Elwood Sydney Harriman was a well known fixture of the community. Affectionately called “El Sid”, after Elwood's fondness for the 1961 movie, “El Cid” about the eleventh century legendary Spanish hero. Elwood was a widower. He'd been a widower for almost twenty years. He lived alone but was an active member of the community, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, teaching a Sunday School class where he drew upon his experience as a former seminary professor. He tutored disadvantaged kids. In fact, a day did not go by when the people in the community did not see Elwood busy making the place better for his having been there.
Elwood began each day with exercise. Two days a week he drove to one of the nearby state parks where he hiked the trails and picked up the litter left by other hikers. Three of the other weekdays found him early at the local recreation center watching Morning Joe while he trotted his four miles on the treadmill. His exercise regimen disguised his age of eighty-two.
So active in the community was Elwood, so physically fit was Elwood, that few and far between were the people who knew his status in life. And since Elwood had outlived not only his beloved wife but also two children neither of whom had provided him with grandchildren, there was no Christmas tree in Elwood's house. There were no decorations on the door. And because everyone experienced Elwood as being so active and involved few and far between were those who would have ever given thought to the fact that Elwood had no place to go on Christmas.
Christmas morning, then, found Elwood at a nearby convenience store. “Morning, El Sid,” called out Helen Johnson, one of the clerks, as Elwood entered. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” proclaimed Elwood. He then headed over to the cappucinno machines where he filled his refill mug with the low fat French Vanilla. Elwood placed the $1.27 on the counter in payment. Then he placed a plastic grocery store bag on the counter beside it. The bag contained three small tins of Christmas cookies Elwood had baked and decorated. “Here's a little something for Christmas,” Elwood informed Helen. “There's something there for you and Barb and Nancy.
“Oh, Elwood,” said, Helen, “that's so sweet of you. Thank you so much.”
“My pleasure,” said Elwood. “You guys have a blessed Christmas.” Elwood walked out the door.
He headed down the highway in the opposite direction of his home and town. Elwood was taking a round about way to his next stop. He had plenty of time. It was Christmas and he had no place particular to go. With no place particular to go, it wasn't until a little after noon that Elwood stopped his car beside a bridge that spanned the north/south railroad tracks.
“Hey, Leonard,” Elwood cried, “you guys down there?”
In a moment a face appeared beside the rail. “Elwood, hey man, what you doing out here on Christmas?”
“Just wanted to say 'Merry Christmas' to you folks,” Elwood replied. “Are all four of you here?”
“Yeah, we're all here. What's up?”
“Come up and give me a hand,” Elwood said.
In just a few Leonard and three other homless men emerged from under the bridge. Elwood opened the trunk of his car. He pulled out four pup tents and four insulated sleeping bags. “Santa asked me to drop these off. He was a little busy delivering all the children's gifts.”
Tears appeared in Leonard's eyes. “El Sid, you didn't have to do this.”
“You're right,” said Elwood, “I didn't. But who can refuse Santa.”
Elwood was invited under the bridge to share some coffee from the pot resting on the coals of last night's fire. While there Leonard and his friends unwrapped the pup tents, set them up and with exclamations of joy spread the sleeping bags inside. As a consequence it was an hour-and-a-half before Elwood emerged from under the bridge and slid behind the wheel of the car.
Elwood made a U-turn and headed back toward the town. Stomach pangs hinted it was past his meal time. After a ten minute drive he pulled into the Waffle House where he frequently quenched his cholesterol demand. Walking in the door of the empty eatery, he was met with a trio of voices, “El Sid, Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Elwood replied and headed to his usual corner booth.
Mildred, the older of the two servers in the place, in no time at all placed a mug of decaf in front of Elwood. “Know what you want?” asked Mildred.
“T-bone and eggs over medium with hashbrowns and wheat toast,” Elwood said. Mildred shouted out the order in the unique Waffle House cadence and jargon. George, the cook, turned toward his stove and began the process of whipping up Elwood's order.
Elwood began reading the newspaper on his iPad as he waited the order. Mary, the second server, passed by his booth, “What are you doing out on this Christmas Day, El Sid?” she asked.
“Trying to help Santa out,” said Elwood. Then he inquired about Mary's daughter who was waiting a kidney transplant. Mary looked around, and assuring herself Elwood was the only customer in the place, sat down across from him. The two talked about Mary's daughter, what the doctors were saying, the prospects of the kidney, and Mary asked Elwood to pray for her. Elwood was promising he'd do so when Mildred placed his order in front of him.
Elwood read the regional paper on the iPad as he consumed the steak and eggs. Meat and eggs gone, he then peeled the cover off the plastic container containing the grape jelly. With the patience of an eighty-two-year old with no place particlar to go, he spread the purple gel over the remaining piece of toast. He then ate it in small bites, chewing slowly, savoring the sweetness. Finished, the last swallow of decaf was downed.
Elwood walked to the register and paid his tab. He bid Mildred, Mary and George another Merry Christmas and exited. He was backing out of his parking space when Mildred and Mary, busting Elwood's table, discovered the three small envelopes, one labeled “George” one “Mildred” one “Mary”, each containing a American Express gift card for $100.
Back home, Elwood, poured a glass of Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon, dropped onto his recliner, leaned back, hit the proper button on the clicker to activate the television. He selected HBO and began watching “Mr. Popper's Penguins.” Elwood sipped the wine and watched.
The phone coaxed Elwood from his slumber. He glanced at the screen. Mr. Popper's Penguins were no longer there. He looked over at the caller ID. It was Pastor Lawrence.
“Hello, Pastor,” Elwood greeted. “Hope you've had a Merry Christmas. Did those kids get what they deserved?"
“They did, El Sid,” said the pastor. “In fact, they got more than they deserved. You probably won't believe this, but there were a few extra presents in the carport. Go figure. I guess Santa forgot to bring them inside.”
“He's an old man,” said Elwood. “No telling what he forgets.”
“No telling,” said Pastor Lawrence. “Tell me, El Sid, did you have a good Christmas?”
“I did,” said Elwood, “I did. It was a wonderful Christmas.