'It is a strange sight.' she thought. A yellow, plastic car on top of the Christmas tree, and yet when people learned why it was there, it made perfect sense.
"Granny, granny." A little voice broke into Sheila's senses. "You said you'd tell us about the yellow car after lunch." Sheila smiled round at her family; her two daughters and son, their spouses and five grandchildren aged from six months to ten years. The house was warm with their love and she couldn't think of a better setting to tell the story.
She leant back in her chair and closed her eyes."It was five years ago this Christmas," she began. "Grandad Bob and I had gone out for a quick burger for supper." In her mind she could still see it. The eating area, twirling gaily with gold and silver chains and glittering fairy lights. It was Christmas Eve and that magical feeling of Christmas had been almost tangible.
"We were sitting in the corner," she continued. "Our burgers had just been served when a group of children were shown to a long table next to us. They were all young. None of them as old as you, David." She nodded to her eldest grandchild. "They were very excited, talking at the tops of their voices, and pointing at all the glittering decorations and the Christmas tree in the corner."
She paused a moment, recalling the distaste she had felt with their arrival. The sense that somehow, they didn't deserve to be there. She smiled at her grandchildren. "They didn't have on lovely new clothes like you do today. They were clean, but their clothes were old, faded and patched. Some of them were wearing old shoes that seemed to be several sizes too big."
Melissa-Anne, aged seven looked down at the shiny, new shoes she was wearing. "I'm so glad to have new shoes, Gran!" She exclaimed.
"Well," Sheila continued, "I must tell you the truth. I wasn't very happy to see these noisy children, sitting right next to our table. They laughed and shouted and only quietened down when one of the adults started to tell them the Christmas story." The woman who had spoken was a slight slip of a person, gray hair, gray eyes, gray clothing, and yet she spoke with great love and compassion. Sheila could still hear the words in her mind.
"Merry Christmas children. We've brought you here for a special surprise and to remind you of how much God loves you. God gave us Jesus as a gift, so He could come and live with us. Jesus also died for us to save us from the wrong things we do. Today, we remember God's gift." The children had cheered and clapped as they were each served with a burger, a drink and a gaily wrapped parcel.
Sheila turned to look at five year old Danny. "There was a boy, about your age sitting at the end of table nearest to me. He was very, very thin, and he had a terrible cough."
"That was Samuel wasn't it Gran?" Danny asked.
Sheila nodded. "Well, Samuel ripped the paper open, and do you know what was inside?"
Danny pointed at the Christmas tree with wide eyes. "That yellow car."
Sheila smiled. "He was so excited when he opened it. He drove it up and down the table, over the forks under the knives, and you should have heard the sounds he made." The children laughed as David pretended to drive a car. Sheila took a sip of coffee.
"What next, what next?" Melissa-Anne begged, always the impatient one.
Sheila pulled herself upright in the chair. "I did something wrong." She said soberly. "Samuel smiled at me and I turned away. I told Grandad Bob to take me home because the children were disturbing me and coughing their germs all over the tables." Bob smiled from his easy chair by the Christmas tree. "He didn't want to, but I told him if he didn't, I would catch a taxi home."
Although the children had heard it all before, they drew in sharp breaths of amazement. "We were getting into the car when the lady who told the Christmas story came running out." Sheila felt her eyes moisten. Even after telling the story so many times, it still stirred her emotions.
"Excuse me," the woman had said. "I'm Mary Richter from the AIDS Centre. I don't want to bother you, but one of our children has asked if he could talk to you for just a moment." Sheila had caught her breath in understanding as she saw the little boy, standing thin and gaunt in the doorway. "I normally wouldn't ask you," she continued, "but this will probably be the last Christmas Samuel will see. I really want it to be special for him."
Sheila wiped her eyes. "Of course I had to say yes although I couldn't imagine what he wanted." Her mind drifted again as she pictured herself standing under the yellow circle of light in the parking lot.
"You look unhappy aunty." Samuel had said to her. "I want you to have a lovely Christmas like I'm having." He had thrown his arms around her, hugging her tightly, and then, slowly, had pressed the precious yellow car into her hands.
Danny climbed into Sheila's lap. "Samuel died didn't he?" Sheila nodded, looking at the photo of his beaming face on the sideboard. "He died six months after that Christmas, but he gave me so much. He helped me to stop being a crabby old lady and he showed me the true meaning of Christmas and life."
David spoke up shyly. "And that's why you work with the AIDS home and tell people all over the world this story."
Sheila smiled. "That's exactly why, David."
Debbie Roome is passionate about writing stories that touch people's lives and point them to God.