And the angel said
Jerry and his wife Martha lived near a reservation in North Dakota. They owned a store and lived in the upstairs. The store had been inherited from Martha’s parents and as much as they wanted to move away, they felt they were needed in the tiny town.
The store didn’t bring them a lot of income but they had managed to raise four children and send them off to college. Jerry and Martha would take odd jobs from laundry, sewing and catering small parties to handyman work and repair jobs. They had always managed to survive but basically surviving was what they were doing. By now the children were doing reasonably well and would send things home but Jerry and Martha were proud and the children had responsibilities of their own.
Over the years, many opportunities had come along promising them a much better life in a different area. Still the appreciation from the customers they did have, was something they were never able to give up. They were the only game in town and although it really wasn’t much of the town, they knew that many of the poor people would suffer if they were to leave.
At times, when another driver was not able to make it, they would be asked to drive the school bus. It was hardly a problem leaving the store and one person could usually handle it easy enough.
In early November, Jason Trent, one of the school bus drivers, had broken his leg working on his farm. Jason insisted that he could operate with a good cast but of course that was not reality.
Jerry and Martha were contacted and even though this was a busy time of year, with people ordering gifts, they said yes, together they would be glad to take turns at the driving. Sometimes Jerry would get up early for the early morning rides and at times Martha took her turn. In the afternoon Jerry usually took the wheel, while Martha stayed home, to not only prepare their meal but to bake things to sell in the store.
There were long drives collecting the children sometimes living several miles away and getting to know and talk with the children was just a fun part of the ride.
“What do you want for Christmas?” Almost every child had a different story. What they wanted, why they wanted it, how much fun it was going to be when they received it and who they’ve heard about it from. They would have first choice gifts, what their second choice for a gift would be, and so on. Jerry and Martha knew this was a very poor community and the likelihood of the children getting the things they wanted was somewhere close to impossible. One of the things on all the children’s mind was an indoor court and basketball equipment that they might emulate one of their heroes.
Jerry and Martha were used to spending a lot of time together in their not so busy store. They would talk for hours about various subjects and then go off to their own little hobbies or chores, maybe reading or spending time on the Internet. They knew it was important to stay busy and at the same time stay in touch with the outside world. They of course knew about the basketball hero, long before this and tried to figure out a way to build some kind of place where the kids could enjoy the sport. Jerry was quite handy at building and had a tremendous talent with wood, always saying he was making a tree live on. Building or finding a place for them to play basketball was a noble idea but not the least practical. Not only was there no money available but had there been any, there were many other needs that would have to be considered, long before a basketball court.
Somewhere about the second week in November a nativity scene would be set up in front of the small church which was next to the school. Jerry had built the stable and it had been populated with animals and characters donated by the local residents. The pieces were not all of equal scale, some purchased, some homemade from clay, plaster paris, plastic and of couple rough carvings. The nativity scene was a bit ragtag but it was their attempt, just the same, done by the local’s hands and greatly appreciated. Because it was so unique and so personal to so many, no one ever suggested updating or improving it.
Jerry, being a woodcarver and at times ached for the opportunity to carve some characters for those, so roughly created and used in the nativity scene. Jerry had been carving, it almost seemed like, before he was born. It just came naturally to him and he spent many of his idol hours carving. He felt showing off his pieces would be flaunting his talent and Jerry was too humble for that. It was enough that his wife enjoyed them and so rarely, if ever, where they seen by outsiders.
Talking it over with his wife, “I would like to do something special for those kids. I know we don’t have the money to do something for all of them individually, but maybe we could do something that they all would be able to enjoy.” Jerry thought a little shed for a school bus stop decorated nicely, Martha thought some baking and cookies for some kind of a little party, and together they tossed around many ideas. After a couple of days of discussing the gift idea, Jerry said, “I’ve seen something in a magazine that made me think of their nativity scene again. I know I can’t replace any of the characters or the things that are already made and I wouldn’t want to. What I noticed in the magazine, made me realize that something is missing. The nativity scene does not have an angel and the angel is a very important part of the nativity scene.” “Well” Martha said, “you know what every you do, it will be the best piece in the whole scene. I think that’s about the noblest gift you can give.” “We can give” Jerry retorted, “while I’m working on that you will be carrying the whole load of operating the store.” Martha laughed, “I’m pretty sure I can manage that but you have to let me have a little input on her design.”
“And who said this was going to be a woman angel? Pretending to be serious. “But yes, as always, I depend on you for your input, seriously, that is what makes me want to do a special job, if it pleases you, I will be satisfied.”
So, Jerry went to work. In between bus driving, doing little jobs around the store and making sure Martha was not doing more than her share, he worked on an angel carving. Jerry had learned that a good piece, required just the right material. Somehow and something he couldn’t really explain, he could just feel when the right piece of wood came along, for what he was doing. While driving the bus through miles and miles of roads, he had picked up many pieces of wood, over the years that he felt suitable for his carvings. Looking through them, moving them around piling them in one pile and then piling them another pile, gradually narrowing down his decisions and checking them carefully for just the right color, kind, and an almost hidden crack or any blemish that might not bring the peace to the standards that he wanted to arrive at.
Eventually he found a large piece, that he felt would do the job and showing it to Martha, together they agreed that it was quite a special piece and surprised that he hadn’t used it long before now for some other project or piece.
Together they had made sketches and thought about how it would stand or sit or be fastened. They had discussed wings and how big or how small or if it even needed wings.
Jerry started in carving, removing the smallest chips of wood, slowly molding it to the ideas in his mind and slowly coming to something that could at least be recognized as a project to be completed. Jerry spent a lot more time at this piece then he would normally spend, late nights early mornings when it was his turn in the store and no customers were around, when he could have been relaxing after a meal he was carving.
The day finally came when he was finished. Still two weeks before Christmas and he wanted to put it in place. He and Martha discussed a finish, something that would complement the rare piece of wood he had used and yet not take away from what the angel represented.
Late one-night Jerry and Martha drove to the church and making sure that no one was around, placed the angel on the nativity scene, right on the top where it had been made to fit and where it seemed to belong. They rushed away, not wanting to be seen, should someone drive by.
The next morning it was Martha’s turn to drive the bus. When she got to the school, some children were already there, examining the nativity scene. “Come and see,” they hollered, to the other children getting off of Martha’s bus. Martha had to pretend, she was just as surprised and getting off the bus smiled and said that it looked very nice and she had to get back to the store.
Getting back to the store she was anxious to tell Jerry what had transpired, letting him know that the children were very excited as well as curious to where it came from. Happy satisfaction settled in with both Jerry and Martha and not much more was discussed about it. After all, even though it had required a considerable amount of work, it was just another piece and they were content to know that it was accepted.
Four or five days went by and it was Jerry’s turn to drive the evening bus. The children got on, all excited and all abuzz. It seems that one of them had taken a picture of the nativity scene with the special Angel and put the picture online. There had been many responses and one saying that he might be willing to pay a high price for the angel if it was for sale but he badly needed to know who had created it. To the kids this was a dream. They were already spending the imaginary bankroll. A new flagpole with a new flag, a computer for the school, a better sidewalk so they didn’t have to carry mud in the school, a big freezer so they could have better lunches and on and on it went, with one dream piled on top of the other. “He’s a French artist” he heard one of them say. Another little girl said “his name is “Philip D John,”.
Jerry could not get home soon enough. Dropping off his precious load always took at least two hours. Tonight, it seems like six hours. When he finally did get home, he immediately told Martha what had happened and how sick he was to have it turn out this way. Somehow, he would have to tell this man who he was in order for the children to profit anything from this statue. On the other hand, how could he or anyone else explain to them that its value was so little that it would be difficult to satisfy even one of their dreams.
There was nothing to do but get on the computer and look up Philip D John or as he figured, Philippe Dijon.
The artist was found soon enough on the Internet and sending a message allowing his own email address along with their phone number. He was just sitting down to the evening meal, which he wasn’t the least bit hungry for, when the phone rang.
Jerry, a little perturbed that he would have to talk on the phone at a time like this, said a quick hello.
“Bonjour, mon nom est, Philippe Dijon, Je suis si impatient de vous rencontrer, I am sorry, sometimes I forget I am talking to America.”
With that Jerry almost dropped the phone. He had only sent the message out minutes before and here was this guy calling him back. Jerry apologized for being so abrupt with his hello and with that they gradually exchanged information. It turned out that Philippe was in New York and was ready to fly out to North Dakota to see this special carved Angel. He, as well as a number of collectors, had seen several pictures online sent by the schoolchildren. If it was as good as it appeared to be, he wanted to be the first to bid on it if it was for sale, and would make it worthwhile. He had been impressed by the children’s unselfish desire to have its value turned into something that the majority could enjoy.
Jerry had no idea what to say, looking over at his wife who had only heard a portion of the conversation, was sitting there smiling from ear to ear. I guess, I mean of course, I mean please come and look at it. It will be here when Christmas is over and it would just be stored with the rest of the pieces.
You don’t understand Monsieur. I will fly out tonight, how is it you say? Dieu le veut et que les animaux exotiques ne nous attaquent pas.”
All Jerry could say was yes, okay and shake his head as if Philip was standing there next to him.
Between the two of them they didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. It was all still questionable how any of this was going to play out. On the other hand, it was great that something good would come from this statue and that somehow it could profit the school but on the other hand, it was going to be difficult to explain to the children, that this wasn’t exactly like winning the lottery. It never occurred to Jerry and Martha that is hard work was being donated almost without his approval. For their sake, they were just shocked that they had something to donate. Even though they owned the store and were getting by, they really didn’t have much to donate to all the people around who were so very special to them.
Jerry decided he would take the bus route that morning not saying a thing to the children but eventually arriving in front of the school where a shiny new car was parked and a strange man was looking over the and nativity seen. This was impossible, could that be Philippe? Not only the children but some adults were all around, admiring the nativity scene and of course admiring the angel.
After the children had exited the bus, Jerry got out to meet this guy.
You must be Jerry, a tall slender man said in a very French accent.
By now not only the children but the adults were gazing at Jerry as if he was some kind of a Hollywood star. I am Jerry and I would love to have you come to my house for breakfast. I believe we could talk a little better there. “But the ange” Philippe said “will it be sur?”
“Oh, quite sur” Jerry said. “All of these petits anges will protect it.” Using what little French, he had picked up in the last 12 hours.
Jerry drove the bus back home to the store making sure that he didn’t lose Philippe who was following him. He had called Martha on the cell phone and she had the breakfast ready as usual in the back room with more than enough for the three of them. Like all of her breakfasts it too was a work of art complemented with an Apple pie that had been made just the day before and Philippe had referred to as a beautiful tart.
Philippe’s English was very good and on occasion he would slip back into some French, apologizing.
They talked about each other’s interest, their children and how they had spent their lives. While Philippe was a very accomplished and celebrated artist, he admitted that that was all he knew most of his entire life. He had created, schooled, work, schooled some more and created some more. All of it for, with, and about art. Outside of art he felt very ignorant of the world and envied Jerry for his diversity.
“Had you ever thought of carving anything else?” Philippe asked.
Martha looked at Jerry and said “haven’t you told him?”
“Told me what?” Philippe asked.
“I suppose you better come with me,” Jerry said, taking him to the basement door turning on the lights and descending down the stairs. In the basement the walls were covered with shelves from floor to ceiling and on the shelves were carvings and creations of all kinds. Some with a considerable amount of dust on and others that had been dusted recently.
“I have been doing this all my life” Jerry said, “ but I never really thought anybody would be interested. My wife and I come down and look at them once in a while and some of them bring back memories of what was going on at the time, I carved them. This is only a small part of them. There are many more upstairs and packed away in the attic. There were times when I would carve two or three a week.”
Philippe walked the walls looking at all the shelves and gently picking up this piece or that piece. “I don’t know what to say” Philippe said, “I am only glad that I got to you before anyone else. What you have here is a small fortune. At the proper auction these will bring a lot of money. Not to auction them all at once but only a couple at a time and as more and more good artists see them and purchase them the remaining ones will increase in value rapidly. I’m afraid if the wrong person came along, he might’ve taken them off your hands for a fraction of their value. I have done very well financially and so it is easy for me to let you know of their value. I would like to purchase a couple pieces but I would be glad to work with you if you choose to market them.
After a considerable amount of time perusing so many of the pieces, they went back up to the kitchen table. Martha had made a fresh pot of tea and the three of them sat there discussing what would be the next move.
Martha asked just what kind of money are we talking here. She told Philippe how the kids had a basketball hero and how they would love to have a place to play basketball. As the children get a little older, there is very little organized recreation for them and all too often, they are tempted into drugs and alcohol. They need more than that and a place to play basketball would be a great start. We realize it would be an awful lot of money but maybe with some other donations we could at least provide the down payment and buy a little equipment. Maybe we could get a bank loan or even get help from the government.
Philippe just laughed, as he sat there drinking is tea, Jerry and Martha kind of laughed somewhat embarrassed by their crazy suggestion.
Philippe said calmly, the day is young, before the day is out there will be somebody here who is an engineer and knowledgeable in what it takes to build a place to play basketball. He will talk to you get the information he needs and I can guarantee you will be able to go to the children on Christmas day with a drawing and the model of their new basketball stadium. I will assure the bank that you are more than good for the cost should there be any shortage of donations. It is my expectation that your story will not only greatly increase the value of your carved treasures but bring on more than enough donations to do a lot more than just make a place for basketball. Let us try and keep it a secret until Christmas day and I will keep in contact with you in the meantime. If there’s any way I can, I would like to spend Christmas with you and maybe you could show me a little of the world that I’ve missed. He thanked them again giving Martha a hug and vigorously shaking Jerry’s hand. Stay well and keep carving he said as he went out the door. My GPS will get me back to the airport but you my friend are going to have to figure out how you can keep all this in, until Christmas Day. All laughed.
He was hardly out of sight and Jerry and Martha hugged each other for a long, long time.
The time until Christmas seemed to last forever. The engineer showed up as Philippe had promised. He had been told to say he was interested in a piece of property in the area and was checking out the schools and church for another family. Many phone calls came in from some of the locals and from some people he had never heard of. He did his best to steer around the story and after a while assumed that most of it had just been forgotten.
One morning when Martha was dropping the children off, the angel was missing and a plastic one put in its place. Coming down out of the bus and frantically looking around the Nativity scene as though she would find it hiding somewhere. A voice hollered across the yard. “It’s okay Martha, we’ve put it into the school safe. I know you feel it would’ve been okay but we just wanted to be sure. It will be back in It’s place, Christmas Eve. By the way Martha, is it a male or female?”
Martha breathed a sigh of relief and managed a “thank you so much.”
Christmas Eve came around and of course there was the children’s play. They played out the nativity scene sang songs and danced and then carried the baby Jesus out and placed Him in his proper place, in the manger. In spite of the cold and the snow, no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Little conversation started and much more focused than usual in the nativity scene with the beautiful angel looking on.
It was about that time that some car lights came on and a car in fact a few cars came from around behind church. People got out of cars, some carrying bags and gifts and one man, Jerry recognized as Philippe.
“I didn’t think this could last another few hours,” Philippe said. “I believe we need to go inside for this”. Two people carried a large box out of the trunk of one of the cars. Into the school room they went, setting the large box on a desk. “Martha, would you like to make the speech or, would you rather Jerry did?” Martha piped up,” I don’t believe I’m ready to make a speech, but if Jerry is that’s fine.” Jerry shook his head motioning for them to move on with whatever was coming next. The large box was unwrapped revealing a model of a building and just as everybody was trying to get a good look and asking questions, a very tall man covered in clothing almost to his nose, came pushing in through the crowd. Uncovering his face, he was immediately recognized. Surprise went to murmurs and then to shouts and into screams. Screams of joy and unbelief. This was their basketball hero, right here in their own town, right there in their school, right there close to them.
Raising his hands and indicating that he needed their attention, he pointed to the model building so carefully laid out, sitting there on the desk. He went over carefully lifting the roof and then taking the model up holding it on its side so all could see. Inside were miniature model people playing basketball on a shiny wood floor. “This is yours, just as soon as it can be constructed. I know this is not exactly the right time of year to be building a basketball stadium but you can be sure it will be done as soon as they can break ground. A whole lot of people have heard about your wish, and they have donated, to make this your best Christmas ever. What we haven’t brought in yet, and is a lot of basketball equipment and clothing and if you wear it out before the building is finished there is a lot more where that came from. There’s a plane waiting for me at the airport, so I have to run but keep sending me emails and I will try to read them all. I think all of you have made this, my best Christmas.” Turning around and finding his way out of the building to a waiting car he continued to waive as they drove away.
Philippe cornered Jerry and Martha, “as I told you and as I expected there is considerable interest in your work. There is much to be considered. You must make some choices as to what you’re willing to part with. Minimum values have to be considered and auctions be arranged, most likely in New York. There will be plenty of time for that after Christmas. It looks like there’s going to be a lot more going on here than just a basketball stadium. I am staying at a hotel near the airport and my wife is flying in a day after tomorrow. She has always wanted to see the Old West as she calls it, and she went shopping for horseback riding clothes. I’m hoping you’ll be able to show us around and maybe even get some riding in. I will talk to you soon,” and he drove away.
Jerry and Martha drove home much slower than usual. So much had happened in the last two months that it just seemed like a dream. They were glad to be a part of it and right now, they seemed to be communicating without saying a word to each other. They were just so happy.
When they got home strolling through the snow holding hands, they went into the store and sauntered to the back room, Martha putting on hot water for tea. “Did we get any important calls that won’t wait till tomorrow?”, Jerry asked “I forgot the phone here at home and it’s probably just as well I did.”
Martha looked at the phone, scanning it and finding several messages and recognizing one as their son Jerrod. Opening the message, it read, “worried about you, please call.”
“I wonder what in the world this is all about” Martha said, as she returned the call to their son. The phone was picked up on the first ring, “Ma, you guys all right? Some guy called with a French accent. Said we all needed to be here as soon as we could but not to call you until Christmas Eve because there was a lot going on. Didn’t make a lot of sense to us, but when he said it was an emergency and he would arrange the flights if we needed, we figured we better comply. We are all four families, here at the hotel airport with your grandchildren. What in the heck is going on?
Martha started laughing and could hardly say what she needed over the phone. Jerry got on the phone and listened to pretty much the same questioning and then he started laughing himself.
“Dad, will you please tell me what the world is going on” “I can assure you, Jerrod,” Jerry said, “your mother and I have never been better. We have a lot to share with you and look forward to seeing you as soon as you can get here.”
“Unless there’s a blizzard and the road closed, we will be there in time for early church and as long as we can wake everybody up that early. With all the excitement here, we may never go to bed. We were really worried and it’s great to hear you guys in such a good mood. We will all be anxious to hear what this is all about. Everybody sends their love, and we’ll see you in the morning early.”
“I don’t think they or anyone else is going to believe all of this, do you Martha?” “I don’t think we should tell them,” Martha said, “I think we should just keep them in suspense” and they both laughed.
“Merry Christmas to all” Martha said “and to all, a good night” they laughingly said together.