A Christmas Visitor | Tolman’s Tales

Joe was sound asleep, the moments to Christmas morning passing quickly, silently and peacefully, until he felt the touch on his arm.

Opening his eyes, Joe saw his wife fast asleep and suddenly became aware of the ghostly figure standing near him.

“Hello?!” he said quietly, eyes wide. “Who are you?”

“Joe, I am the Ghost of Christmas Present, here to take you on a journey back and forward based on how you have lived your life.”

“Like Ebenezer Scrooge? Have I lived my life like him? Have I treated others that badly?”

“Quite the contrary, Joe,” the ghost responded. “You have lived a great life. You have been kind, generous, honest and loving. There will be no encounters with former partners or negative views of your life. You have earned a chance, Joe, to change something in your past, present and future. Where would you like to go in the past?”

For a moment Joe was silent, then said, “I want to go to fifth grade, Mr. Golden’s English class, and sit next to Robert Jones.”

In a flash, there was Mr. Golden, a beloved tyrant of a teacher who pushed students to be their best, often through harsh words, like a Marine drill sergeant. His students loved him and feared him at the same time.

And there was Robert, the non-reader. We would know now he was likely dyslexic. Not dumb, not incapable. Eyes-to-brain, the words often just didn’t make sense. When it came Robert’s turn to read, some students snorted and wrote down how many mistakes or pauses he’d take in his two pages reading aloud, an over-under number quantifying his deficiency.

Robert rose and his difficulties, as expected, continued among sighs, giggles and yawns from his classmates. When Robert was done with his struggling recitation he sat down, once again embarrassed. Recess time had come and everyone raced out but Robert and Joe. It was time to change the past.

“Robert,” Joe said, “can I come over to your house on Saturday? We can practice reading. It comes easy to me. Maybe we can help each other. OK?”

A resigned, hopeless Robert simply said, “Sure.”

The scene changed to a modern doctor’s office. “Why are we in this waiting room?” Joe asked the ghost. “I feel fine.”

“Wait a minute and you’ll see.”

Soon a nurse entered the waiting room. “Mr. Preston? Joe Preston? Please come back to see Dr. Jones.”

The ghost smiled. “You gave Robert hope, support and friendship. He took those tools, worked very hard and compensated for his reading difficulties. Now, thanks in large part to how you changed the past, he is changing many patients’ future.”

Then they were gone.

“You made a wonderful change to the past, now you can change the present, Joe. Where would you like to go?”

There was little hesitation. “I want to watch my grandchildren play. Watching with, if you can, my deceased parents. I’d love for them to meet and see their wonderful grandchildren as adults and their great-grandchildren as youngsters.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” the ghost said, and in an instant Joe was looking at four parents and three children in a room with a Christmas tree aglow. A blonde girl and boy and a dark-haired youngster were playing tag, laughing as children in full play do. Joe felt a presence nearby. To his left appeared his mom, 12 years passed; to his right his dad, gone 10 years.

“They are beautiful, Joe,” his mom said. “She looks like her dad when he was that age. Blonde, energetic, always wanting to play.”

She then looked across Joe to his dad and smiled. “The two boys remind me of your dad when he was young,” she told Joe. “So happy and fun. They are so joyous and healthy. Obviously, you taught your kids how to be good parents, as we tried — successfully, I think — to teach you. They are wonderful. Joe. You should be so proud! I wish we could watch them forever. Thank you for this glimpse.”

As tears rolled down Joe’s face, his dad spoke. “Thank you for letting us see them. And for letting us see you. We are very proud of you,” he said.

As Joe said, “I love you both,” they vanished. For a few moments, teardrops fell to the floor.

“Now to the future, Joe. Where do you want to go?”

Joe was silent for several moments.

“Nowhere. I simply want to enjoy our planned Christmas day. And I will, much more, having received such kind gifts from you. I’ll let the future play out as it will. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Joe,” the ghost said, then disappeared.

As he laid awake, Joe thought of his family, friends and neighbors, so many who lived good, positive, caring lives. Had a ghost visited them, too? Had they been given the opportunity he had, Joe wondered, as he touched his wife’s hand and dozed off thinking of his children, grandchildren and a schoolmate from his distant past.

Merry Christmas to so many people who live kind, generous, honest and loving lives, and deserve to be visited by a friendly Christmas Eve ghost.

— Jeff Tolman is a lawyer, Municipal Court judge, and periodic columnist for Kitsap News Group.

Copyright Jeff Tolman 2016. All rights reserved.