one was around to hear the flurry of curses that followed.

Taking a great deal of effort, he got to his feet. The wind howled. Jerry shivered and knew he had to keep moving. He had to fight through the cold and the pain. Limping forward, pain shot up his leg with each step. Staring ahead, he saw that he was still a few blocks from his apartment.

“I can make it,” he grunted but he only made it half a block when he lost the ability to bend his knee.

“Crap,” he said, and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.

He thought over his options. He didn’t have money to pay for an ambulance. Taxis would rip him off on Christmas Eve. His two kids were away this Christmas like they had done for the past 20 years. He didn’t hold it against them. Both of them were in middle school when their mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. The VA wouldn’t cover the treatments, so Jerry got a job that paid well, but required more hours and travel. His wife understood, but the kids never were able to get over how he missed so many birthdays, big events, and graduations. Instead, they grew up without him. Then, ten years after his wife’s diagnosis, she passed away and the lynchpin that held the family together was gone.

Jerry pulled out his phone and called someone he thought might be available to give him a ride to the nearest VA hospital. He held his breath as the phone rang and gave a sigh of relief when his friend answered.

“Hello, Luther?”

“Hey, Jerry, Merry Christmas to you.”

Jerry shrugged aside his knee-jerk irritation and explained the situation.

“I’m sorry to hear about that man, but I am actually out of state visiting my son.”


“But . . . where are you right now?”

“About half a block north of 7th and King.”

“Okay. Stay there, I’ll —”

Luther’s voice suddenly cut out.

“What the?”

Jerry looked at the phone for a second, realized that it was out of battery, and shoved it back into his pocket.

“Of course, this would happen to me.”

Not knowing what to do, he looked down the street in the direction of his apartment. While reaching down and feeling that his knee had swelled to the size of a grapefruit. The night grew colder. The wind started to pick up and bite at his exposed nose. After waiting around for ten minutes, shivering and wondering what to do, Jerry looked up to the night sky and prayed.

“God, I know you like to test me but, every once in a while, could you help me out too? I’m struggling here.”

 The wind howled in response.

“Yeah. . . that’s what I thought.”

“Sir . . . could I bother you for some change?”

Jerry turned to see a homeless man sitting in a wheelchair behind him. The man peered up at him with weary eyes and a smile half-hidden behind a thick, peppered beard. He was wearing half the amount of layers as Jerry yet the cold did not seem to bother him. Jerry’s scowl faded when he saw the man’s left pant leg tied off just above the knee.

“Jesus . . . what are you doing out here in the cold?” asked Jerry.

“I have nowhere to go, sir.”

“What about the shelter?”

“Turned me away. ‘Too full’ they said.”

A heaviness set upon Jerry’s heart. He reached into his pocket, pulled out all the cash he had, and gave it to the man. The man looked up at him in disbelief.

“Are you serious, sir?”

Jerry nodded. “Take it.”

The man took the money and counted it out.

“Sir. . . this is 316 dollars!”

“If you head down King for a couple blocks, there should be a Quality Inn. They always have vacancies there and serve hot breakfast in the morning. Please, get yourself out of his awful cold.”

The homeless man was on the verge of tears.

“Oh, thank you, sir! Thank you.”

The man shook Jerry’s hand and then wheeled himself off in the direction Jerry had directed him to go. Jerry smiled, and for a moment, the cold didn’t seem to bother him, nor did his knee feel pain. He was about to start walking home when a blue Honda Odyssey pulled up next to him, honking its horn.

“Mr. Richardson?” the person driving asked.


“Luther called me and said you needed a ride,” he said.

“Oh, yes! Do you know how to get to the VA hospital?”

“Yes, I do.”

The man helped Jerry into his vehicle, and the moment he did, Jerry gave a sigh of relief as he put his hands on the vents. Pins and needles stabbed at his fingers as their frost-nipped tips warmed. The man got back into the driver's seat and set the car in motion. Jerry, not wanting to be rude, asked him for his name.

“Mark,” he said.

“Mark . . . ,” Jerry repeated, and then looked at the man for a long moment. “Why do you seem so familiar?”

Mark smiled. “You used to be my after-school tutor at church ten years ago.”

“Oh . . . Mark Bennett. Yes. Yes. I remember now. The infamous eighth grader that couldn’t read.”

“Couldn’t until you got through to me. You were relentless.”

Jerry laughed. “It was tough getting through that thick head of yours, but gosh darn it, it was a swell day when I saw you read your first book.”

“My parents and school teachers would agree. How are the kids?

“Oh you know, happy with the families they now have and what more could a father want than the happiness and well-being of his children.”

Mark nodded and thought for a moment.

“You know,” he said, “if it weren’t for you, I would probably be out on the streets right now. But because of your dedication to me, I was able to graduate high school, go on to college, get a good job, and now have a family of my own. I’m not sure how I could ever repay you for that.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. Your success is all the payment I need.”

They drove for another 20 minutes, making small talk along the way. Eventually, Mark pulled up to the hospital entrance and a nurse came out of the lobby, rolling a wheelchair.

“Well Mark, thanks again for the ride.”

“You don’t want me to stick around?”

“No, that’s okay. The VA always takes too long and you have your family to get back to.”

“If you say so, Mr. Richardson.”

Jerry let out a laugh.

“I’ll make sure to buy a Coke in the lobby and give a toast to you to celebrate your success. I’m very proud of what you have accomplished.”

The nurse opened the door and helped Jerry into the wheelchair.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Richardson.”

Jerry gave a genuine smile, cheeks growing red with joy.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

December 31, 2022 02:04

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Wendy Kaminski
13:43 Jan 04, 2023

Much love for this story, Kevin! So many veterans are dismissed as curmudgeons, but they had to deal with so much and before there were PTSD support structures in place like there are now. My heart really went out to Jerry, and I could clearly envision what I saw as a boot-strapping story about a man who could really use some help but either through price or attrition had long-since stopped asking. I'm glad he found his way back again.


Kevin Alphatooni
19:15 Jan 04, 2023

Thanks so much for the heartfelt feedback. It makes me happy that you enjoyed reading the story.


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